Look, there are plenty of ways to downplay the December jobs report, if that’s your goal. It’s a modestly good report, but there’s plenty to concern yourself with in the numbers, as Jared Bernstein points out. We’re still well off from getting back to a normal unemployment rate, the quality of jobs being added fall too much in low-paying service sectors and the labor force participation rate is well below pre-recession trends, which hides much of the unemployment rate by “disappearing” able-bodied workers. Not to mention the 5.6 million Americans officially out of work for more than 27 weeks, and the recession in the public sector, with 280,000 jobs lost this past year. There are plenty of ways to respond to the jobs numbers that realistically look at the economy as it is and posit a different path forward.

However, the whiniest, stupidest, most offensive ways to talk about the jobs numbers come from Republican Presidential candidates today. Just take a look:

I think our economy is overcoming what Barack Obama is pushing in its place,” Rick Santorum told The Wall Street Journal while campaigning in New Hampshire Friday [...]

Republican front-runner Mitt Romney did not mention the new numbers directly during a campaign event in South Carolina but continued to hit Obama on the economy.

“This president doesn’t understand how the economy works,” Romney said. “It’s time to get a president who does.”

Romney and Newt Gingrich sort of touched on the tragedy of almost 24 million Americans either out of work, stuck in involuntary part-time work, or out of the labor force entirely. And Santorum touched on the labor force participation rate. But he also said this mind-boggling statement:

Rick Santorum offered a fantastical explanation Friday morning for why the unemployment rate decreased in December: “optimism that Republicans will take the White House.” Though the comment was delivered half-jokingly, it’s indicative of the bind Republican candidates find themselves in.

This is a bind for Republicans, who have no Plan B if the economy improves. But there are non-insulting-to-the-intelligence ways of describing the employment situation in America. This just saps any belief that these are people with one shred of sense about the economy.

Fortunately for these candidates, and unfortunately for the country, they should get on better footing in the next couple months. Some of the gains were seasonal or based on inventory restocking. The situation in Europe has taken a turn for the worse. And forecasters predict the highest gas prices ever in 2012. Don’t worry Republicans: Americans will be suffering at the hands of misguided economic policies soon enough.