There has been plenty of reminders that no U.S. president has been re-elected with an unemployment rate above 8 percent since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Pundits, campaign managers and journalists alike have been pouncing on the monthly numbers with relish -- turning an economic statistic into a political event.
Until last week, Republicans regularly regaled the 8-plus-percent rate as proof President Barack Obama was ineffective. Democrats, on the other hand, were forced to downplay its significance, point out the trendline, and remind people about what was inherited.
Then on Friday, the Labor Department reported September's numbers were 7.8 percent. What was undeniably good news for the country was met with mostly predictable reactions. The Obama camp was able to argue the president's economic policies are working. Challenger Mitt Romney offered this was proof Obama's policies weren't working fast enough. Fox News had to switch course, of course. Now they point out that no president since FDR has won a second term with unemployment above 7.2 percent.
The surprise came from former General Electric CEO Jack Welch. He tweeted: "Unbelievable jobs numbers ... these Chicago guys will do anything ... can't debate so change numbers."
Welch, once renowned for his ability to transform corporate cultures in the midst of massive downsizings, started a conspiracy theory craze with that one tweet.
Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., followed with: "Somehow by manipulation of data we are all of a sudden below 8 percent unemployment, a month from the presidential election. This is Orwellian to say the least."
Rep. Paul Brown, R-Ga., said the report "raises questions for me, and frankly it should be raising eyebrows for people across the country."
We might expect pundits and commentators to throw around such wild assertions -- and they did. But elected officials? They should be well-aware of the apolitical, bureaucratic process that gathers the numbers. So should private industry gurus such as Welch.
It wasn't even a momentary lapse in critical thinking for him before he had his morning coffee. Welch was interviewed by Fox News later in the day, stating: "I don't know what the right number is, but I'll tell you, these numbers don't smell right when you think about where the economy is right now."
That's his proof. Just a hunch. And that's all Fox needed to ask questions about "cooking the books."
Nothing amazing or unusual about any of this. The troubling part is reinforcing having zero critical thinking skills -- and being proud of it. That, and the unfiltered nature of social media and "fair and balanced" broadcasters. Look for these ridiculous statements to show up in official looking form in your email box soon.
Not that unemployment rates will have much effect in this part of the country. The solid red axis bisecting the nation will vote resoundingly for Romney regardless. The GOP nominee is looking at rather high probabilities of receiving the popular vote. By state:
North Dakota has a 99.4 percent likelihood of electing Romney;
South Dakota, 99.1;
In other words, the unemployment rate could be zero and voters in these states would still attempt to oust the sitting president.
But it's one thing for somebody to twist statistics to fit their thinking. It's quite another for intelligent citizens to merely postulate and baldly lie to unsuspecting neighbors. Shame on you, Mr. Welch.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry