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July 13, 2010

MFM "Fact Check:" Obama Didn't Say What He Said When He Said It

Ah, Obama has a new problem gaining media traction -- Geoff from Innocent Bystander's now-ancient observation that Obama said the jobless rate would not go above 8.5% with his stimulus but would go over 9% without it. (In fact, with the stimulus, it's gone over what he said it would go over with the stimulus.)

Problematic, huh? Not for the MFM!

Watch as we will now parse whether Obama actually said this, or merely his chief economic advisor, and whether it was actually a promise or merely a prediction, with caveats, because, you know, predictions are inherently difficult so why don't you just STFU and let the man eat his waffle.


First, we could find no instance of anyone in the administration directly making such a public pledge. Rather, it comes via a Jan. 9, 2009, report called "The Job Impact of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan" from Christina Romer, chairwoman of the president's Council of Economic Advisers, and Jared Bernstein, the vice president's top economic adviser.

Oh well, she doesn't count. She acted stupidly. (In fact, below, you will see it took Slublog all of ten minutes to find Obama making a similar promise.)

Their report projected that the stimulus plan proposed by Obama would create 3 million to 4 million jobs by the end of 2010. The report also included a chart predicting unemployment rates with and without the stimulus. Without the stimulus (the baseline), unemployment was projected to hit about 8.5 percent in 2009 and then continue rising to a peak of about 9 percent in 2010. With the stimulus, they predicted the unemployment rate would peak at just under 8 percent in 2009.

As Will rightly noted, it went higher. The unemployment rate peaked around 10 percent in late 2009 and is now around 9.5 percent. And Will is also right that the cost of the stimulus rose dramatically.

But what we saw from the administration in January 2009 was a projection, not a promise. And it was a projection that came with heavy disclaimers.

"It should be understood that all of the estimates presented in this memo are subject to significant margins of error," the report states. "There is the more fundamental uncertainty that comes with any estimate of the effects of a program. Our estimates of economic relationships and rules of thumb are derived from historical experience and so will not apply exactly in any given episode. Furthermore, the uncertainty is surely higher than normal now because the current recession is unusual both in its fundamental causes and its severity."

There's also a footnote that goes along with the chart that states: "Forecasts of the unemployment rate without the recovery plan vary substantially. Some private forecasters anticipate unemployment rates as high as 11% in the absence of action."

The administration has acknowledged its projections were wrong.

Now let's see them parse Obama. Pay attention to the bolded words.

"Now, every economist who has looked at it has said that the recovery did its job," Obama said. "It put a brake on the collapse of the economy. We avoided a Great Depression. We are now growing again. The problem is, No. 1, itís hard to argue sometimes, things would have been a lot worse. Right? So people kind of say, yeah, but unemployment is still at 9.6. Yes, but itís not 12 or 13, or 15."

That comment was ridiculed by the Daily Show's Jon Stewart who commented, "I believe we can all agree as Americans there are many numbers bigger than nine."

Obama is correct that many independent economists agree that the stimulus has created more than a million jobs and kept the unemployment rate from going even higher than it has (though in fairness, not every economist agrees with that).

Note that Will is taken to task for this absurd parsing between "promise" and "prediction" and yet PolitiFact only offers a parenthetical about Obama's claim about every economist as opposed to many.

Further, PolitiFact is just wrong -- Obama himself did trumpet this promise, or wait, was it prediction? Or projection? Let's agree it's a word beginning with "pr."

From Obama's own speech in Elkhart, Indiana:

Economists from across the spectrum have warned that if we don't act immediately, millions of more jobs will be lost. The national unemployment rates will approach double digits not just here in Elkhart, all across the country. More people will lose their homes and their health care. And our nation will sink into a crisis that at some point we may be unable to reverse.

Will approach. Sounds like a promise to me. Not "may approach, subject to asterisked caveats about the inherent difficulty of forecasting into the future."

And what if we pass the stimulus, President Predictions Are Always Subject To Uncertainty?

So we can't afford to wait. We can't wait and see and hope for the best. We can't posture and bicker and resort to the same failed ideas that got us into this mess in the first place. (Applause.) That was what this election was all about -- the American people rejected those ideas because they hadn't worked. (Applause.) You didn't send us to Washington because you were hoping for more of the same; you sent us there to change things -- (applause) -- the expectation that we would act quickly and boldly to carry out change. And that's exactly what I intend to do as President of the United States of America. (Applause.)

That's why I put forth a recovery and reinvestment plan that is now before Congress. At its core is a very simple idea: to put Americans back to work doing the work America needs to be done.

Sounds to me like President Asterisk is setting up a very clear promise -- wait, prediction, no wait, projection -- between what will happen with his stimulus vs. what will happen without it.

But PolitiFact -- in some arrangement with water-carrying ABC -- finds that Obama is somehow vindicated in all of this, and that George Will and other critics making this charge are waaaayyy off-base.

Didn't they read the footnotes?!!?! For God's sake, there was a disclaimer right in the footnotes!!

Thanks to Slublog for all of this, every bit of it.


Predictions or Mere Projections In Iraq? Seems to me the media took a decidedly different view on parsing promises and predictions as regards Bush and Iraq -- despite the fact the guy said every other day the war would be long and hard.

And they even attributed a quote by a guy who wasn't an official in the Bush White House to Bush -- Ken Adelman claimed the war would be a "cakewalk," but he was some kind of consultant and media figure, but damn, if that wasn't attributed to Bush.

He lied us into war, you know.

Did Obama lie us into bankruptcy? No, of course not; he just projected some shit.


Even More Obama Quotes! Remember, PoltiiFact couldn't find a single instance of Obama (or any administration official) making this promise/prediction/projection/"wish-lie."

Here are three statements implicitly referencing that chart that no one in the administration really is responsible for.

Again, thanks to Slublog.

Slublog should lend his Lexis/Nexis password to PolitiFact. They apparently don't have the cash to spring for an account.

And So Mighty Achilles Did Tie Hector's Body To The Chariot, And Drag Him Around Troy's Walls:

From "Face the Nation," CBS January 18, 2009

SCHIEFFER: Do you think we'll see unemployment actually get to 10 percent?

Mr. SUMMERS: I don't--I don't--I don't think so, Bob. I think that while we're going to see substantial job losses, frankly what's important about the president's program here is that it is going to contain what would otherwise be a, just a vicious cycle: people spend less, therefore they earn--therefore others earn less, therefore they spend less. We're going to stop that vicious cycle and we're going to contain--we're going to contain this problem. The president's going to do whatever it takes to achieve that objective.



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posted by Ace at 06:25 PM

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