Thursday, December 15, 2011

One Man Unaware, The Other Dishonest

The dishonesty is so stark, so brazen that he can congratulate himself while simultaneously presenting the facts which contradict his claim.

That would be, of course, our man in Florida, Rush Limbaugh. This is how it went yesterday on the program hosted by the guy who claims variously that he's 98+, 99+ per cent accurate:

So I was out there leading the charge, and this is what I said July 2nd, 2009, right here on this program in this very studio.

RUSH ARCHIVE: They're doing everything they can to blame this on Bush, to come out and say, "You know, it's worse than we thought it was," which, by the way, I predicted they would say: "Ah, it's worse than we thought it was;" and so now Obama is gonna head out there and he's gonna do a speech. He's gonna talk about the unemployment numbers at two o'clock this afternoon. What do you think he's gonna say? He's gonna say, "It's bad but I warned you it would be bad! I didn't know how bad because we didn't get the truth about how bad it was from what we inherited but just think how bad it would be if we hadn't acted." That's what he'll say. Want to take any bets on this?

RUSH: He didn't, on that occasion, quite go that ever....

Well, no, he didn't say it "on that occasion," on the occasion Rush predicted. The President did acknowledge it when he sat for an interview with Angela Russell of KIRO-TV channel 7 in Seattle on Tuesday night. Asked by Russell( beginning at 5:42 of this video) “What’s the one thing you know now that you wish you would have known when you were first sworn into office?” the President lamented

I wish I knew and I wish everybody knew how deep the crisis was when I was first sworn into office..... I think I could have prepared the American people better for how bad this was going to be, had we had a sense of that.

Barack Obama was regretting his underestimation of the depth of the recession in the months after he took office. Nonetheless, Rush reversed the meaning of the President's statement and on Wednesday stated

That is what he said last night. I said July 2009 that's what he's going to say. He has said it.

Yes, Limbaugh said in July 2009 that Obama would say i- but ib that day. Obama pointedly did otherwise, failing (from lack of evidence at the time, he maintains) to make that argument in July, 2009, instead noting 29 months later that he wished he had known and alerted the nation. The truth, clearly, turns out to have been 180 degrees from what Rush predicted.

Following Limbaugh's reference to July 2009, it didn't get any better, with a sleight of hand that demonstrates one reason for his immense popularity. He contended:

This is a lie, however. Barack Obama knows how bad it was. He has characterized this economy as almost as bad as the Great Depression, has he not? He knows how bad it's been. News outlets did, too.

This statement, probably intentionally, is not even internally consistent. Rush makes two separate claims:

a) Obama knew this was untrue as did news outlets;

b) Obama knows how bad it was; he has (emphasis mine) compared the economy to the Great Depression.

The listener is outraged by Limbaugh's false claims: Obama knew and so did the liberal media! But the listener also is given the truth, lending a sliver of false legitimacy to the host's claim(s): Obama knows how bad it was, not unlike the Great Depression.

A) and B) are two incompatible claims. Either President Obama recognized the scope of the economic downturn at the inception of his presidency, which would mark Obama, now maintaining otherwise, a liar; or he has learned only over time the extent of the economic catastrophe he faced early in his term.

Most of the evidence buttresses the President's claim. Despite early warnings from the left that the economy was worse than generally assumed, President Obama seems to have been unconvinced. In August, Ryan Avent of The Economist explained that two days after the House of Representatives on January 26, 2008 approved a stimulus bill

Americans received grim news about the economy: in the fourth quarter of 2008, GDP contracted at a 3.8% annual pace—the worst quarterly performance since the deep recession of 1982. More bad news hit on February 6th, when the BLS released new labour market figures. It reported an employment decline of 598,000 in January, following on revised drops in employment of 577,000 in December and 597,000 in November—a three-month drop of 1.8m jobs. On February 10th, the Senate passed its version of the stimulus, worth $838 billion. In conference committee, the bill shrank to $787. On February 17th, Mr Obama signed the bill into law.

In the months and years that followed, Washington provided additional support to the economy, perhaps ultimately contributing approximately $1 trillion in total stimulus. But that first bill was the big bite at the apple. The White House looked at the economic situation, sized up Congress, and took its shot. Unfortunately, the situation was far more dire than anyone in the administration or in Congress supposed.

Output in the third and fourth quarters fell by 3.7% and 8.9%, respectively, not at 0.5% and 3.8% as believed at the time. Employment was also falling much faster than estimated. Some 820,000 jobs were lost in January, rather than the 598,000 then reported. In the three months prior to the passage of stimulus, the economy cut loose 2.2m workers, not 1.8m. In January, total employment was already 1m workers below the level shown in the official data.

Avent reasoned

We can't know exactly how things would have played out in a world in which key policymakers had better data. If the true scope of the economic disaster in the fourth quarter had been clear, however, it seems certain that Ms Romer's models would have shown a need for more stimulus, that the White House would have agreed to push for more (and perhaps a lot more), and that Congress would have been much more receptive to a bigger bill. A drop of 8.9% does seem much more terrifying, after all, than a 3.8% decline. Bigger stimulus would have reduced the economic deterioration in subsequent months. The Fed might also have been more aggressive.

And he concluded

What's striking to me is that as new data have revealed the true dimensions of the 2008 collapse, the public's perception of events hasn't much changed. Critics still jeer the stimulus for its failure to deliver promised results, despite the now-obvious inadequacy of the package. Few in Washington seem willing to discuss how drastically officials underreacted in 2009, and how the results of that underreaction are still with us, waiting for a more appropriate policy response. I don't know which tragedy is the more troubling: the failure to see the true scope of the disaster when accurate numbers weren't available, or the failure to see it now that they are.

Striking, but not surprising. When the most popular radio talk show host in history skillfully employs extraordinary propaganda techniques, it isn't difficult to shelter a vast swath of the American people from reality.

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