After Jack Welch proved himself to be totally lacking in anything that an alien species would regard as intelligent if it landed on Planet Earth when he questioned the authenticity of the Bureau of Labor Statistics report showing 7.8% unemployment, there was enough outrage heaped upon him so that anyone who wasn’t a Fox News devotee should have known he was wrong. However, he has now gone and one-upped himself when he quit writing for Reuters and Fortune because they said mean things about him and constrained his writing to the friendly pages of the Wall Street Journal (his letter saying “I quit” is here).
However, he has now further debased his reputation with an op-ed in the WSJ that starts with:
Imagine a country where challenging the ruling authorities—questioning, say, a piece of data released by central headquarters—would result in mobs of administration sympathizers claiming you should feel “embarrassed” and labeling you a fool, or worse.
Soviet Russia perhaps? Communist China? Nope, that would be the United States right now, when a person (like me, for instance) suggests that a certain government datum (like the September unemployment rate of 7.8%) doesn’t make sense.
Without belaboring why his argument that there is a massive government conspiracy around the jobs report is ridiculous (short version: there are WAAAAAY too many people involved with the jobs report and no political control over the numbers for it to be possible to influence), there is a larger point that conservatives love conspiracy theories and the embrace of conspiracy theories is embraced far more within the ‘mainstream’ wing of the party. As Bloomberg’s John Barro wrote:
Conservatives have become very good at taking inconvenient facts and insisting that they are frauds perpetuated by liberal conspiracists. We’ve seen it with the dismissal of the last few weeks’ election polling. We see it with inflation statistics and voter fraud. Most important, we see it with climate change.
He goes on (in the next paragraph) to mention that there are liberal conspiracy theorists as well, but rather than being embraced in the ‘mainstream’ of the party, they are debunked and marginalized. That is the sad part of where politics has now intruded outside of its normal grounds (where the birther thing had already made a mockery of any degree of reasonableness of the Republican establishmen) and into science and economics.
When the mainstream of an entire political party embraces crackpot theories that would have been rejected by that same party a decade earlier (to say nothing of the Fox News echo chamber that amplifies it), it becomes hard for a reasonable centrist like President Obama to state a case for his policies when the underlying, fundamental facts behind it are being questioned. This is not a ‘one party versus the other’ election when one party cannot accept a basic set of facts that each would then propose a policy to address. It has become an election about whether facts are real.
I am not ready for a post-modern election.
UPDATE: Joe Weisenthal provides an example of a country where government statistics are politically influenced, and it’s not the US.