The "Myth" of Welfare Queens

In one of his slew of Republicans-are-racist posts earlier in the year, Paul Krugman wrote, sarcastically:

When [Reagan] went on about the welfare queen driving her Cadillac, and kept repeating the story years after it had been debunked, some people thought he was engaging in race-baiting. But it was all just an innocent mistake.

Of course, there couldn't be a third option - like, say, that Reagan was indulging in his typical fondness for using vivid Reader's Digest-style anecdotes to illustrate his arguments, and that the "welfare queen" story drew on real-life incidents to get at the underlying reality of an easily-abused welfare system, even if the Gipper's details were fuzzy. No, it's racism or nothing.

I thought of the Krugman line while reading (via Rod Dreher) the story of protests in New Orleans over a plan to demolish several public housing complexes. Here's a snippet:

Sharon Jasper, a former St. Bernard complex resident presented by activists Tuesday as a victim of changing public housing policies, took a moment before the start of the City Hall protest to complain about her subsidized private apartment, which she called a "slum." A HANO voucher covers her rent on a unit in an old Faubourg St. John home, but she said she faced several hundred dollars in deposit charges and now faces a steep utility bill.

"I'm tired of the slum landlords, and I'm tired of the slum houses," she said.

Pointing across the street to an encampment of homeless people at Duncan Plaza, Jasper said, "I might do better out here with one of these tents."

Jasper, who later allowed a photographer to tour the subsidized apartment, also complained about missing window screens, a slow leak in a sink, a warped back door and a few other details of a residence that otherwise appeared to have been recently renovated.

If you click through to the story, you'll find a photo of Ms. Jasper's digs, paid for out of the public purse, which in addition to having been recently renovated appear to house an absolutely enormous flat screen television. There was, admittedly, no Cadillac in evidence, so calling her a "welfare queen" is a tad unfair. "Welfare duchess," though, seems like a reasonable term of art ...