When it comes to recent evidence pointing to a stronger economy, the right is clearly concerned that the news will bolster President Obama's re-election odds. That's understandable; Obama's rising approval ratings are not an accident, and are tied directly to recent economic trends.
Republicans have a few options. They can try to change the subject, for example, and shift attention to culture-war fights such as the war on contraception. That's not a good strategy -- the American mainstream is on the other side -- but if talking about the economy is bad for one's electoral strategy, it makes some sense to try to change the conversation. The GOP can also try to make the case that the economy is improving, but it would do even better under Republican rule.
What Republicans shouldn't do is buy into a conspiracy theory.
On "Fox & Friends" this morning, Brian Kilmeade noted that good economic news matters a great deal when it comes to the president's fortunes, but only "if you believe these numbers."
A minute later, Gretchen Carlson added, "Unemployment has gone down, more jobs have been created. Now, you can argue about how those numbers, some people say they've been fabricated."
Well, that depends on how one defines "some people." Fox News figures say the economic data has been deliberately manipulated, and folks like Rush Limbaugh and Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) apparently agree, but that doesn't make the argument any less ridiculous.
To reiterate a point from a few weeks ago, there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the unemployment data has been manipulated in any way. The monthly Labor Department report is compiled by career officials at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who've done nothing to have their integrity called into question, and if Republicans are going to raise the specter of an elaborate rise, it's incumbent on them to offer at least some kind of proof.
Alex Seitz-Wald recently had a good take on this:
If it weren't improper to psychologically analyze strangers, one might think the Fox hosts are displaying a textbook example of cogitative dissonance here, a psychological phenomena in which people who hold on strong belief about something invent (sometimes farfetched) explanations for new evidence that conflicts with their existing views. Obama is bad for the economy, the jobs numbers show the economy is doing better, so there must be something wrong with the jobs numbers. Needless to say, this is hardly the behavior one expects from fair and balanced journalists Fox hosts claim to be.
I am curious about something, though. If the conspiracy theorists on the jobs report were right, why did the Obama administration wait three years to start manipulating the report? In other words, if political and electoral considerations were driving the data, leading officials to "cook the books" as Steve Doocy recently put it, why wait so long? Wouldn't it have been better to show a significant improvement shortly before the 2010 midterms? Why wouldn't the administration just keep the unemployment rate artificially low all along?