More fun with Politifactuality
13 April 2012, 5:05 PM
So. Your Humble Blogger has been cranky of late about—well, actually, I’ve just been cranky. But what I’m writing about started with Mitt Romney starting to use in his stump speeches and on the web site the line that “Women account for 92.3 percent of the jobs lost under Obama.” The utterly useless Politifact (about which YHB has ranted before) called it mostly false. Greg Sargent over at the Washington Post outright called it a falsehood in a note titled Keep an eye on the Big Lie. The NBC political blog First Read asks Does anyone believe, with a straight face, that nine in 10 job losses over the past three years have been women workers?
Y’all know where I’m going with this, right? Yes. Mitt Romney’s claim happens to be true. You should believe it, with a face as straight as you like, because nine in ten job losses over the past three years have been women workers.
It’s not a lie.
Now, it’s being used in a misleading manner, sure. Mr. Romney seems to be implying that this disparity in job losses stems from some action of the Administration, either through deliberately destroying jobs for women or through a particular kind of neglect that happened to affect women more than men. In fact, many of those job losses were in the first couple of months of Our Only President’s administration, before his policies had come into effect. Mitt Romney has not identified what particular policies he thinks led to this disparity, nor is he saying how he (or anyone) might have done anything differently that would have led to fewer job losses among women in those first three months of 2009. So it winds up being a kind of free-floating fact-without-context, much like blaming Our Only President for the batting collapse of England’s cricket team in the Test Series against Pakistan last year. The argument is crazy, but the fact is, well, a fact. Not mostly false, not a falsehood, not a big lie.
And then, when you look into the fact further, you see some things I find interesting. For one thing, it had never occurred to me that the curve of job loss and job recovery would find women trailing men in both parts of the curve. This seems to be one of those things that economists know (or “know”) but aren’t common knowledge. So there’s that. And, when you think about it, it makes some sense that layoffs hit factory workers and construction workers first, and then, if things are still bad, the support staff goes (perhaps as the whole business goes under). Given the gender breakdown as things are at present, then, the curve would be pushed to one side. The inauguration of Our Only President coincided (mostly coincidentally) with the beginning of the turnaround in jobs, so it happens that women’s job losses were still going up at that moment, while men’s job losses had crested. That coincidence of timing is not, perhaps, all that Interesting, but it’s still a fact.
It also seems to be the case that the bulk of the disparity comes from a disparity in public sector job losses. Women make up a disproportionate number of public sector workers, and the layoffs in 2009 were largely in the public sector, as states reacted to revenue losses by cutting their costs. This means that the disparity in the first three months of 2009 was in fact a partisan issue: it was largely due to the Other Party’s policies prevailing, and to my Party’s policy’s being stymied. Had more of what we called stimulus money been made available to the states, or had just more money been made available to states, or even had more Democratic legislators in more states found more ways to pander to the public sector unions, then fewer women would have lost their jobs during that time. Mitt Romney doesn’t talk about that.
The thing that really drives me crazy, though, about this whole thing—other than seeing people whose other stuff I want to trust call a true statement a lie—is that the campaign, in cherry-picking a statistic to make a (to my mind) fraudulent case against Our Only President, managed to find one that is technically true, but which nobody would believe. As the NBC people said, it doesn’t pass the straight-face test—not because it’s false, because it’s not, but because it’s implausible. Literally incredible. This is heightened by the ethos problem that Mitt Romney is known to say things that are not, shall we say, operative at a time other than the speaking of them. As a result, the reaction people have to Mitt Romney (or his surrogates) making an implausible statement is, I would think, simple disbelief. This isn’t very persuasive. I would imagine that the campaign wants people to hear “Women account for 92.3 percent of the jobs lost under Obama” and think This is a failed presidency or even I may be willing to support an anti-abortion, anti-contraception, anti-equality candidate because job losses disproportionately hit vulnerable groups (or just because job losses hit their own demographic). I think that instead people hear “Women account for 92.3 percent of the jobs lost under Obama” and think No way, he’s making shit up again.
What’s the incentive, then, for Mitt Romney to stop telling outright lies? When Politifact or Steve Benen treat outright lies the same as artfully-misleading truths, where’s the incentive to stop with the outright lies?
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,