Early on in last night's debate, Republican presidential hopeful Ben Carson was asked whether he'd support an increase in the minimum wage. The retired right-wing neurosurgeon began his answer by saying, "People need to be educated on the minimum wage," which quickly became one of the more ironic comments of the evening.
"Every time we raise the minimum wage, the number of jobless people increases. It's particularly a problem in the black community. Only 19.8 percent of black teenagers have a job, who are looking for one. You know, and that's because of those high wages. If you lower those wages, that comes down. "You know, I can remember, as a youngster -- you know, my first job working in a laboratory as a lab assistant, and multiple other jobs. But I would not have gotten those jobs if someone had to pay me a large amount of money."
The assertion that minimum wage increases are always followed by an increase in unemployment is wrong. Carson's claim about unemployment among black teens is even further
from the truth. And as for the minimum wage when Carson was younger, in 1975, when he was 24 years old, the minimum wage was $2.10 an hour -- which is $9.29 when adjusted for inflation, more than two dollars above today's wage floor.
It was, alas, that kind of event. There's always considerable chatter about who "wins" or "loses" these debates -- most pundits seem to think Marco Rubio excelled, though I'm starting to think some of them are just using a computer macro to save time -- but there was one clear loser last night: reality.
At another point last night, Gerard Baker, the editor in chief of the Wall Street Journal, reminded Carly Fiorina, "In seven years under President Obama, the U.S. has added an average of 107,000 jobs a month. Under President Clinton, the economy added about 240,000 jobs a month. Under George W. Bush, it was only 13,000 a month. If you win the nomination, you'll probably be facing a Democrat named Clinton. How are you going to respond to the claim that Democratic presidents are better at creating jobs than Republicans?"
If anything, Baker's numbers were tilted in the GOP's favor, since Obama's totals are dragged down by including the early months of his presidency, when the economy was in free fall. Nevertheless, the point is accurate -- since World War II, more jobs are created under Democratic presidents than Republicans -- prompting Fiorina to reply, "Yes, problems have gotten much worse under Democrats."
She'd just been reminded of the opposite, which made the exchange a little unnerving. I kept waiting for one of the candidates to drop the pretense and declare, "I reject this version of reality and replace it with one I like better."
Around the same time last night, Marco Rubio insisted the United States is in the midst of "an economic downturn," which is bonkers. The economy added over 270,000 jobs last month, the unemployment rate is down to 5%, and we have the strongest economy of any democracy on the planet.
Some dissembling is expected in events like these, and I hardly expect GOP presidential hopefuls to celebrate Obama-era progress, but for two hours last night, viewers were treated to a rare sight: a view of current events distorted by a funhouse mirror.
Towards the end of the evening, there was also this amazing exchange between Maria Bartiromo and Rand Paul:
BARTIROMO: Senator Paul, you were one of 15 Republicans to vote for an amendment which states that human activity contributed to climate change. President Obama has announced an aggressive plan to cut carbon emissions. At the same time, energy production in America has boomed. Is it possible to continue this boom, and move toward energy self-sufficiency, while at the same time pursuing a meaningful climate change program? PAUL: The first thing I would do as president is repeal the regulations that are hampering our energy that the president has put in place.
She had just noted that energy production has boomed in the Obama era, which led Rand Paul to denounce the regulations that have prevented a boom in energy production.
I can appreciate why "Presidential Candidates Lie To Win Votes" is a dog-bites-man headline, but last night wasn't so much about dishonesty as it was about feeling stuck in a "Twilight Zone" episode. Jon Chait concluded
, "In a debate where chastened moderators avoided interruptions or follow-ups, the candidates were free to inhabit any alternate reality of their choosing, unperturbed by inconvenient facts."
It was hard to know whether to be annoyed or terrified.