The right seemed pretty worked up yesterday after Drudge pushed a video of a woman claiming she’s voting for President Obama because he gave her a phone (thanks to James Carter for the tip). It wasn’t long before Rush Limbaugh and others like him were excitedly asking over-the-top questions: is Obama getting votes through bribes?
And though I don’t doubt that your Fox News-watching uncle will be emailing all-caps messages about this any minute now, the truth is far from scandalous.
The Federal Communications Commission has a program called Lifeline that provides low-cost or free phone service. The agency’s website says this is because it and Congress “recognize that telephone service provides a vital link to emergency services, government services and surrounding communities.” Who qualifies varies by state, but “in general,” to qualify you must have an income that is no more than 135 percent of the federal poverty line, or be enrolled in assistance programs like Medicaid, public housing assistance, discounted school lunch, or yes, food stamps. […]
Strictly speaking, it’s not a government-funded program: the telephone companies make payments to a fund administered by a non-profit called the Universal Service Administrative Company, but anyone with a phone bill chips in through a surcharge on their service.
Though the origins of the universal service program date back at least to 1934, the Lifeline program in particular was instituted by a well-known redistributionist by the name of President Ronald Reagan in 1984. A related effort, expanding affordable access to cell phones for low-income Americans, was created by another radical liberal by the name of George W. Bush.
As for the larger context, Dave Weigel’s point bears repeating: “Shockingly, despite the bipartisan origins of the service, the idea of an ‘Obama Phone’ for the undeserving has existed for a long time. You know what else has existed for a long time? The Drudge Report hyping up tabloid news that makes black people look like violent dopes who’ll do anything for more goodies from Obama.”