After the new job numbers were released this morning, Fox News' Stuart Varney hinted at a possible conspiracy theory: "Oh how convenient ... five weeks before the election."
Prominent businessman and Romney backer Jack Welch was less subtle.
In terms of responding to Welch, I think Austan Goolsbee struck the appropriate tone -- "Love ya, Jack, but here you've lost your mind" -- but the underlying argument underscores the larger issue of rampant far-right denialism.
Long-time readers may recall that this has come up before. Earlier in the year, when job growth was quite robust, many prominent voices on the right responded to the news in predictable fashion: they insisted the Obama administration was manipulating the data for political reasons. It just had to be a conspiracy.
In the ensuing months, the job totals deteriorated, and the Republican conspiracy theorists moved on -- that is, until this morning.
Of course, this dynamic only reinforces the point. If you're arguing, "Bad news on jobs is proof Obama's a failure; good news on jobs is proof Obama's manipulating the data," you're clearly an intellectually lazy hack. No serious person can credibly argue this way.
For the record, there is absolutely zero evidence to suggest the unemployment data has been manipulated in any way. The monthly report is compiled by career officials at the Bureau of Labor Statistics, who are walled off from political influence and who've done nothing to have their integrity called into question, and if Republicans are going to raise the specter of an elaborate conspiracy theory, it's incumbent on them to offer at least some kind of proof.
But the larger problem is that this kind of twisted thinking isn't limited to job numbers.
I'm reminded of something Alex Seitz-Wald wrote earlier this year, when Fox News became heavily invested in the argument that the job numbers were illegitimate:
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.
But doesn't this sound familiar? The polls look bad for Romney, but rather than deal with the evidence, Republicans assume there's a conspiracy to "skew" the data.
Climate scientists present evidence of global warming, but rather than deal with the evidence, Republicans assume there's a conspiracy to scare the public.
Forget politics for a minute and consider this thesis: it's just not healthy for an entire political party to be so uncomfortable with reality that they deal with it, frequently, by cooking up elaborate and implausible theories, based on no evidence whatsoever.