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Bachmann's misleading unemployment chart

A few days ago I wrote about Congresswoman Michele Bachmann's false statements. This is more about the games that chart-wielding politicians play.

I was intrigued by one damning chart in her State of the Union response Tuesday night. It hits on perhaps the biggest criticism of President Obama: the high unemployment rate, even after the $800 billion stimulus.

A 2009 Obama report made the mistake of projecting peak unemployment at just under 8 percent that year if the stimulus passed. But despite the stimulus, unemployment hit 10.1 percent in October 2009, and is still 9.4 percent as of December 2010.

Although Bachmann stated that, "The White House promised us that all the spending would keep unemployment under 8 percent," Politifact notes there was no such promise, only a projection from the president's Council of Economic Advisors. But since the President was using lower unemployment to sell the package, I don't really have a problem with the Congresswoman's characterization.

What I do have a problem with is how Bachmann cherrypicks the data to suggest all was bliss before Obama — that her favored President, George W. Bush, didn't ignite the economic train wreck.

Here's how she characterized the unemployment rate:

"In October of 2001, our national unemployment rate was at 5.3 percent. In 2008, it was at 6.6 percent. But just eight months after President Obama promised lower unemployment, that rate spiked to a staggering 10.1 percent. Today, unemployment is at 9.4 percent with about 400,000 new claims every week."

The Obama spike looks even worse in this chart (sorry, the screengrab is the best I can do):

Bachmann's words and bars elide the deeper truth: unemployment was rocketing at the end of the Bush administration. That 6.6 percent unemployment rate in October 2008 was 7.3 percent when Bush left office in January 2009. Four months later — before any reasonable person would think Obama had much to do with unemployment — it was 9.4 percent, where it was last month.

Generally speaking, when a politician chooses an individual month, rather than a more detailed month-by-month trend, look away. 

When she was House Speaker, Democrat Nancy Pelosi actually demonstrated more intellectual integrity with her famous jobs chart:

No cherry-picked months, a clean delineation between administrations, and even — extra credit — Pelosi's party absorbed a few months of bad jobs numbers that Bush was likely more responsible for.

Pelosi's chart has its own conceits; for example, the "stimulated" job growth hasn't been enough to bring down unemployment substantially.

Again, I don't question Bachmann's right to question the stimulus's bang for the buck. I'd note liberal economists think the problem was the stimulus was too small and too focused on tax cuts — a major cause of another Bachmann concern, the exploding public debt. (She plays the same sort of Bush-amnesia games with this issue, but I wrote about that here.)

I'd add that we'll never know what the economy had looked like had we not spent the stimulus money. Here, Bachmann — who has never been in a legislative majority until three weeks ago — has the advantage of not having her policy prescriptions enacted to produce reviewable numbers.

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Comments (6)

Even Brauer, the erstwhile "media" cloumnist, is rending his garments and frothing at the facts as presented by a(gasp!)attractive female with conservative values!

This is the veritable kryptonite to every dyed in the wool lockstep lefty.

Nothing else creates this kind of rabid reaction.

The fact is, nothing Obama has done has impacted economic recovery or incresed employment.

He has, however, excelled at platitudes, wishful thinking, and apologizing for America.

Oh, and ramming socialist policy down America's collective throat.

Noreen Malone at Slate has noted the lack of labels for the even years, which helps to create more of a sense of separation between the two administrations.

I was also amused to notice that Bush's bars were squeezed to the left of his yearly slots, while Obama's bars were squeezed to the right of his yearly slots. The effect of this is to create a greater gap of white space between the red bars and the blue bars - again enhancing the sense of separation between the two administrations.

Brian -

Hey man, I'm the *current* MinnPost media critic! (Erstwhile means former.)

Your response in #1 isn't fact-based. Respond to factual challenges with facts. Part of the problem here.


What socialist policy? Do you mean the Affordable Health Care Act, which was essentially the Republicans' alternate health care plan from the 1990s and the one Mitt Romeny proposed in Massachusetts. You can't come up with a single "socialist" thing Obama has don because there hasn't been a single one. It's just name calling and repeating a bald-faced lie.

You can't get await with that "he's a socialist" crap here. Go to a blog read only by Republicans if you want that.

Anyone who is honest will admit that Obama inherited an economic mess. What he did with it is fair game, but Bachman is being dishonest in suggesting things turned south with Obama.

Bachman is toying with running for President. I'm guessing her presentation was more orientated to her crowd and obviously trying to take advantage of a bad situation (jobs).

Before darts are thrown at me, I lean right. But I found David's analysis fair.