Slate’s Executive Editor Josh Levin created a complex, in-depth multi-media story about the woman who was dubbed the “Welfare Queen” by Ronald Reagan. Mostly described by the media as a black woman, Linda Taylor was actually white and it seems she was also a kidnapper and murderer.
Ronald Reagan loved to tell stories. When he ran for president in 1976, many of Reagan’s anecdotes converged on a single point: The welfare state is broken, and I’m the man to fix it. On the trail, the Republican candidate told a tale about a fancy public housing complex with a gym and a swimming pool. There was also someone in California, he’d explain incredulously, who supported herself with food stamps while learning the art of witchcraft. And in stump speech after stump speech, Reagan regaled his supporters with the story of an Illinois woman whose feats of deception were too amazing to be believed.
“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.
Four decades later, Reagan’s soliloquies on welfare fraud are often remembered as shameless demagoguery. Many accounts report that Reagan coined the term “welfare queen,” and that this woman in Chicago was a fictional character…