Believe It Or Not
So, Saint Ronald Reagan’s infamous “Welfare Queen” has been fingered and her sins catalogued.
You remember her don’t you? During Saint Ron’s first honest-to-gosh presidential run in 1976, he made tons o’hay by railing against a woman who would become known as the Welfare Queen of Chicago. See, flamboyantly white people at the time not only were scared to death of the black penis, they also soiled their pants thinking about the fat, lazy mama raking in gov’t dole checks while she sat around in her house slippers, gorging on potato chips (bought and paid for with our hard-earned tax dollars), while watching soap operas on TV.
Reagan’s target market cared not a whit for poverty, the environment, wars here and there, or whether or not women made 69 cents for every dollar men made. Pish tosh. The paramount concern of the Archie Bunker crowd that Ronnie coveted — hell, their only concern — was whether it would be indolent black women or savage black men who would destroy our holy land first.
Back in the 1950s, a shocking number of pols could feel comfortable saying, in no uncertain terms, that the niggers were coming. By the mid-’70s, that kind of candor was out. Candidates trying reach the then-“Silent Majority,” the one that would shortly morph into the “Moral Majority,” needed code words and misdirection to foist their fear-of-a-black-planet message upon a happily suspecting public.
The future Commander-in-Sleep claimed at a campaign rally in January, 1976, that the forces of good had discovered a woman who’d gamed the feds to a shocking degree. He said:
She has eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve 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. Her tax-free cash income is over $150,000.
You can easily imagine RR’s facial expressions and the shifting tones of his voice as he ran down the laundry list of her sins, ranging from golly-gee, can-you-believe it? to righteous rage. He was, after all an actor. And, even though all politics is theater, The Saint was the first thespian-turned-pol to enthrall audiences on a national scale.
Within weeks of that speech, the Chicago Tribune had dubbed the woman, now revealed to be one Linda Taylor, the “Welfare Queen.” Saint Ronnie never had to say it but his crowds knew this in their hearts: There was nothing unusual about her. In fact, she was the archetype, not the outlier. All those lazy bums collecting welfare are living the life, man! They all know how to squeeze blood out of the system. The Reaganistas wondered in private conversations with each other, Why are blacks like that? Within 20 years, America’s attitudes had been so shaped by Reagan’s vivid imagery that a Democratic president would lead the charge for “welfare reform.” The Welfare Queen was dead.
Or, more accurately, the Welfare Queens. Plural. The millions and millions of them. Driving Cadillacs and eating lobster with their chitterlings, all paid for with food stamps and public aid checks. Why are blacks like that?
Through the years, liberal commentators have speculated that Good Old Ronnie had conjured his Welfare Queen out of whole cloth. Even so respected an observer as Paul Krugman once wrote that Reagan’s literal bête noire was nothing more than a “bogus story.”
Turns out Linda Taylor was not only real but her slurping at the public trough was even more criminal than Ronald Reagan implied. Man, oh man, you might marvel, Reagan was right.
Up With (White) People
He was and he wasn’t. Taylor was a cheat, a parasite, and a truly despicable figure. But there was only one Linda Taylor and Reagan knew it. He also knew his audiences wouldn’t care. They craved to believe everybody collecting welfare was a fraud. Men believe, Julius Caesar once noted, that which they wish to be true.
So Linda Taylor did well by herself, financially if not morally. Yet she inadvertently was responsible, in some small part, for the growing numbers of mal- and under-nourished schoolkids, the burgeoning homeless population, and the millions more medically underserved citizens of this great nation in this day than in hers. (Ronald Reagan, natch, was far more responsible.)
Her unique sins became the sins of the whole.
Funny thing is, at precisely the time Taylor was scamming the feds and the State of Illinois, another Chicagoan was engaged in an even more ugly evil.
Beginning in the mid-1970’s, Detective, and later Violent Crimes Commander, Jon Burge of the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2 headquarters on the South Side, carried out and/or oversaw the systematic torture of hundreds of prisoners to extract phony confessions from them, particularly in high-profile cases. Burge and the boys in the Area 2 HQ basement enjoyed beating, burning, and suffocating suspected lawbreakers, all in the pursuit of quick indictments and ultimate convictions. The reported incidents include the shooting of prisoners’ pets in front of them, snuffing out lit cigarettes on suspects’ skin, tying them to scalding hot radiators, and covering their heads with plastic bags until they passed out. They employed cattle prods, high voltage electroshock devices, and old reliable standbys like telephone books and rubber hoses to inspire their subjects to sing. They enjoyed using something called the “violet wand” which delivered a severe electric shock when pressed against a suspect’s anus or genitals.
Occasionally, the Burge boys used their more “enhanced” methodology on witnesses to crimes as well as suspects. The witnesses, it has been reported, were thus persuaded to testify in a manner that would please the officers.
One suspect, who eventually signed a phony confession that led to the death sentence for shooting a police officer, described a typical torture device used at Area 2 HQ: “It’s black and it’s round and it had a wire sticking out of it and it had a cord on it…. [Burge] took it and he ran it up between my legs, my groin area, just ran it up there very gently… up and down, up and down, you know, right between my legs, up and down like this, real gentle with it, but you can feel it, still feel it.
“Then he jabbed me with the thing and it slammed me… into the grille on the window. Then I fell back down, and I think that’s when I started spitting up the blood and stuff….”
Burge and fellow duly deputized officers of the law differed from Stasi agents or Gestapo officers only in the color of their uniforms.
And, speaking of color, all of the Burge crew’s victims were — you guessed it — black.
After nearly 40 years’ worth of charges and several headline trials, Burge finally was convicted of torture, obstruction of justice, and perjury. He’s now serving a 4½-year sentence at the federal correctional facility near Raleigh, North Carolina.
Which is the proverbial drop in the bucket compared to the many, many years dozens of tortured suspects spent in prison, at least 10 death penalty convictions leveled against others (since overturned, thanks to Burge’s convictions), and the nearly $100 million the City of Chicago has had to pay out in punitive damages.
Oddly, few outside the shifting boundaries of Chicago’s black neighborhoods thought to jump to the conclusion that Burge’s team might not be the only Police Department crew using cruel and inhuman methods to frame innocent people. Not even after reports issued by the CPD itself and the United Nations Committee against Torture suggested that Burge et al were not really outliers in the force, but archetypes.
No, nobody among the Silent and Moral majorities wished to believe their friendly men in blue, those who served and protected them, would actually torture prisoners. Why, that kind of stuff only goes on in East Germany and Communist China, for heaven’s sake! Not here in the land of the free and the home of yadda, yadda.
And since they didn’t wish to believe it, as Caesar pointed out, they simply didn’t.