Ross Douthat and the "Welfare Duchess"

Roy Edroso has a handy little guide to brand new NYT columnist Ross Douthat's stranger scribblings.

But in my neck of the woods--New Orleans--Douthat will be remembered for coining the phrase "Welfare Duchess" to describe a New Orleans woman named Sharon Jasper who was living in subsidized housing and who happened to be photographed in her apartment with a big screen TV.

A few commenters nailed Douthat for the stupid, and frankly racist, remark. "Here's the double-bind," wrote one commenter, "If Sharon Jasper keeps her apartment clean and attractive and decorates it with flowers she's a crooked welfare queen, cynically scamming the Hell out of the sweaty, put-upon, hard workin', tax payin', David Duke votin' white Louisianans. Conversely if she'd let it degenerate into a filthy mess, she'd be a typical slum-dwelling black: a sub-human savage who doesn't even deserve to live indoors." [More...]

But the best response to the outrage over Jasper's alleged good fortune came from New Orleans blogger Dangerblond who captured the absurdity with this great satirical headline:"elderly black woman caught with big-screen t.v.; lacks proper level of humility and appreciation."

In the era of bailouts for billionaires and socialism for the rich, of course, Douthat's skewering of an African American woman for having a living standard too high for his tastes seems all the more misguided. In fact, I'd like to see the phrase "Welfare Queen" or if Douthat prefers, "Welfare Duchess," applied to the likes of Citigroup or Bank of America.

As Cactus at Angry Bear wrote last fall:"..Can we at least require every bank that takes government money to include the words 'Welfare Queen' in its name? I think it would be a very useful thing if Goldman Sachs were forced to call itself Welfare Queen Goldman Sachs. It might make a few members of the voting public realize exactly how the system work."

Here's hoping that at his new perch Douthat will apply the same level of scrutiny to the big banks as he did to a low-income resident of a city that has rebuilt and largely repopulated without the sort of helping hand extended to, as Cactus might put it, Welfare Queen Goldman Sachs.

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    absolutely not! (5.00 / 1) (#3)
    by cpinva on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 12:31:49 AM EST
    I thought this had gone out with Reagan's 1976 and 1980 campaigns. He was a master of this kind of crap.

    this is bread & butter republican cant, guaranteed to raise the blood pressure of their blue-collar minions, who, if they had any brains at all, would realize they are but one paycheck away from living next door to ms. jasper.

    they'll be using this 50 years from now.

    Douthat was not skewering or (5.00 / 1) (#5)
    by Think Before You Type on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 05:56:02 AM EST
    making fun of the woman.

    He was skewering the system that was so blind as to be providing welfare payments to a woman with a big-screen TV.  We progressives do the same thing when we see incongruous, implausible things - we skewer them.

    Douthat is successful and smart, which is why he got a plum perch at the Times.  We should be emulating him, not skewering him.

    As for calling it racist - that's just bizarre.  It's like calling criticism of Bernie Madoff anti-Semitic.  Sorry, guys, but the word racist has a meaning, and this ain't it.  Misusing the word will make it much harder to fight real racism, which still exists despite major improvements in recent decades.

    Funny how people are progressive (5.00 / 3) (#16)
    by indy in sc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 09:54:21 AM EST
    until they're not.  There is nothing in the story or picture caption to indicate that Ms. Jasper spent large sums of money on the TV in the picture or that she did so at the expense of feeding a child or some other worthy purusit.  

    The point of Ethan's post is that without any information on this TV other than its existence in the apartment, Douthat expresses outrage.  His only source of outrage has to be that she dare have something nice in her apartment that is paid for by the public.  If you live in public housing, you'd better have a 13" black and white tv so we can see how much you need the assistance.  It's ridiculous.


    you really ought to (5.00 / 1) (#21)
    by cpinva on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:28:04 AM EST
    think before you type

    of course he was skewering this woman, please spare me the willfull ignorance, ok? or, you're just stupid. that, i'm afraid, can't be fixed.

    what we don't know (because mr. douthat either didn't bother asking, or conveniently omitted from his rant) is how ms. jasper acquired the tv; was it a gift, did she pick it up at a second-hand store for $50?

    i have no idea. neither do you. at the moment, it's reasonable to assume mr. douthat doesn't either.

    yet, that didn't stop him, or you, from castigating this woman, for having the nerve to be a welfare recipient, and having what appears to be one luxury possession.

    how dare she!

    as for the racism angle; simply put, the majority of welfare recipients in the US are caucasion (no suprise, since they constitute well over half the total population), yet mr. douthat chose an elderly black woman as his "welfare duchess".

    i wonder why that might be?


    Wow (none / 0) (#27)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:15:20 PM EST
    How conservative of you, not to mention keen on dogwhistles.
    This is a classic case of right wing hypocrisy, with a bit of Reagan racism added for color.

    I am sure that Douthat will follow in Kristols shoes quite nicely. He more than likely emulates Coulter, Hitchens, Sullivan, and Limbaugh.


    Ethan, (5.00 / 1) (#6)
    by Wile ECoyote on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 06:25:02 AM EST
    if a white woman would have been called a welfare duchess, would that have been racist?  Define racism, please.

    I think his point is (none / 0) (#20)
    by indy in sc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:23:22 AM EST
    that a white woman would not likely have been called a "Welfare Duchess."  

    I don't see this a racism so much as classism, but I see his point that the image of black woman as welfare queen or, now, welfare duchess, resonates because the stereotype is so ingrained, which is why these kinds of stories rarely report on white women on public assistance.


    It Is a Racist Stereotype (none / 0) (#28)
    by squeaky on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:16:11 PM EST
    But you knew that.

    Indeed... (5.00 / 2) (#12)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 08:37:37 AM EST
    the only welfare whores I see are banks and corporations.

    Changing the Subject (5.00 / 0) (#17)
    by BDB on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 09:58:00 AM EST
    This always strikes me as an attempt to focus public anger on the poor (and black) and away from the rich white boys who are really ripping us off.  Even if you took off every welfare recipient who has a $700 television (not something I would support, but let's say we do), it's not going to save this country very much money.  And it's going to be nowhere near the 2 trillion dollars we've given to the banks.  But, of course, the banks deserve to be on the dole because they are not a black woman.  

    This is the same as blaming the unemployment on illegal aliens and not the companies who hire them so as not to have to pay decent wages to legal workers.

    It's easy to do because the individuals have a face and the anger can be personalized, but to the extent they are working the system, it's for pennies.  Meanwhile we keep shoveling vaults full of cash to nameless, faceless Goldman Sachs.

    I can't help but envision a bunch of rich white guys with suitcases of cash running from an angry mob and to get it off it's trail pointing to a poor black woman with a television and screaming "hey, look over there!"

    We are constantly told that even the most basic things for ordinary people - healthcare, education - are too expensive, but nothing the rich need from tax cuts to bailouts is ever too much.  Nor are they ever moral failures for needing or wanting them.

    Answers to Questions (5.00 / 1) (#26)
    by Ethan Brown on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:02:07 PM EST
    A number of commenters have brought up the issue of the TV itself--was it a gift? a rental? was it bought used? These are all good questions and the photo of Jasper was in a Times Picayune article that didn't provide any clarity/context to these questions. The photo of Jasper simply accompanied a piece about public housing...

    So, instead of asking some legit questions about Jasper she was simply dubbed a welfare queen and a welfare duchess. I think that's demonstrates really shallow thinking and I can't imagine that Douthat apply such a derogatory term to a white woman--and, by the way, if he did I'd find that equally reprehensible.

    Also: the photo of Jasper appeared during a very vigorous debate about public housing in New Orleans. The City Council was about to demolish several large housing projects at a time when there was a surge in homelessness. The decision also came against the backdrop of nearly 50K rental units destroyed when the levees broke. Yet thanks to the likes of Douthat the whole debate got boiled down to a low-income woman and her TV. That's really stupid.

    Finally, I have a really hard time with columnists/reporters etc who dissect the quality of life of low income folks when we have enormous income inequality in this country and, more recently, billion dollar bailouts for big banks.

    Ultimately, I think that Douthat's post about Jasper was cruel and, worse, stupid. He added nothing to the debate and he didn't even bother to delve into the specifics of the debate about public housing in New Orleans.

    Fox is # 1 on cable TV, (none / 0) (#1)
    by NYShooter on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 06:28:36 PM EST
    The Right owns all of radio; disfunctional drecks get record ratings on "so called" reality TV.

    You know what? It IS the new reality.

    Can't blame the Times for trying. An exhumed Edward R. Murrows wouldn't bring it back.  

    I thought this (none / 0) (#2)
    by kenosharick on Thu Mar 12, 2009 at 10:11:30 PM EST
    had gone out with Reagan's 1976 and 1980 campaigns. He was a master of this kind of crap.

    Sorry, this life-long Dem agrees with Douthat... (none / 0) (#4)
    by JoeCHI on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 05:52:58 AM EST
    If you're on public assistance, it's unethical to spend what limited means you have luxury items.

    50" Flat-Screen TV on Ebay for $700. (5.00 / 1) (#7)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 06:53:06 AM EST
    Ebay currently offers a 50" Samsung flat-screen TV for $700.

    Woe be unto America, when anyone in public housing owns anything worth $700!

    Meanwhile, across the pond, where the real dukes and duchesses dwell, Prince Andrew, Duke of York, sold his modest little country retreat for $30 million last year...

    It's enough to buy 42,000 Samsung flat-screen TVs.


    What other "luxury" items will $700 buy? (5.00 / 1) (#9)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 07:47:19 AM EST
    A pair of petal sandals from Christian Louboutin?


    Petal sandals, $995.

    A nice handbag?


    Zip Detail Hobo, $1995.

    A belt from Hermès?


    Women's belt in metal and palladium, $1,875.

    A dress from Marchesa?


    Structured Silk Organza Dress, $6,600.

    But Ms. Jasper doesn't possess a luxury handbag, or luxury shoes, or a luxury belt, or a luxury dress.

    All Ms. Jasper has is a "luxury" TV, and a bunch of ignorant honking hoodoos are so indignant about it that they already wish they had voted for John McCain, who doesn't even know how many mama-honking houses he owns!


    She could have bought herself a car! (5.00 / 1) (#10)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 07:59:55 AM EST
    Instead of "wasting" the magnificent sum of $700 on a "luxury" TV, Ms. Jasper could have bought herself a beautiful 1987 Mercury  Grand Marquis  4 Door Sedan!

    Only 22 years old, and it still starts!


    She could have bought a 1 acre homesite! (5.00 / 1) (#11)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 08:32:19 AM EST
    Instead of "wasting" the magnificent sum of $700 on a "luxury" TV, Ms. Jasper could have bought herself a 1 acre homesite in Pittsford, Michigan... in 1887.

    Well, to be fair (none / 0) (#13)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 08:54:05 AM EST
    I, and most people, don't have any of those things either (actually, I've never HEARD of most of those designers!  And I, personally, would NEVER pay $2000 for a belt or $995 for sandals, but that's just me, I suppose. The 2 TVs that I own -  a 25 inch and 36 inch, together did not cost $700). So, your comparison of  "luxury" (read: over priced) clothing is a bit off (and, frankly, you don't know what kind of clothes she has).

    And the yahoos who are so indignant and making comments - well, they are just morons. And Douthat is a doofus for using "welfare duchess". But to say that people who get government assistance should never be questioned if they have "luxury" items is also silly. That's all I was saying.


    Holy Buckets, jbindc! (5.00 / 1) (#14)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 09:09:54 AM EST
    What are you doing on the wrong side of this nonsense?

    There's some old lady in public housing who doesn't get out much, and her most precious possession cost $700!

    And you're indignant?

    The next time I see a picture of this "welfare duchess," I want her to be down on all fours eating dog food right out of the can!

    There's even running water in her palatial apartment.

    Can't she drink from a puddle, like a regular dog?


    I'm not indigniant (5.00 / 1) (#15)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 09:50:58 AM EST
    I frankly don't care about this specifically lady having this TV.  But c'mon - you don't look at someone you know a little funny when they borrow money from you and they go out and buy something you consider extravagant when they haven't paid you back?

    Never mind - I don't want to argue with you Jacob.  It's Friday the 13th - one of my favorite days - and I'm in too good of a mood!  :)


    Okay. (none / 0) (#18)
    by Jacob Freeze on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:12:22 AM EST
    but Friday the 13th?

    Does that "j" stand for Jason?


    Ha Ha (5.00 / 1) (#19)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:14:20 AM EST
    No - Julie. :)

    Well (none / 0) (#8)
    by jbindc on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 07:43:22 AM EST
    I see your point -  Maybe this was a gift from someone, or maybe she got a really good deal. And no, poorer people should not have to go without anything nice. And, Douthat shouldn't have called her a "welfare duchess" - calling names is childish and we should all do well to try and refrain ourselves from doing so because when we start to call names, we lose the argument.

    But, but I also understand Douthat's point - if someone gives you money to help you survive, they do have a (small) right to tell you how to spend it (or at least have the right to have an opinion on how you spend it). Take it down to a more personal level, and it's easier to see why it's maddening.  For example,  say I can't pay my bills - I'm behind in my rent, and the electric may get turned off.  I come to you and tell you my sob story.  I ask for $500 to help me get through the month and you give it to me.  Don't you think you might be a bit upset if the next time you saw me, I was complaining I didn't have enough money to pay my bills, but you saw I had a brand new iMac and all new computer accessories?


    Where'd you get a MAC with all accessories for (none / 0) (#23)
    by jawbone on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:33:04 AM EST
    $500 or under?

    Of course, you might be doing work from home and need a computer....


    Do we know she purchased the TV herself? Or was it (none / 0) (#22)
    by jawbone on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 10:31:33 AM EST
    a gift or a curbside pickup worked or that someone fixed up? Or a rental?

    Or, perhaps at one time she had a job and a home. Perhaps the TV was in it.

    Point being, there was an assumption in the Douthat piece that she had spent money unwisely. But we do not know that.

    It's like Michelle Malkin jumping on the homeless guy with a cellphone -- which, it was pointed out, could very have been supplied to him by a charity trying to ensure that someone without a fixed address can be reached -- for any number of reasons, among them medical assistance or job searches.

    Anyone have the facts?


    I don't care... (none / 0) (#24)
    by DancingOpossum on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:09:45 AM EST
    ...if she spent her welfare check on that TV. Or if she spent it on sandals, flowers, or a bottle of wine. I honestly don't give a damn--just like I don't understand why people can't use food stamps to buy pet food, or cigarettes, nor do I give a damn if the homeless guy I give a dollar to spends it on food or on vodka. Anyone who thinks that living on the streets or in public housing is living some kind of high life, I invite them to try it for a night.

    It's reminiscent of the Victorian notion that charity should be so pinched and miserly and cruel that poor people would prefer to die on the street than accept government charity--and as many of them, indeed, ended up doing. Why? What's the freakin' point of making sure that everyone you give a buck to is living a miserable, penurious, pleasure-deprived existence?

    I DO care a whole rip-roaring lot about the banksters and Halliburtons and assorted other big-time criminals and crooks fattening themselves off our blood, sweat, and tears. Douthat is the typical young smug Republican jackass who never had to go without one day in his life and thinks he never will.  

    And re: (none / 0) (#25)
    by DancingOpossum on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 11:11:57 AM EST
    the homeless guy with a cellphone

    I saw an episode of "Intervention" once where a young man's family gave him a cellphone and paid for it so that they could at least be in touch with him even though he (a drug/alcohol addict) had chosen to live on the streets.

    I very much like Cactus at Angry Bear's (none / 0) (#29)
    by DFLer on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 01:49:14 PM EST
    suggestion to rename banks et all "Welfare Queen Inc., etc.

    How about South Carolina Governor as Welfare King? etc. (South Carolina is one of those states that receive more Federal aid than pay in Fed. taxes.)

    I like it too... (none / 0) (#30)
    by kdog on Fri Mar 13, 2009 at 02:11:31 PM EST
    picking on a poor slob on public-assistance over how they spend the crumbs they get instead of the big welfare gluttons of industry and finance is like hassling on the guy on the corner selling nickel bags ang ignoring the drug kingpins.

    Actually, thats kinda how we fight our stupid war on drugs...stupidity spreads like wild fire I guess.