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The New Welfare Queen

October 10th, 2007

When conservatives don’t like a federal program to help people in need, they engage in a depressingly consistent tactic: smear the people in need.

Remember Reagan’s infamous “welfare queen” in the 70’s and 80’s?

“She has 80 names, 30 addresses, 12 Social Security cards and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she is collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.”

Aside from the fact that the example was wildly exaggerated (not to mention that Reagan changed the details as he made the same speech over time), it was also wholly non-representative. It would be like using outrageous Nigerian spammers as examples of why people who send email are undeserving of the privilege. This tactic of applying an extreme-case example to an entire group or category is a conservative specialty; “partial birth abortion” is an excellent illustration of this.

I remember the same tactic on a small scale in California; soon after I graduated from a then-free community college there, the Republican-run state government decided to institute “enrollment fees,” a.k.a. tuition. When it was pushed, aside from claims that the $100 would never be raised, the usual argument tended to be to point to a Porsche in the parking lot and then to extrapolate that community colleges were little more than a place where rich kids got away with bilking the state. (The total cost for a student there now is over $600, by the way, and was more than $1000 not too long ago).

Also, let’s not forget how, after Hurricane Katrina, when all those people who died and suffered in Louisiana embarrassed Bush, right-wingers went after them viciously. Not only were they called stupid for not getting out of the way, but they were accused of abusing those trying to help them, of spurning jobs offers (minorities are lazy, after all), and even spreading drugs, rape, and other criminal activity to communities who took them in. When conservatives attack an issue, they don’t attack it directly; they find a convenient scapegoat and then make a poster boy out of it.

So now, after Bush has vetoed health care for children, what is the right-wing defense? Smear a child! Specifically, the 12-year-old who gave the Democratic radio address. Graeme Frost was in a bad car accident a few years back, and a CHIP program helped him and his sister immeasurably.

According to right wingers: return of the welfare queen! The Frost family is rich! How do we know? Their kids go to swanky private schools, and their family owns a lavish, opulent home! They’re frauds!

Think Progress has the real story: Graeme has a scholarship that costs his family $500 a year to send him to a $15,000-a-year private school, and his sister’s private school, worth $23,000 a year, is paid for by the state–it was made necessary because of her injuries in the car crash. Ironically, the Frost family pays less for their two kids’ private schools than a California resident pays for community college. As for the home, the Frost family paid $55,000 for it when they bought it, at a time when the neighborhood was less safe. Furthermore, the news stories quoted by the wingnuts specify that the home has a mortgage ($1200/mo.); without knowing more of the specifics, one cannot make any judgments about how much the Frosts are in hock to the bank.

The wingnuts go further, saying that the Frost family is well-off because the father runs a small business. (Funny how conservatives think that small businesspeople are only well-off when it’s politically conveniently; otherwise, they’re always struggling, which is why we need to repeal insert-your-tax-du-jour-here.) They quote the buying price of the business’ property at $160,000, suggesting that the increased value in real estate further increases the Frosts’ wealth–as if there are no such things as loans from the bank, or stretches of tough business that can lead one further into debt.

No, instead the wingnuts presume no debts, a booming business, and best-possible real estate values so as to make the convenient presumption that the Frosts are loaded, money coming out of their ears. They even go so far as to point to a photo in the Baltimore Sun and make these conclusions:

A photo taken in the family’s kitchen shows what appears to be a recent remodeling job with granite counter tops and glass front cabinets.

Now, look at the photo:


Ooh, yeah. From all that detail shown, that has to be a “recent” remodeling job. And no way those are formica countertops! It must have cost tens of thousands of dollars to put in glass cabinets like those!


But the wingnuts go even further, taking the standard Malkinite tactic of widely publishing the home and business addresses of the family, in addition to the name of the kids’ school, complete with photos–something which, by past experience, is well-known as a means of directing the right-wing loons to harass, abuse, and torment the people in question. The Frost children could now even be in danger. In an exchange not too long ago, Malkin found her own address revealed, and had to move to a new home and put her kids into new schools because of the loss of privacy–and yet Malkin herself continues this appalling, thuggish tactic.

And let’s not forget that the CHIP program does not test for assets, only income–and the Frosts’ stated income is well below the threshold of eligibility.

In the end, we don’t know how well-off the Frosts are; there is no reason whatsoever to presume that they are not excellent candidates for an insurance plan which, after all, saved the family from having to take out crippling new mortgages or forcing them to sell their home or business in order to pay hospital bills.

Right-wingers claim they fight for the little guy, for making it possible to buy a home for people willing to work, for helping the small businessman as much as possible.

But only, it seems, when it is politically convenient to do so.

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