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Unbelievable jobs numbers . . . these Chicago guys will do anything . . .can't debate so change numbers.

Jack Welch

October 5, 2012

Paranoia, paranoia, everybody's coming to get me
just say you never met me.
I'm going underground with the moles.

Hear the voices in my head, I swear to God it sounds like they're snoring
but if you're bored then you're boring
the agony and the irony, they're killing me.

Harvey Danger
Flagpole Sitta


It's actually past ironic that the man now accusing the Obama White House of cooking today’s unemployment report is the same man who just a few months back complained that the Obama White House is keeping an enemies list that “would make Richard Nixon proud.”

Why? Because it was Richard Nixon who actually pioneered nutty conspiracy theories involving the Bureau of Labor Statistics –- thus proving the old adage that when Republicans find something that doesn’t work, they stick with it.

The story is worth retelling -- not so much because of what it says about our 37th president and his peculiar obsessions, but because it demonstrates the unbroken lineage to so many of today’s conservative paranoid conspiracy theories.

The alleged villains in this one have changed a bit but the basic theory is the same: The BLS –- the federal agency that publishes the monthly employment report -– is working overtime to defeat Mitt Romney, apparently (per Welch) at the behest of a secret committee of Chicago aldermen.

To which, no doubt, Richard Nixon would have replied, “[expletive deleted] that [expletive deleted], it’s the [expletive deleted] Jews!”

We know this because in July of 1971 the president and the BLS found themselves in a similar situation as today: The economy was emerging from a relatively deep (at least for the time) recession, and Nixon’s re-election prospects were in doubt –- the Democrats having not yet decided to do everything humanly possible to throw the 1972 election.

The June jobs report that year showed a whopping big drop in the unemployment rate, from 6.2% to 5.6%. (Of course, these days most of us who are not Mitt Romney would be euphoric if the unemployment rate rose to 6.2%. But this was back in the days when ensuring full employment was still considered a core function of government).

However, instead of being giddy, or at least relieved that the economy was moving in the right direction, Nixon was outraged. It seems the BLS commissioner at the time, a man with the extremely suspicious name of Goldstein (Harold, not Emmanual), had had the temerity to suggest that the big decline was most likely a statistical quirk, caused by seasonal factors and the particular timing of the June jobs survey.

In Nixon’s world, of course, there were no “quirks” or “coincidences” – just endless enemies plotting his ultimate destruction, usually over drinks at the Harvard Club.

Or, in this case, over Passover matzos and chalices filled with the blood of little Christian babies. For Nixon, the episode was a chance to get back in touch with his inner fascist. He became convinced that the BLS was in the grips of a nest of Jewish Democrat economists out to sabotage his re-election by any means necessary:

“The government is full of Jews,” Nixon said. “Second, most Jews are disloyal. You know what I mean? You have a [White House Consultant Leonard] Garment and a [National Security Adviser Henry A.] Kissinger and, frankly, a [White House Speechwriter William L.] Safire, and, by God, they’re exceptions. But, Bob, generally speaking, you can’t trust the bastards. They turn on you.”
Hilarity quickly ensued, with Nixon ordering a GOP apparatchik by name of Fred Malek (later George H.W. Bush’s 1992 campaign manager, and an early Romney supporter -- so you know this is a man who appreciates a good political joke) to get his ass over to the BLS and do a quick Jew count. As Malek later explained:
He kept asking about well, how many of them were Jewish, and we didn't know how to respond. Plus I felt it was a little strange. [The German equivalent of that last sentence translates roughly as: “I was only following orders” –- billmon]

Finally the fifth request came down and Haldeman said, look, just do something, Just give him something so we can check this off and move on. So I asked some guy on my staff to say, look why don't you just look at the names and make an assessment of how many look like they're Jewish and how many don't.  So I sent him a one-liner back saying of the top however many people, so many [13, though a subsequent memo said 19] appear to be Jewish, and that was it.

If you think Malek really was as uncomfortable with his assignment as he tries to make it sound, just Google “Malek,” “dog,” and “barbecue.” This man was truly in his natural element in the Nixon White House.

Nixon, of course, went on to bigger and better paranoid fantasies, culminating in his obsessive belief that the U.S. Congress was trying to impeach him for some third-rate burglary at the Watergate complex of all places. Malek just went into the private sector and got rich in the usual, crony-stroking manner of high-ranking government officials, i.e. at the Carlyle Group.

But the conservative obsession with the BLS lived on, as I discovered when I was an economics reporter in the early stages of the Clinton jobs boom.

Having convinced themselves that the Clinton tax hike and the Clinton regulatory surge and the Clinton health care reform plan and, well, just the mere existence of Bill Clinton had consigned American capitalism to the modern equivalent of a Soviet gulag camp, Republicans naturally were taken completely by surprise when the job market started to take off in the spring of 1994 -- to the point where some of them once again began muttering about the “liberal economists” at the BLS.

The Wall Street columnist at my paper (a man every bit as reactionary as Jack Welch but infinitely dumber) was quite enamored of the theory for a time. I thought this might create problems for me at the BLS, so I asked the guy if he had any evidence -– anything at all, even a hearsay rumor –- to back up his claims. Serves me right for asking such a stupid question.

(It worked out OK in the end, because I quickly learned that the folks at the BLS paid as little attention to our columnist’s right-wing ravings as did the Wall Street economists I regularly interviewed: Which is to say, they didn’t even know who he was.)

Needless to say -- well, not needless, because otherwise this wouldn’t even be an “issue” -- the economists at the BLS were and I'm sure still are the biggest bunch of apolitical, wonky propeller heads (and I mean that in a nice way) you could ever hope to meet. And, as an old colleague points out to me, the actual field work for the household employment survey is done by the Census Bureau, another den of bureaucratic wonks with no discernible political agenda.

That’s bringing an awful lot of people into the conspiracy -- in a government that typically leaks like a rusty colander. Unless, of course, the Census people are already up to their necks in the parallel conservative conspiracy theory in which the bureau is plotting to use fancy statistical techniques to artificially pump up the number of black and Hispanic voters for redistricting purposes. Then it would all make sense –- that is, if you’re Rush Limbaugh and you’ve just taken a triple hit of Oxycontin.

But really, why are we bothering to have this conversation -- other than the fact that it’s a slow Friday and everybody is already sick of talking about the debate?

Leaving aside the inherent absurdity of civil service bureaucrats at two major federal agencies risking their careers (and quite possibly prison time) to “fix” the employment report on orders piped in from Chicago, the biggest tell that the numbers are in fact legit is that they’re so pathetic and tardy.

I mean, if you were an all-powerful White House political czar and could fix the employment numbers any way you pleased, wouldn’t you have instructed the BLS to show a steady improvement in both the payroll and the unemployment reports over the course of 2012? Why allow the Jews, um, I mean, the wonks to reveal such job weakness in the spring and early summer –- those critical months when election expectations were being set? Did someone disconnect the hot line to Obama HQ?

And why settle for a measly 114k jobs last month (roughly in line with Wall Street expectations) when you could have ordered up 150 or 200 or –- hell, let’s get crazy –- 250k jobs?

Wasted breath, of course, at least as far as conservatives are concerned. People who are convinced the American Federation of Liberal Polling Companies, Local 666, has collectively rigged the hundreds of surveys showing Obama in the lead (that is, up until his little bout of debate narcolepsy the other night) aren’t going to shy away from a conspiracy theory just because it would prove their opponents are even more incompetent than they are.

The important point is this: It's no accident that the Great BLS Unemployment Rate Conspiracy is just an old antisemitic fantasy dressed up in new clothes. The galloping paranoia now evident on the right is a sign -– one of many -- of a movement in atavistic retreat to the obsessions of an early era: The age of the John Birch Society, Henry Ford, Father Coughlin, and the perpetual twilight struggle to protect America and “Americanism" against a sinister subversion, both from without and within.

But, in an age where Florida is a swing state and Sheldon Adelson (a.k.a. the Golem of Macau) is a major GOP donor, the Eternal Jew is no longer a serviceable archetype. So instead we now have the Eternal Liberal –- still demonic, alien, and powerful (although he cloaks his power by working in the shadows), and still linked to a foreign power (Radical Islam instead of Godless Communism). And still an enemy with whom no compromise is possible, since his objective is nothing less than the utter destruction of America and its replacement with . . . well, with whatever socialist dystopia the conservative imagination wishes to believe. It really doesn’t matter, since its only role in the fantasy is to justify blood hatred.

I could be wrong, but I seriously doubt that Neutron Jack shares this full-blown “meta” version of the populist conservative world view. Donald Trump, yes, but not Welch –- he’s not that stupid, and he’s certainly no populist.

But either he’s absorbed some of it –- enough to channel a few of Richard Nixon’s darkest fears –- or, like the businessmen of a certain central European country in the 1930s, he’s learned to fake it, all for the greater good of fighting the liberal (socialist) menace.

I guess we should be thankful that Jack’s supporting a guy like Mitt Romney, instead of a modern-day, well, you know. But that doesn’t change the fact that the sink hole of conservative paranoia just keeps on growing, and appears to have not only swallowed one of America’s two main political parties, but a hefty chunk of its corporate elite as well.

Even Dick Nixon might have found that a little disconcerting.

Originally posted to billmon on Fri Oct 05, 2012 at 04:38 PM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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