The head of the presidential debate commission caught flak yesterday for her comments on CNN about why she doesn’t think the debate moderators should call out Trump and Clinton over factual inaccuracies:
The question was prompted by Democrats’ demands for presidential-debate moderators to correct candidates’ false statements during the debate itself. This is an awful idea for a number of reasons, but a decent one is right in the debate commissioner’s response.
Liberal Twitter was all a-huff about how the commissioner cites the unemployment rate as an area where the facts are up for debate — har har, they say, you know there literally is an official unemployment rate the government publishes, right?
How absurd is it to complain about the commissioner’s statement here? Say Trump says something along the lines of! “the real unemployment rate is much higher than the government tells you.”
This might well be true — although it all depends on what you mean by the real unemployment rate. There is zero basis for believing that the government is engaged in some conspiracy to make the numbers look better than they are, which is one reading of Trump’s statement, but another reading is that he’s saying the “official unemployment rate” — the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ U-3 rate — suggests our economy is relatively strong, which is misleading since many other measures suggest it’s not. This would be a position Trump shares with a huge swath of people, including Bernie Sanders, Janet Yellen (sometimes), and Ben Bernanke.
The people braying for fact-checking in debates are thus asking for moderators to attempt, in real time, to adjudicate disputes that divide Ph.D. economists and of course, a whole range of other such disputes on which the respective experts — trade economists, classification experts, presidential historians, whatever — often don’t agree.