At True North yesterday, Mitch Berg wrote in Female Conservative Derangement Syndrome:
It’d be fair to call Mary Franson a little Bachmann-like. While she’s been the target of an almost Bachmann-like frenzy of dementia from central Minnesota’s leftyblog community ever since she took office, the freshman conservative from Alexandria is most famous for the teapot-tempest that blew up last year about her video noting – from the perspective of someone who’d been there – that welfare treats people “like animals”. While Franson fairly clearly meant that welfare treats people like livestock or pets, dependent on their owner or master the government, the optics weren’t polished to a fine enough sheen to prevent the left’s noise machine from braying “Franson calls welfare recipients animals”.
We'll get to what Franson actually said about feeding people on food stamps in a bit. But this passage is puzzling:
the freshman conservative from Alexandria is most famous for the teapot-tempest that blew up last year about her video noting – from the perspective of someone who’d been there – that welfare treats people “like animals”.
A reasonable reader would conclude upon reading "from the perspective of someone who’d been there" that Berg means that Mary Franson had at one time been on "welfare."
Since Franson didn't talk about her own background in the infamous video, that's a frame that calls attention to itself. And it's not too hard to find an example of Franson talking about her economic circumstances.
Indeed, in last month's appearance in a very civil debate on Pioneer Public Television, Franson specifically said that although she had left home before graduating from high school, she resisted letting herself fall "into the trap of dependence:"
First and foremost, I am a mom of three beautiful children. I happen to be lower middle class. . . .
. . .My life has not always been easy. My mom died when I was three weeks old and I was shuffled around until my dad was able to take me in into a permanment situation. Even then, I had many challenges that I had to face, and when I was eighteen years old, I moved out of the house before I even graduated high school.
It would have been very easy for me to get on to the system, enroll in all the various social programs, but I decided I wanted a better future for myself and for my future children, so I made up my mind that no matter what, I was going to succeed.
And that's what happened, I succeeded. Obstacles came in my way and I pursued and I persevered. My successes didn't come easy though but they were well worth it. I pray everyone in this state and in this country to have the same desire to succeed and be self-reliant.
There is pride in never letting yourself fall into the trap of dependence. I want those successes for everyone, but there are those who want to tell you that you need to have the government to help, that you are not capable of achieving the American Dream on your own. Well, I'm here to tell you that you can. You can achieve your dreams.
With public policies that encourage self-reliance, strong families, and individual charities, you can do anything. I've been a strong advocate for just those sorts of policies. . .
Here's the video; her statement begins around 5:53:
The reasonable person who watches the statement or reads the transcript would conclude not that Franson had "been there" on "welfare," but that she never went there.
Perhaps Berg is trying to say what Franson said. If so he should aim for a bit more clarity, lest his readers think that Franson had been there on food stamps or "welfare." He does her no service by contradicting her account of her life story.
Berg should clarify his passage, and apologize to Representative Franson.
That being the case, what did she say in the original video that set people off? She told a "joke" from a widely circulated email that compared the USDA feeding people with food stamps with signs put up by the Park Service (incorrectly said to be a USDA agency) not to feed the animals. Franson then discusses "welfare reforms" that would end dependency but doesn't get into the details or name a bill.
Few on either side of the furor over her remarks looked at the legislation she touted. Bluestem did: it would have limited Minnesota families to three years of TANF benefits, rather than the national five year limit. There are no provisions for job training or education or any other mechanism for that might help a person become self-reliant. Nor does it address the problems of the working poor, elderly, and small children who receive food support.
And she certainly shared nothing on the video that framed the remarks from the perspective of someone who had" been there." At a Tea Party in Browerville this summer, she talks briefly about having to struggle, but doesn't say that she received public assistance. At another Browerville rally in 2010, she shouted out to her grandmother in the audience for making her get a job at 18.
UPDATE: Berg has edited his copy to be a more accurate reflection of Franson's bio, and added a new post that illustrates his ambitions in the defense industry along with a chronic inability to spell Bluestem's editor's last name correctly. In comments here, he remarks that I believe Mary's story would be stronger had she indeed received public assistance. This post makes no such point. Rather, I asked for clarity from him.
First, he implied that her "joke" came from a perspective that simply isn't explict in the video below. Second, that that perspective was one of a person who had "been there" with regard to the way the welfare treats people. As she chose not to sign up for benefits, she hasn't been there. It's not her perspective.
Her story to the viewers of Pioneer Public Television of the choices she made is an excellent example of ethos underscoring the logic of the policy she pursues. But lovely and powerful as this perspective and narrative is rhetorically, it is also completely absent in the video below, whatever Berg projects onto his own Franson text. [end update]
Here's the full video that caused the furor; her remarks about welfare reform bills and food stamp recipients begins around the 1:50 mark:
Photo: Mary Franson