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Manipulating Democracy

America seems to have become inured to scandal, judging by the apparent lack of attention being paid to an allegation that the unemployment statistics released just before the past presidential election were manipulated to benefit the incumbent.
The claim was made in Monday’s New York Post, but except for the perfunctory scoffing by the White House spokesman, a promised probe by the implicated Commerce Department, and yet another investigation by the Republicans in the House of Representatives, it seems to have drawn little attention outside the constantly indignant conservative talk radio shows. Such insouciance is hard to account for, given the potentially history-changing implications of the charge.
The New York Post is a conservative publication by the lax standards of the New York press, and therefore lacks requisite cachet to fuel a media frenzy, but its record of accuracy compares well to its more fashionable competitors. Although the story cites an unnamed source, which is usually sufficient to ignore any scandal involving Democrats, it also documents that name a specific employee involved in the deception who is quoted as saying he acted under orders from higher-ranking bureaucrats. Given that many knowledgeable observers were skeptical of the suddenly and serendipitously rosy unemployment numbers at the time, including the former chief executive officer of General Electric, the story also has a sobering plausibility.
If true, the story warrants far more attention that it has received. Manipulating such crucial data as the unemployment rate calls into question the accuracy of all government reports, with dire consequences for the markets that rely on the information to make that the decisions that drive the economy. Doing so for partisan political reasons also calls into question the results of the election, with dire consequences for democracy and a free society. As the latest in a series of scandals involving a politicized bureaucracy acting on behalf of the one party committed to its continual growth, it could even call into question whether we still have a democracy.
The story seems all the more plausible following revelations of the Internal Revenue Service harassing conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status, the Department of Justice’s apparent lack of interest in the matter or anything else that might prove embarrassing to the administration, the National Security Agency’s inordinate interest in the phone records of average Americans, the National Park Service’s heavy-handed efforts to exacerbate the inconvenience of a partial government shutdown, and numerous other cases of government gone wild. The notion that only one or two low-level employees are responsible for a deceptive jobs report is not plausible, and even if it were the notion that they expected to get away it is still scandalous.

— Bud Norman

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