The Welfare Queen
December 19, 2013 12:24 AM   Subscribe

Slate.com reports on the story of the woman behind Ronald Reagan's "welfare queen in a Cadillac" story: "When I set out in search of Linda Taylor, I hoped to find the real story of the woman who played such an outsize role in American politics—who she was, where she came from, and what her life was like before and after she became the national symbol of unearned prosperity. What I found was a woman who destroyed lives, someone far more depraved than even Ronald Reagan could have imagined. In the 1970s alone, Taylor was investigated for homicide, kidnapping, and baby trafficking. The detective who tried desperately to put her away believes she’s responsible for one of Chicago’s most legendary crimes, one that remains unsolved to this day. Welfare fraud was likely the least of the welfare queen’s offenses... In the aftermath of that Tribune article—and the one published two weeks later that gave Taylor her famous nickname—Sherwin and his partner were detailed to the investigative unit of the state Senate’s Legislative Advisory Committee on Public Aid. The detective had been looking into a wide range of Taylor’s crimes, but now a police matter had become a political one. The welfare fraud, it seemed, was all that mattered. For the Chicago burglary detective, Linda Taylor was never really the welfare queen. He believed she was a kidnapper and a baby seller. Maybe something worse."
posted by bookman117 (52 comments total) 49 users marked this as a favorite

 
Too bad Reagan didn't vilify her as a kidnapper and baby seller, then. He had to make up other imaginary crimes for her to appease his racist base.
posted by zardoz at 2:04 AM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


It is a wonderful piece of reporting, though. I came across a woman like that once - almost certainly drove her son to suicide after seducing him. She then bought a replacement as a baby and drove him mad. Real sociopaths can do an enormous amount of damage to the people around them. That this one helped to wreck her whole country is I think unique, especially as she did so from underneath, so to say. If she had been upper class it would have been less surprising.
posted by alloneword at 2:28 AM on December 19, 2013 [9 favorites]


Excellent job of research and writing this story. So much devastation from one woman. I, too, get the feeling there were more children and families damaged by this woman's behavior than were ever discovered. This is a perfect cautionary tale about media in politics subverting justice. Although it was a moment in time before the internet and this exact story could not play out this way today, the story has doubtless been replaced by more sophisticated manipulation of media in politics today because I am pretty sure justice is still being subverted.
posted by Anitanola at 3:11 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


He had to make up other imaginary crimes for her to appease his racist base.

Umm. . . you do realize that there is nothing made up about welfare fraud in Taylor's case?
posted by valkyryn at 3:32 AM on December 19, 2013 [14 favorites]


That was some horrifying stuff. Especially at the end... with the son not knowing it's likely that he was stolen as a baby, and he'll never know the truth...

Brrr
posted by suburbanbeatnik at 3:37 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Umm. . . you do realize that there is nothing made up about welfare fraud in Taylor's case?

FTFA:
“In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record,” the former California governor declared at a campaign rally in January 1976. “She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.” As soon as he quoted that dollar amount, the crowd gasped.
[...]
As of 1976, Taylor had yet to be convicted of anything. She was facing charges that she’d bilked the government out of $8,000 using four aliases.
posted by zombieflanders at 3:43 AM on December 19, 2013 [21 favorites]


And farther down:
...She also had “three new cars, a full-length mink coat, and her take is estimated at a million dollars.”


While Reagan sourced his report to “the chief investigative reporter of the Chicago Tribune,” I can’t find anything in the Tribune to support the claim that Taylor’s take reached $1 million.
Mentioning her other crimes would have made it less believable to paint an entire class as grifters.
posted by mkb at 3:44 AM on December 19, 2013 [28 favorites]


Just a contextual reminder, for those who've forgotten: Reagan started his 1980 campaign with a speech about "states' rights" in Philafuckingdelphia, MS, of all places. He would've had to give stump speeches in a Klan robe to be a more open white supremacist. This is the man the modern GOP reveres above all others.
posted by Pope Guilty at 4:20 AM on December 19, 2013 [45 favorites]


And yet for all the laws of the nation the sociopaths can't seem to be stopped.

Why is the reaction to such people "lets make new laws" VS the reaction that was used vs Aaron Swartz of pounding down the nail that stands up?

Where were the citizens whose lives where "bad touched" by the psychopaths using the legal system to shut them down as most DAs are lazy?
posted by rough ashlar at 4:41 AM on December 19, 2013


I would've gasped too...

...at the fact that you'd have to pretend to be eighty people in order to get $150,000 per year. Fraud seems like the least of the problems with that.
posted by Riki tiki at 4:46 AM on December 19, 2013 [32 favorites]


Reagan was a tool. The "welfare queen" gambit was a dog whistle, and plenty of people knew that even then. This is not ancient history; I was an adult of voting age when Reagan was president. At least half of everything most modern Americans think they "know" about Reagan are flat-out lies.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 5:18 AM on December 19, 2013 [12 favorites]


Man, the Reagan years were awesome. All that get-tough-on-welfare-queens stuff, and joking about pushing the button, ramping up the War on Drugs, ignoring AIDS, invading Granada, funding death squads in Central America. Good times.
posted by rtha at 5:27 AM on December 19, 2013 [45 favorites]


The "welfare queen" gambit was a dog whistle, and plenty of people knew that even then

Next you're going to tell me George Bush didn't really care about Willie Horton's victims.
posted by yerfatma at 5:36 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


]This is the man the modern GOP reveres above all others.

And who is far to the left of those who are driving the GOP today . . .
posted by flug at 5:37 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


steal a million dollars and you are a monster, steal a billion dollars and GOP senators will go to bat for you and the Milken Institute (irony of ironies) will say it was the fault of government regulators.

compare and contrast Linda Taylor vs. Charles Keating
posted by ennui.bz at 6:09 AM on December 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


By contrast today's welfare queens drive, oh sorry, they don't drive, they have limo drivers. They make bazillions of dollars "legally," but not ethically. They buy politicians by the dozens. They work against the workers who actually power their business. They do not pay taxes, and they want more, more, more.
I think that today's corporate welfare queens do a much more devastating job on the economy than anyone collecting public assistance, because of poverty.
posted by RocRizzo at 6:43 AM on December 19, 2013 [23 favorites]


Why I'm a little surprised the Gipper didn't make her HUD Secretary. She'd have fit right in with the likes of Watt, Weinberger, and North.
posted by octobersurprise at 6:47 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


What a sprawling, horrifying, fascinating story, though. It makes me wonder - how many people like that are out there, generally flying under the radar. and how weird is it that we only know about this evil con artist Linda Taylor because of this perverse politicization of a faulty characterization of her by... Ronald Reagan?! How fucking weird is all of that.
posted by entropone at 7:01 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


he symptoms on Hare’s list read like a catalog of Linda Taylor’s known behaviors and personal characteristics: glib and superficial charm, pathological lying, manipulativeness, lack of empathy, parasitic lifestyle, frequent short-term relationships, and criminal versatility.

Someone in my family got involved with a person who very much fit this description. It was a terrible, awful, no good experience.
posted by Squeak Attack at 7:17 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


Wow, fascinating stuff. Even more fascinating is that despite the fact that we know, FOR SURE, that Reagan was full of shit with this story--and the story was way more interesting than he let on--people still cannot acknowledge that Reagan was full of shit.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 7:23 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Well, yeah. It's not just admitting that he was not just wrong but an outright liar, for many of them; it's admitting that they too were wrong, and that is just fucking unacceptable.
posted by elizardbits at 7:32 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


rtha: And "Star Wars"! Dutch, or "Prematurely Red", as we knew him, should
be on Mt. Rushmore, I tell ya!
posted by Chitownfats at 7:44 AM on December 19, 2013


steal a million dollars and you are a monster, steal a billion dollars and GOP senators will go to bat for you and the Milken Institute (irony of ironies) will say it was the fault of government regulators.

compare and contrast Linda Taylor vs. Charles Keating


Did you actually read the story? The issue here isn't that Linda Taylor was a small-time crook who was disproportionately targeted. The issue is that prosecutors and most cops were more interested in her crimes against taxpayers than in her much more serious crimes against individuals. This isn't Linda Taylor vs. Charles Keating, unless Charles Keating was in to kidnapping and murder. This is about why powerful people in our society are more outraged by allegations of welfare fraud than by allegations that a psychopath tormented a couple of kids and slowly killed their mother as part of a scheme to collect life insurance.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:54 AM on December 19, 2013 [7 favorites]


Umm. . . you do realize that there is nothing made up about welfare fraud in Taylor's case?

FTFA:
"As of 1976, Taylor had yet to be convicted of anything. She was facing charges that she’d bilked the government out of $8,000 using four aliases.


Nope, Reagan (for once) got the number right. Later in the article:

"In late September 1974, seven weeks after Sherwin met Taylor for the second time, the detective’s findings made the Chicago Tribune.... Reporters noted that Linda Taylor had used as many as 80 names, and that she’d received at least $150,000—in illicit welfare cash, the numbers that Ronald Reagan would cite on the campaign trail in 1976.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


"What a sprawling, horrifying, fascinating story, though. It makes me wonder - how many people like that are out there, generally flying under the radar."

Well, what with probably murder and child kidnapping and all, I doubt there are that many sociopathic con artists out there like her. Looked at from a different perspective, she really wasn't all that successful. She did a lot of stupidly high-risk things and was caught at many of them. It wouldn't have taken much for her to have been convicted of murdering one of those two women that she probably murdered, for example.

But there are many more sociopaths who do the other kinds of stuff she did. The financial stuff, the insurance fraud and insinuating herself into people's lives to steal from them one way or another. I suspect that's pretty common.

Partly I think this because my family had an encounter with someone who later became a nationally-sought fugitive, he actually had escaped from a Florida prison. It was only when we opened up the local paper one morning to see his photo on the front page that we knew any of this stuff about him — he'd been involved with a relative and spent a xmas day with us, he'd supposedly been working on a low-income housing project that later was discovered to be an elaborate scam. We didn't know this at the time, no investigators came and talked with my relative because they didn't know he'd lived with her for a while and she never saw any of the news reports when the whole things was being investigated and reported. All she knew is that he disappeared one day and never heard from him again.

Until the day after that newspaper story when he called her. He'd been arrested and convicted of some other elaborate scam in Florida but somehow escaped from prison. Maybe it was a low-security facility. He used a different name from how we knew him. My relative called the police and told them about the phone call, but he didn't contact her again because she didn't say she'd help him. He hadn't told her he was a fugitive, maybe he didn't know his photo had been on the front page of the newspaper the day before.

I vividly remember buying the newspaper that morning and looking at it and thinking that the photo was of someone who looked familiar. Then reading the story I instantly remembered who he was. My father had said from the first time they'd met that the guy was full of it and he didn't trust him; most of the rest of us took him at face value. Of course, my father was the victim of a con when he was a college student, so maybe he'd developed a greater sensitivity to such things.

Even people who are skeptical or even cynical aren't really prepared to recognize someone who lies about everything and is charming and persuasive when they do it. You just don't really expect anyone to do this. And if you did, how could you live your life doing so? We expect people to lie by omission, to exaggerate, to lie about particularly sensitive matters, but we don't expect people to do what these kinds of sociopaths do. It's hard to defend against them, at least at first. Later, once they are suspiciously taking advantage of you, there are signs you can recognize. But then, that's often too late because by that point you have some emotional investment to not see those things.

Luckily, as I wrote, I think it's not the case that very many of these people are murderers and kidnappers. But they do damage or even ruin lives, nevertheless.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:03 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


Umm. . . you do realize that there is nothing made up about welfare fraud in Taylor's case?

WELL SHIT, ONE SOCIOPATH TOOK ADVANTAGE OF THE SYSTEM, BETTER SHUT THE WHOLE THING DOWN
posted by entropicamericana at 8:06 AM on December 19, 2013 [20 favorites]


Nope, Reagan (for once) got the number right

Reagan said she took $150,000 a year. The Tribune said she took at least $150,000, total. That doesn't count as getting the number right.

But the point of the article isn't that Reagan overstated the extent to which Taylor defrauded the welfare system (or that Reagan's political opponents wrongly describe Taylor as a fictional character) -- the point is that she was presented as a typical case when in fact she was an astonishing outlier, and that somehow the real story is less "the people on welfare are living large on your money and laughing at you" and more "there are people who are bottomlessly insane and/or evil, and people like that will steal money from the government, will steal babies from hospitals, will poison you because they like your coat, and hopefully you'll be lucky enough to go through life without ever encountering one of those people."
posted by escabeche at 8:15 AM on December 19, 2013 [19 favorites]


Yeah, that does seem true. This is the problem with using anecdotes---whether of welfare queens or of Oprah at Barneys---as rallying points; there's no way to tell how common the subject of the anecdote is.

Granted, the Tribune article was using her as an illustration of a problem that was larger than her:

"Bliss had been reporting on waste, fraud, and mismanagement in the Illinois Department of Public Aid for a long time prior to Taylor’s emergence. His stories—on doctors who billed Medicaid for fictitious procedures and overworked caseworkers who failed to purge ineligible recipients from the welfare rolls—showed an agency in disarray. That disarray didn’t make for an engaging read, though: “State orders probe of Medicaid” is not a headline that provokes shock and anger. Then the welfare queen came along and dressed the scandal up in a fur coat. This was a crime that people could comprehend, and Linda Taylor was the perfectly unsympathetic figure for outraged citizens to point a finger at."

But again, it's not clear how much was being bilked overall. This is the great problem with these plans to combat waste, fraud, and abuse: oversight is expensive, and it's worth finding out whether monitoring abuse is costing you more than the abuse.
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard at 8:20 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Nope, Reagan (for once) got the number right. Later in the article

Not really. As pointed out, he fudged the numbers, and as the article points out even later, the only hard evidence used in her case cited the $8000 figure.

Which, as has been also noted, is quibbling over tiny details while ignoring the fact that Reagan was using her as both a false representation of the welfare programs and a racist dogwhistle.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:22 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


But again, it's not clear how much was being bilked overall. This is the great problem with these plans to combat waste, fraud, and abuse: oversight is expensive, and it's worth finding out whether monitoring abuse is costing you more than the abuse.

Agreed, although at least with the various attempts to monitor welfare, it almost always seems to result in a cure that's worse than the disease that wilfully ignores other vectors and symptoms.
posted by zombieflanders at 8:25 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Did you actually read the story? The issue here isn't that Linda Taylor was a small-time crook who was disproportionately targeted. The issue is that prosecutors and most cops were more interested in her crimes against taxpayers than in her much more serious crimes against individuals. This isn't Linda Taylor vs. Charles Keating, unless Charles Keating was in to kidnapping and murder.

How would you know? Keating certainly had a bee-in-his-bonnet about pornography... moral campaigns by Republican businessmen always make me suspicious.

It's funny, the writer decries the politics of moral panic, but the whole article is one long riff on the "True Crime" narrative, which has always been about moral panic (and racial panic.) And I'm not going to count how many times he uses the phrase "welfare queen," which is frankly racist, but somehow justifies because the Chicago Tribune used it... as if the Tribune would never stoop to race-baiting. And, his conclusion runs with the quote "she beat the system."

Linda Taylor didn't beat the system. She spent her life constantly on the move, changing names, and identities, always dodging the police. She was a monster and hurt many people but... Charles Keating beat the system while defrauding thousands of people for billions of dollars. Reagan beat the system: a serial liar, racist, law-breaker (Iran-Contra) and murderer (thousands of men, women and children in El Salvador, Nicaruagua, and Guatemala.)

Could Levin write a similar article about either of those two powerful white men in suits? Reagan and Keating were/are loathsome people, con-men with big personalities and rotten cores who rose all the way to the top. I mean, Reagan was brain-damaged for at least half of his presidency and no one had the guts to tell the truth. Could Salon write an article about Reagan the brain-damaged monster? Why not?
posted by ennui.bz at 8:44 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


I wonder if Reagan's speech would have been as effective if his supporters had known that Taylor was merely a dark skinned Caucasian - like Jesus and Santana Claus?
posted by Joey Michaels at 8:55 AM on December 19, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ahaha "Santa" not Santana. How awesome that my auto correct goes to Santana first. That's so smooth.
posted by Joey Michaels at 9:05 AM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


ThatFuzzyBastard: kind of interesting, the bit that you cut out of your quote. The whole section:
In late September 1974, seven weeks after Sherwin met Taylor for the second time, the detective’s findings made the Chicago Tribune. “Linda Taylor received Illinois welfare checks and food stamps, even tho[ugh] she was driving three 1974 autos—a Cadillac, a Lincoln, and a Chevrolet station wagon—claimed to own four South Side buildings, and was about to leave for a vacation in Hawaii,” wrote Pulitzer Prize winner George Bliss. The story detailed a 14-page report that Sherwin had put together illuminating “a lifestyle of false identities that seemed calculated to confuse our computerized, credit-oriented society.” There was evidence that the 47-year-old Taylor had used three social security cards, 27 names, 31 addresses, and 25 phone numbers to fuel her mischief, not to mention 30 different wigs.

As the Tribune and other outlets stayed on the story, those figures continued to rise.
Reporters noted that Linda Taylor had used as many as 80 names, and that she’d received at least $150,000—in illicit welfare cash, the numbers that Ronald Reagan would cite on the campaign trail in 1976.
[emphasis mine]

In other words, other news outlets inflated the figures in the story well beyond anything that could be substantiated later, probably to keep the story (and increased circulation and/or viewership) alive. And, of course, the Reagan campaign went with the highest figure, not the one that could actually be substantiated.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:13 AM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


This is a fascinating piece for so many reasons. There's an incredible insight into how an outsider's schemes are well-tailored for people like her, but utterly incredulous when viewed by people with more knowledge. This stood out:

"he also furnished a pair of Lawrence Wakefield’s heretofore-undiscovered wills. The first, which dated to 1943, included a description of Wakefield’s daughter that matched her own, “specifically describing a scar and a mole and their location on her body.”"

The idea that there would be a description of a scar and a mole in a will is sort of insane - but is the kind of thing that one outsider might use to con another. It's an attention to detail that makes sense within a very specific mental space.

And maybe this is why cons work so well - not because they're objectively believable, but because they follow an internal logic reflecting a specific mindset that they target.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:04 AM on December 19, 2013 [10 favorites]


Also interesting as a historical note, the attorney in the 70's who kept her out of jail for a few years fighting these charges was R. Eugene Pincham, right around the time he switched from being an outside agitator to consummate insider.

I'm sure this story is the tip of the iceberg. There's thousands of stories and plots engendered this woman out there, obscured by constant her morphing with different names and different races. Amazing that she would pass herself off as black, white or Filipino as the occasion warranted. I was hoping the comments would be about other aspects of this, instead of just rehashing 'welfare fraud' (remember, don't read the comments).

Maybe the Paul Joseph Fronczak case could finally be answered. Would someone come forward and admit now, 50 years later that they were given a baby by this woman?
posted by readery at 10:10 AM on December 19, 2013


This article is a fascinating read. "sprawling" I think someone used above. Absolutely. Thank you for posting.

Naturally the Reagan/'welfare queen' label connection grabs the most attention, nearly begging for quick reactions. But the sheer depth of this story is confounding, unimaginable, unrelenting... In that turn from section 3 to 4 -- straight from the welfare queen recap, jumping some 10 years back into an investigation of supposed small-time hustler -- I could feel myself falling down some sort of rabbit hole into this story.

The fact that this story, a sordid yet absolutely clear example of "lives/people are complex", was used by the media/political machine to churn out a one-dimensional straw man to lay over top of it all is, for me, the starkest form of a tragic irony.
posted by Theophrastus Johnson at 10:55 AM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


A few other things that pop out to me as I read through the article:

- It's worth noting that the Chicago Tribune, which broke the scandal, was (and still is) a conservative paper in a city that is still one of the most racially-segregated cities in America; the story broke six years after the West Side riots following the assassination of MLK.

- The police detective who'd been researching the case against her, Jack Sherwin, was furious when the Tribune broke the story; as the article puts it, "[t]he detective had been looking into a wide range of Taylor’s crimes, but now a police matter had become a political one." Even before the media inflated the numbers and Reagan picked up on it, it had become a political football.

- It really is a very good article, despite the #slatepitch-y title, and does such an effective job of showing what a monster she was that the above just makes me angrier.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:58 AM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


What a great story! She certainly provides a counterexample to the stereotype of the lazy welfare recipient, though. It took a lot of work to keep all those criminal enterprises going.
posted by TedW at 12:06 PM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


"It took a lot of work to keep all those criminal enterprises going."

Yeah, at the bit with all the paperwork found in her home, I was thinking my god, I can't imagine having to keep up with several mailboxes and all that correspondence for all those identities.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:09 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fascinating story, and absolutely frightening.

This isn't about welfare fraud, it's about one woman's mental illness and how it affected not just her family and her victims (one and the same in some instances) but society at large as well.

It takes a heap of "fucked-up" to destroy that many people and ultimately for so little.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:11 PM on December 19, 2013 [3 favorites]


The really fascinating thing is, she's used as an example of a racist dog whistle...but according to this story...
As of 1940, the 13-year-old girl had attended school, but had gone only so far as the second grade. And in the box labeled “color or race,” she’s marked with a “W” for white, just like everyone else in her family.
She's listed as a "racial Rorschach test", appearing to people as the race they wanted to believe she was.
posted by corb at 1:27 PM on December 19, 2013 [2 favorites]


We all know what color she was in Reagan's telling of the story, and in the minds of the people he was telling it to.
posted by tonycpsu at 1:55 PM on December 19, 2013 [5 favorites]


As I posted in the other recent welfare threads, there is evidence that welfare and welfare queens are definitely racialized terms, especially in American political discourse.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:09 PM on December 19, 2013 [1 favorite]


Beanplating the extent of her fraud aside, the story only had value as a dogwhistle. The utter failure of government, entirely unwilling to connect any dots, kept her a menace to society for so long. The unbelievable path of destruction this woman left in her wake was something almost nobody was willing to truly contemplate. "Psychopath rips off welfare" carries no weight because that turns her into an anomaly rather than an easily exploitable typical result of the welfare state, and because the true severity of her offenses would have made welfare fraud a footnote to her prosecution.

Such a remarkable and horrifying story. Peace to the people whose lives were destroyed by this awful human being.
posted by 2N2222 at 3:49 PM on December 19, 2013


Her skin was so pale and smooth, he says, that she could look Asian, or like a light-skinned black woman, or even white. One night, though, he woke up before dawn and saw that his bride’s smooth skin wasn’t so perfect—she had “1,000 wrinkles on her face.” After he caught this illicit glimpse, Linda locked herself in the bathroom for an hour. When she came out, she looked like a whole new person.
Can anyone speculate on the technique she was using?
posted by Joe in Australia at 4:56 PM on December 19, 2013


This is probably one of the most fucked up things I have ever read. It's very rare to read about female serial killers (and obviously it's debatable/unproven as to whether she was one), but in terms of the scope of the damage this woman caused it's pretty similar to reading stories about Gacy or Dahmer or similar damaged humans. The length and breadth of her deceptions and maliciousness is kind of awesome, in the true sense of the word.

Perhaps this is the one, tiny, marginal, fringe benefit of the panopticon state: it is so very, very much harder for people like this to get away with what they do. Not that it never happens, but think about it: remember the rash of serial killer news stories in the 80s and into the 90s? Guys who would have victims numbering in the tens or dozens or more? That has largely disappeared. Yes, Robert Pickton recently, and he wasn't caught because of the general abominably shameful attitude of most Canadians towards First Nations people in general, and First Nations women in particular. But in recent history he's as much of an outlier as this terrible woman was.

This isn't to say I approve of the panopticon, but it isn't entirely bad. It would be incredibly difficult for this woman to have done what she did in this day and age. (And yes, that small fringe utility of the all seeing eye doesn't excuse the abuses done by it, don't get me wrong.)

It's a tragedy all around. She was obviously mentally ill (not a judgement; I'm mentally ill) and needed treatment. It's highly unfortunate that she... operated in an era in which mental care was of even less importance than it is today, because that left her free to victimize people at will.

I hope her (living) victims find some sort of peace.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:04 PM on December 19, 2013


And the part about her posing as a heart surgeon—that was probably true, too.

White boy defrauds banks, poses as pilot, doctor [true to an extent]: practically a populist hero.

Black woman does much the same thing: Well, you figure it out.
posted by dhartung at 1:11 AM on December 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Who did Frank Abagnale murder or kidnap?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:19 AM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


The issue is that prosecutors and most cops were more interested in her crimes against taxpayers than in her much more serious crimes against individuals.

A factor is the large number of Federal laws and the ability to remove the issue from your books/accounting to place it on someone elses.
posted by rough ashlar at 5:43 AM on December 20, 2013


I wonder if Reagan's speech would have been as effective if his supporters had known that Taylor was merely a dark skinned Caucasian

There was certainly no ambiguity in Reagan's campaign speeches when he railed about the "strapping young bucks" in the grocery checkout buying T-bone steaks with food stamps.
posted by JackFlash at 9:54 PM on December 20, 2013 [5 favorites]


Bring on the Pajama Bashing
[T]here's a particular venom that characterizes the approach many conservatives take to the liberal exemplars. For example, it's hard to imagine a prominent liberal columnist driving to Baltimore to poke around the home and business of the family of a 12-year-old boy who advocated for the S-CHIP funding that helped his family afford medical treatment for him and his sister after a serious car accident. But that's what conservative celebrity Michelle Malkin did in 2007, in an attempt to prove that the boy's family didn't deserve the help. It certainly seems as though whenever we meet a new ordinary citizen liberals are touting, the first thought some conservatives have is, "This person must be destroyed."

There's also often a disconnect between the attempt to undermine the exemplar and the policy argument conservatives are making. Let's say Malkin had succeeded in uncovering some dirt on that young boy's family. What would that have shown—that poor children shouldn't get health coverage? It was reminiscent of something we learned more about this week, one of the most well-known exemplars in American political history: the "welfare queen" whose bilking of the system Ronald Reagan touted as proof that poor people didn't deserve help from the government. While liberals believed for many years that Reagan had simply made up the tale (like so many others), Slate has the fascinating backstory of Linda Taylor, who not only defrauded welfare in the 1960s and 70s but may have also committed multiple acts of murder and kidnapping. The problem with Reagan's use of her story is that he wasn't arguing that it showed that we needed to do more to crack down on fraud so con artists couldn't take advantage of the system. Reagan was arguing that this career criminal was actually a typical welfare recipient, and her story showed that benefits should be cut for everyone.

Reagan's "welfare queen" story had real political potency. These days though, conservatives are more likely to get worked up over some individual liberal (or the photo of someone they presume is a liberal) and eventually find that the public doesn't share their excitement. Just like they thought Joe the Plumber was going to win them the 2008 election, I guess they think a photo of a guy wearing pajamas is going to get Americans mad at Barack Obama and make them not want to get health insurance. To which liberals should probably respond: Go ahead. Keep telling us about how liberal men aren't as manly and strong as you are, and how single women are a bunch of sluts, and how racial minorities are ungrateful moochers. How's that been working out for you lately?
posted by zombieflanders at 6:43 AM on December 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


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