Doctored stats and Dr. Paul
I'd mentioned this in passing before, but now it's time for me to formally offer another round of unsolicited advice to Ron Paul's presidential campaign: Start hammering away — hard — on the relentless manipulation of government economic statistics.
My inspiration for this was last week's McLaughlin Group, which as usual, I didn't catch until today because the truly-worthless Maryland Public Television doesn't carry it and I have to wait nearly a week for the podcast edition. "Issue One!" was the Fed's Halloween rate cut and the economic woes stemming from the credit crunch. Pat Buchanan as usual beat the protectionist drum, Eleanor Clift played the class-warfare card, and Mort Zuckerman wrung his hands for the fate of his billionaire banker buddies. That was enough to bring my blood to a simmer. But then neocon shill Tony Blankley brought it to a boil by touting the White House-Fox News line about how caution might be in order, but the economy is fundamentally just gangbusters — low unemployment, 3.9% GDP, yada, yada, yada.
Expect to hear this sort of garbage from Republicans more and more as the presidential campaign gets cranked up in the weeks ahead. And clueless Democrats won't know how to respond: Hey, numbers are numbers, and numbers don't lie, do they? Dems hardly talked about the economy at all during their insipid debate last week, even though — as most of McLaughlin's talking heads acknowledged — the economy will be top of mind for voters in 2008.
And those voters are suffering as the dollar is trashed, real inflation tops 10%, and we're already in a recession. But their real-world experience doesn't jibe with the phony-baloney numbers, so they're left dazed and confused.
Enter Ron Paul.
Paul's the guy who can step up and say the economy's not doing well, and the middle class's suffering is real, but the degree of suffering is being covered up by doctored government statistics. He can deliver sound-bite-length explanations of things like hedonics and substitution ("Here's what the government number-crunchers do: When steak becomes too expensive and you start buying hamburger instead, they just decide the price you pay for your protein is still the same. Presto, no inflation!") — and then hammer away at that in his stump speech. He can say in a very plain and direct way that he knows their suffering is real in a way that no other candidate can.
It'll open up his message to confused and frightened middle-class taxpayers in a way that talking about gold and the Fed can't — that part of the educational process can come later. It'll start a big discussion among the pundit class — newspaper columns and cable TV yakfests about "Is Govt. Manipulating Economic Data?" — and spread the message. And because he can point out that this cheating took place under both Bush 43 and Clinton, it taps into the pox-on-both-houses disgust sweeping a big portion of the electorate (and that Paul is benefiting from).
To some extent, Paul has tried to convey this sympathy for the middle class already. "Starting a conversation," to use Hillary Clinton's awful phrase, about doctored economic stats would take it to the next level. Obviously the strategy needs to be better formulated and refined from the thinking-out-loud stage that I've spelled out here. But presented in the right way, I think it could be a home run.