Some short bits below that came to mind during a conversation I had with a friend on Monday, our first long talk since the election.
Since November I’ve been coming back to the parallels between Reagan and Trump, not just the dangers of a figurehead executive giving the functions of government over to actors hostile to the concept that government should function, but to how that figurehead can conjure up and sustain the fictions that justify that hostility. Reagan’s “welfare queen” stories come to mind, and in “The Invisible Bridge” Rick Perlstein showed how Reagan had honed these narratives as a radio host and paid speaker in the time between his terms as Governor of California and President. Of course, as with so many of his stories, the truth of the welfare queen is much more complex than Reagan’s straw woman, but why let facts get in the way of a good destruction of the social contract?
The knotty mess of how welfare was actually doled out, the hoops recipients have had to jump through to maintain eligibility, and the failures in the face of such obstacles used to justify slashing services have been the subjects of several books and articles, and I don’t need to recount them here, but I think it is important that we know and continue to re-learn about them and the legacy of similar policies as redlining or voter-suppression tactics old (literacy tests) and new (such as mandating voter ID, and then making it difficult to get an ID). It’s important because we need to recognize the facts of how we got to where we are and to recognize new attempts to drag us back to a worse time. It is important to recognize the old lies and their new clothes. It is important to recognize that we have never risen to our ideals, and that we have no laurels to rest on.
I’ve included an article about an interview that included one of the more infamous quotes in modern politics, Lee Atwater’s explanation of “The Southern Strategy.” It’s worth your time.
And, for that friend I talked to on Monday, an article about one of the more horrid recent events accused of being a “false flag” by Infowarriors, the Newtown Massacre, and a parent of one of the children murdered. We were trying to come up with a way to explain how, given a set of facts, Alex Jones determines that the most complicated explanation must be true: the opposite of Occam’s Razor would be what? Jones’s Bazooka?
The Welfare Queen
The plural of anecdote is not data. The plural of the craziest anecdote you’ve ever heard is definitely not data. And yet, the story of the welfare queen instantly infected the policy debate over welfare reform. Sociologist Richard M. Coughlin notes that in 1979, AFDC families had a median of just 2.1 children and a very low standard of living compared to the average American. In 2013, Bureau of Labor Statistics data continue to bear out the stark economic gap between families on public assistance and those who are not. Linda Taylor showed that it was possible for a dedicated criminal to steal a healthy chunk of welfare money. Her case did not prove that, as a group, public aid recipients were fur-laden thieves bleeding the American economy dry.
The ‘Welfare Queen’ Is a Lie
As anti-poverty programs increasingly rely on surveillance and sanctions, they strengthen an association in the public imagination between poverty and criminality. In so doing, these policies further stigmatize the receipt of public assistance rather than strengthening these programs’ capacity to respond to critical needs. Designing public policy around the needs and experiences of real families—not mythical abstractions—will be essential for removing the stigma attached to public assistance and achieving a social safety net that supports the full participation of all Americans in society and the economy.
Lee Atwater’s Infamous 1981 Interview on the Southern Strategy
In the lead-up to the infamous remarks, it is fascinating to witness the confidence with which Atwater believes himself to be establishing the racial innocence of latter-day Republican campaigning: “My generation,” he insists, “will be the first generation of Southerners that won’t be prejudiced.” He proceeds to develop the argument that by dropping talk about civil rights gains like the Voting Rights Act and sticking to the now-mainstream tropes of fiscal conservatism and national defense, consultants like him were proving “people in the South are just like any people in the history of the world.”
The Sandy Hook Hoax
Looking at the lawsuit, I noticed that Pozner had filed it on September 11, which I assumed was a coincidence. But Pozner told me he had chosen the date on purpose. “I know how these guys function, and this is just another shock to their nervous system,” Pozner said, pointing out that the overlap between 9/11 truthers and Sandy Hook hoaxers is high. On July 4, he redirected the HONR Network site to the NSA’s homepage. Pozner denied getting any satisfaction out of his campaign but acknowledged that he tried “to have a sense of humor about it.” He also created an Onion-like site mocking the hoaxers: “Computer enhancement of mirror’s reflection reveals the truth! Wolfgang Halbig is a shape shifting reptilian!!!”