Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush answers a question from the audience during a town hall campaign stop at the VFW Post in Hudson, New Hampshire, July 8, 2015. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Would you believe it, the lady says. She just saw a woman at the supermarket using her food stamps to stock up on potato chips and soft drinks.
You know, curmudgeonly Americans insist, able-bodied young blacks don't look for work anymore because they can live a life of relative ease on their welfare checks.
Paul Krugman, the New York Times columnist, calls this "the laziness dogma." It was the basis, he says, "for the furious attacks (by Congress) on unemployment benefits at a time of mass unemployment and on food stamps when they provided a vital lifeline for millions of Americans. It drives claims that many, if not most, workers receiving disability payments are malingerers."
Most Republicans seeking their party's presidential nomination seem ready, even eager, to chop unemployment benefits and food stamps.
"Over half of the people on disability are either anxious or their back hurts," the smarmy Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky declared the other day.
Republicans have been grumbling about all these welfare programs since Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal. Many of them are still quietly displeased by Social Security. But it was Ronald Reagan who made the most dramatic attack on what came to be called the "welfare queen," though he didn't actually use those words in 1976.
"She has 80 names," he said, "30 addresses, 12 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 on each of her names. Her tax-free income is over $150,000."
Mr. Reagan seemed to be implying that his welfare queen was not an anomaly, but that she was just an outstanding cheater in a swarm of cheaters.
The fact is, says Mr. Krugman, a Princeton University economist and author of 20 books, "Federal spending on 'income security' – food stamps, unemployment benefits, and pretty much everything you might call 'welfare' except Medicaid – has shown no upward trend as a share of (gross domestic product) ... But no matter, an epidemic of laziness is their story and they're sticking with it."
Jeb Bush didn't exactly say Americans are lazy, but he did say those of us just getting along need to work longer hours to earn more money to take care of our families (though he later seemed to be backing away).
"Let him tell that to the nurse on her feet all day or the teacher who is in that classroom or the trucker who drives all night," Hillary Clinton said Monday. "They don't need a lecture. They need a raise."
Sure, there are cheaters in our welfare system, but there are cheaters everywhere. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program -- formerly the Food Stamp Program -- served almost 50 million Americans last year, including someone now and then stocking up on chips. The average payment was $126.35 a month.
James M. Perry, a prominent veteran political reporter, contributes regular observations to post-gazette.com. Mr. Perry was the chief political correspondent of The Wall Street Journal until his retirement. Prior to that, he covered national politics for the Dow Jones weekly, The National Observer.