The Right’s attitude toward facts seems to be the same as Jim Lehrer’s attitude toward rules in the wake of criticism of his performance in the recent debate: “So what?”
We’re all familiar with the GOP’s blatant disregard for facts since the Bush presidency, but we saw this embrace of a false but more pleasing reality reach a nadir this week.
Look at the hair-rending frenzy on the right regarding the new unemployment rate numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As Rachel Maddow put it: Don’t like reality? Make your own. The numbers can’t possibly be right because they do not serve the Republican Party’s best interests (or their narrative of what’s happening in this country) therefore it’s not their narrative that is flawed but the numbers.
And the numbers are not only flawed, they’re being deliberately manipulated to make Obama look good, so the conspiracy theorists assert.
Jack Welch got the ball rolling with his tweet: “Unbelievable job numbers..these Chicago guys will do anything..can’t debate so change numbers.”
Yesterday afternoon, Chris Matthews got hold of Jack Welch on MSNBC and asked him about these charges. Welch answered like a man who knows he’s full of it but just won’t admit the hard truth: that the truth both about his tweet and about the unemployment rate, is unpalatable.
Matthews got right to the point: “What evidence do you have that they got to the BLS?”
“I have no evidence to prove that, I just raised the question,” Welch insisted in what was by day’s end to become a mantra to him.
Matthews, to his credit, stuck to his guns: “No, you didn’t raise the question…You were asserting … did you talk to any economists?”
Since Welch clearly did not have access to hard data from economists, he fell back on what he knew had to be true: “Chris, I know that these numbers are gathered by a series of wild assumptions…but it seems coincidental that one month before the election they would end up at 7.8.”
Matthews pointed out to Welch that what people cared about was his analysis, not his attitude toward Obama. He pointed out that Welch “asserted corruption.”
So Matthews, who could see Welch had backed himself against a yawning precipice, graciously gave him an out: “Do you want to take that back? This is an assertion that there was jimmying with these numbers.”
Welch’s response was to laugh. “It’s not funny, Jack!” Matthews told him.
Still laughing, Welch said, “Chris, don’t lose it, now!”
“I’m not losing it, look at my face. I’m not losing it.” Matthews replied.
Given a chance to take back the tweet, Welch finally insisted, “I don’t want to take back one word in that tweet.”
Matthews made clear that Welch hadn’t gathered “any actual information or evidence” and Welch could not deny it. Because the numbers could not possibly be what they were, it had to be a White House conspiracy.
When pinned down, Welch came up with a bizarre “I don’t want to put words in the mouth of what I said last night” in an apparent attempt to avoid saying anything.
I suspect we now know who is writing Mitt Romney’s speeches.
Later, appearing on Anderson Cooper 360, Welch had had some time to think about things. He said, “I should have put a question mark on the end of that, let’s face it,”
Welch told Cooper, “Maybe their numbers were wrong before, maybe they’re wrong now but I don’t know. I am involved in this economy in a very deep way right now with lots of businesses. And this economy is not growing, I guarantee, you at 5 percent.”
To Cooper too, Welch admitted he had “no evidence.” He was “not accusing anybody of anything” he said, but at the same time did accuse somebody of something by insisting that the numbers in the report were impossible. “I’m not backing away, I’m not backing away from anything,” he said.
So which is it? You’re standing by your claim that “these Chicago guys” cooked the books but you’re not accusing them and you have no evidence.
And a question mark would have solved all this?
Cooper suggested to Welch that it was irresponsible to say “these Chicago guys will do anything” if Welch has “no facts.”
“I’m saying…this number is too important to not have a long discussion about how its arrived at,” Welch insisted.
When asked if there was any evidence of a White House ever cooking the books, Welch said, “I have no evidence of that” but followed it up with “somebody ought to be investigated.”
But the most important point both of Welch’s interviews yesterday was him admitting that he had no evidence. As he said to Cooper, when asked how, precisely, the books could be cooked, “I have no idea whether these books are cooked. I’m very clear about that.”
Yes, you were very clear in your tweet, Mr. Welch.
Not above a little tit for tat, Welch claimed that since the Obama campaign spent the last 48 hours accusing Romney of being a liar, he could accuse Obama of being a liar. But there is a big difference between the accusations: the Obama campaign had proof that Romney lied. Independent fact-checkers also pointed to those lies.
Meanwhile, Welch admits he has no evidence at all, but the accusation stands – with a question mark to make everything somehow more palatable.
Like Lehrer, Welch basically said to the American people, “So what?”
I think we’ve found the new Republican campaign slogan for 2012: “So what?