Why Anti-Obama Conspiracy Theorists Doubt the Jobs Numbers

Those who think the Bureau of Labor Statistics manipulated the jobs report in favor of Obama want to see him fail so badly they can't believe the economy is improving.

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A drop in the still-too-high unemployment rate would seem to be one of those things everyone would agree is a good thing. After all, who would want more people without jobs, struggling to pay bills and lacking health insurance?

Oh, but it's an election season. Actually, "election season" is now pretty much constant, with the possible exception of Election Day and the day of the inauguration. So there are a group of anti-Obama forces so angry at the downtick in unemployment that they are actually suggesting that the career economic experts at the Bureau of Labor Statistics somehow manipulated the numbers to make the country think things were getting better.

As absurd as this hypothesis is, it has a certain appeal to me. I've decided that instead of lamenting the Buffalo Bills' utter inability to stop the run, I'm going to blame the folks keeping score. It's simply not logical that the Bills could have blown a 14-point lead at the half the Sunday before last to then lose to the New England Patriots by an embarrassing 52-28 margin. No, they must have cooked the numbers somehow. It's just not logical.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

It would be pathetic if that were a pure analogy. But it's worse—it's more akin to Patriots coach Bill Belichick saying his team didn't really win, because he wants the Patriots to do really badly so they can get the first-round draft pick next year. Rooting for failure—as the conspiracy theorists are doing by questioning the recent report of a 7.8 percent unemployment rate—is unsportsmanlike in football. It is unconscionable when it comes to the economy.

The logic of the attack on the Bureau of Labor Services is baffling. These are green eyeshades-wearing, career economists. It's not like the numbers were crunched by the NFL replacement refs. And if the tactic was to genuinely misrepresent the numbers, wouldn't they have started several months ago? The impression of the economy is generally cemented well before the election (something that hurt former President George H. W. Bush, who did not benefit from the late-in-season improvement in the economy in the 1992 election). Wouldn't the Bureau of Labor Statistic have started lowering the unemployment rate gradually, starting in June or July?

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But this isn't about the integrity of statistics or the "real" unemployment rate (notably, the bureau also found that the drop in unemployment was the result of more people actually being employed, as opposed to the effect of discouraged people dropping out of the labor market). This is about a group of people who so dislike the president that they cannot even imagine that he could do anything right, and are irritated at anything that suggests he might have made a good move. These are the same people who are still—almost four years later—so distressed that Obama was elected that they don't believe it's real. They question his citizenship and very legitimacy as president. They work to block anything he seeks legislatively—not always on the merits, but just to make him look like a failure—then accuse him of a failure of leadership. And if he expresses something that might look like leadership, they accuse him of being "arrogant." At least it's a more palatable word than "uppity."

The drop in the unemployment rate, of course, upends the slogan of the Mitt Romney campaign, that unemployment has remained over 8 percent during Obama's presidency. But that hasn't proved to be much of a barrier. American Crossroads, a conservative super PAC, had an ad on television Saturday—after the new unemployment numbers came out—using the 8 percent line. They also said, wrongly, that the country had fewer jobs than when Obama took office. That statistic, unlike the unemployment numbers calculated by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is actually wrong, but people who want to believe it will. Facts are stubborn things. But they're not as stubborn as the people who so want Obama to fail that they're willing to let the country suffer in the process.

  • Read Robert Schlesinger: Conservative Jobs Conspiracy Is Nuts
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