Rand Paul’s puzzling incredulity

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Unlike the federal response to every modern economic downturn, policymakers’ response to the Great Recession has featured one idea that’s been equal parts conservative and ridiculous: we’ve allowed the job market to deteriorate, on purpose, by allowing the public sector to shed hundreds of thousands of jobs.

As became clear on ABC’s “This Week” yesterday, it’s a detail Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) neither knows nor understands.

Hoping to challenge Paul Krugman, the Kentucky Republican asked incredulously, “Are you arguing that there are fewer government employees under Obama than they were under Bush?”

Told that the facts are incontrovertible, Paul responded, “No, the size of government is enormous under President Obama.”

It’s unsettling, to put it mildly, to see such conspicuous ignorance play out on national television. The truth really isn’t that hard to understand – state and local governments, strapped for cash, felt compelled to lay off legions of public-sector workers, including teachers, police officers, and firefighters. All told, since the economy bottomed out, America’s private sector has added 4.6 million jobs, while the nation’s public sector has shed 571,000 jobs. Since the start of the recession, we’ve lost more jobs in government than any other sector of the economy.

Democrats wanted to provide the funds necessary to save those jobs, but Republicans refused, arguing that the economy would improve when those 571,000 workers were unemployed. If public-sector job growth had only been allowed to continue to grow at the same rate as it did under the Reagan and Bush presidencies, unemployment would be significantly lower right now, but under President Obama, GOP lawmakers won’t allow it.

Rand Paul could have at least tried to defend the underlying GOP argument, absurd though it may be, but instead he simply denied reality, pretending government employment has increased when it’s actually seen a sharp decrease.

In other words, a Republican senator – not some random talking head, but literally a sitting U.S. senator who’s on Senate committees dealing with labor and small businesses – doesn’t have the foggiest idea what he’s talking about. He’s confused, not by complex economic theory, but by basic details that anyone with a passing familiarity with the economic debate recognized years ago.

So here are a couple of follow-up questions: (1) exactly what is it Rand Paul does with his time when he’s supposed to be learning the basics of public policy? and (2) why is Rand Paul invited onto Sunday shows as if he has something worthwhile to contribute to the discourse?

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Rand Paul's puzzling incredulity

Updated