Scarborough native basks in national spotlight after anti-welfare Walmart column goes viral
SCARBOROUGH — It's a long shot from college junior to renowned pundit, but one Scarborough native got much closer to achieving that dream last week.
Christine Rousselle's blog post, "My Time at Walmart: Why We Need Serious Welfare Reform," exploded onto the Internet last week. As of Wednesday, it has garnered more than 600,000 views at The College Conservative, a new website for which Rousselle is a staff writer. Before that, the website had just 886 views, total.
Now Rousselle, 20, is in the middle of a media whirlwind. Reporters from state and national news outlets have called for dozens of interviews. Her blog post was featured on The Blaze, one of conservative pundit Glenn Beck's websites. On Wednesday, she got a call from NBC's The Today Show, offering to fly her to New York.
It's also brought her job offers and even a handful of marriage proposals from swooning conservative men.
"I think it was a hit because I had first-hand experience with it," she said during an interview Wednesday. "I think it resonated. I could be anyone's daughter telling these stories."
In her column, the Providence College political science student shared anecdotes of the two summers she spent working at the Scarborough Walmart as a cashier.
She said she was confronted with welfare fraud and abuse regularly, perpetrated by people she referred to as "questionable clientele" and "welfare queens." She described state aid recipients buying steak, lobster and video games with taxpayer dollars, which she deemed an abuse of the system.
Rousselle said that Maine's welfare system is broken because there is little incentive for recipients to improve their lot. She doesn't begrudge people receiving temporary assistance until they can get back on their feet, she said, but thinks Maine's system encourages people to stay on welfare because they would lose all their aid if they make a few dollars more than the assistance ceiling permits.
"Like Paul Ryan said, it's supposed to be a safety net, not a safety hammock," she said.
Rousselle said she'd support a tiered system that doesn't immediately cut people off for making a little more money. This would incentivize bootstrap-style self improvement, she said.
None of that is in her column, but if readers went there looking for all the answers, Rousselle said, they missed the point.
"I'm not an economist," she said. "I don't have a degree. I'm a 20-year-old girl with a laptop and some work experience. ... I'm not trying to be an expert and I didn't mean to write a treatise or an encyclopedia article. This is five scenes from Walmart."
As can be expected for ideological writing, Rousselle's take on welfare has had its critics. One common critique is the dismissive way Rousselle refers to welfare recipients.
Rousselle said she assumed the article would be read by only the die-hard conservative base who usually reads The College Conservative. She said that if she'd known it was going to go viral, she still would have used those words but would have taken greater pains to explain them.
"I'd say a 'welfare queen' is someone who makes their living off social programs," she said. "Somebody living in the projects who still has a satellite dish."
Rouselle acknowledged that aside from how they behaved at Walmart, she didn't know anything about the people she slams in her column, but that it didn't matter. The people in the column aren't the target of her ire, she said. They're just the symptoms of what she sees as a failed welfare system.
"I truly want these people to be able to better themselves," she said. "So when the system doesn't encourage getting off the system, it makes me deeply sad."
All of the attention plays well into Rousselle's dream of joining the political commentariat. She famously told one newspaper that she hopes to be the next Ann Coulter, a conservative pundit and author, and one of Rousselle's political idols.
"I want to be like Ann Coulter, but I don't mean I want to be 6-foot-1, blond and 100 pounds. I just want to be a political commentator when I grow up," Rousselle said. "I bought a copy of (Coulter's) 'Godless: The Church of Liberalism' at Sam's Club when I was a sophomore, and I was like, 'This woman is me.'"
Since word of her aspiration hit the Web, Coulter has given Rousselle a nod on the social networking website Twitter, saying she's "perfect" for the job.
And if pundit doesn't work out as a career path, that's fine too. Rousselle said she'll take whatever job she can get after graduating. She's currently assistant news editor for her college newspaper, The Cowl, and said that aside from the marriage offers, her blog post has also brought in job offers.
"A state representative in New Hampshire sent me an email that said if I wanted to move to New Hampshire he could find me a district I could win," she said.
For now, the would-be demagogue is focused on her next pieces for The College Conservative. The first one will be a response to her critics, an effort to explain herself to people with whom she disagrees.
"I'm really not a monster," she said. "I'm just very concerned for America."