Emily Badger is a former staff writer at CityLab. Her work has previously appeared in Pacific Standard, GOOD, The Christian Science Monitor, and The New York Times. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.
And the whole concept of legislating by ridiculous anecdote.
I hate to give Jason Greenslate any more mention. But now he's jumped not just from a California beach onto Fox News and into Congressional talking points, but all the way across the Atlantic into the pages of the latest Economist.
Greenslate, if you happen to have missed him, is the surfer unearthed in La Jolla during a Fox report on "The Great Food Stamp Binge." He is everything you'd want in an argument against the importance of federal food aid: Greenslate says he spends his money on sushi and lobster and devotes his abled body to a "demonstrably awful" rock band. And he seems downright delighted to dine on the taxpayer dime. "It's free food," he tells Fox. "It's awesome."
He is also, of course, insanely unrepresentative of the 47 million Americans on food stamps (most of whom are forced by circumstances to understand they shouldn't blow their few hundred bucks a month on low-calorie, high-cost containers of store-bought sushi). But that hasn't prevented his story from magically multiplying: Here a talking point from Eric Cantor where warns of "young surfers who aren’t working, but cash their food stamps in for lobster."
Just like that, an individual bum becomes a generation of them. A House bill gets passed slicing food stamp resources. And advocates legitimately concerned about poverty suffer flashbacks to Ronald Reagan's Welfare Queen, an equally evocative Chicago caricature getting rich on a Social Security card scheme who, it turned out, never really existed.
"Lobster Boy," as the Economist explains to the world, "is now Exhibit A in Republicans’ efforts to slash the cost of the food stamp programme, known as SNAP."
In fact, he's a more apt Exhibit A in the power of anecdotes that get people all riled up to drown out those that demand compassion.