After a two-year hiatus from politics, unemployment trutherism made its return to the Republican campaign trail on Monday, making a brief appearance alongside Rick Perry at an Iowa breakfast. According to Bloomberg Politics reporter Dave Weigel, the former Texas governor told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition that they couldn't trust the official unemployment rate coming out of Washington. "It's been massaged, it's been doctored," Perry said, as quoted in a tweet by Weigel.
The sharp improvement in American job creation clearly poses a challenge for Republicans. The GOP spent last year insisting that the Affordable Care Act, higher taxes on the wealthy, and federal regulations were crushing the job market, and yet, 2014 saw the fastest drop in unemployment in literally three decades.
What's a Republican to do? As is too often the case, it appears resorting to conspiracy theories is easier than dealing with reality.
Weigel has not yet published a report with the full context, but he provided a transcript to W. Gardner Selby. The former Texas governor explicitly said, in reference to the unemployed, "I mean, who is it standing up for these people that I call the uncounted? They've lost hope that they can even get a job, so they're not even counted. When you look at the unemployment rate today, that's not the true unemployment rate, it's been massaged, it's been doctored."
Actually, no, it hasn't.
If Perry and others on the far-right want to make the case that the unemployment rate is an imperfect metric, that's fine. In fact, I'm inclined to agree, and as regular readers know, I've said many times there are better metrics that offer a more accurate look at the jobs picture.
The unemployment rate is one of the more common statistics -- it's the one the public tends to rely on -- but I'm far more interested in the actual number of jobs being created on a month-to-month basis. (Of course, using this metric doesn't do Republicans any favors -- the drop in the jobless rate has coincided with increasingly robust job creation, unlike anything seen in either Bush era.)
But Perry and his allies, discouraged by good economic news, don't want to make the case for a different metric so much as they want to accuse the White House of engaging in a conspiracy to "doctor" the data.
To put it charitably, that's nuts. Indeed, it doesn't even make sense -- not only is there literally nothing to suggest the figures have been manipulated for political purposes, but if President Obama and his team were going to launch a conspiracy like this, they wouldn't have delayed the best news until after the midterm elections, when the facts could no longer do Democrats any good.
These bizarre and unhinged ideas about a nefarious scheme have been working their way through conservative circles for a while now, and they're not improving with age. The broader pattern, however, is even more discouraging: too much of the right has started to see reality as an enemy to be challenged and replaced.
Science points to climate change? There must be a "hoax." Data points to falling unemployment? The numbers must be "doctored." Polls show Mitt Romney is going to lose? The surveys must be "skewed." Evidence points to the efficacy of the Affordable Care Act? Just bury your head in the sand and pretend otherwise. Benghazi conspiracy theories have been discredited? Keep looking for evidence that doesn't exist.
Even by the bizarre standards of our contemporary discourse, this just isn't healthy. When reality is your enemy, it's probably time to pause, reflect, and reevaluate your political perceptions.