Clint Eastwood’s Jobless Exaggeration

Fact-checking Campaign 2012 has become more than a fulltime job, but one danger is to apply false equivalence as fact-checkers protect their “credibility” by blaming both sides equally. That ignores the fact that some people lie more than others and some of the lies are bigger, notes William Boardman.

By William Boardman

One reason lying apparently works in politics is that so many people are content to tell themselves that “everybody does it.” This illusion may be comforting, but it’s also a self-deceptive evasion of harder truth: the scale and frequency of lies matter, and everybody doesn’t lie on the same scale or at the same rate.

To take a relatively small example, Clint Eastwood asserted in passing, without elaboration in his talk-to-the-empty-chair at the Republican National Convention, that “there are 23 million unemployed people in this country.” That is simply false. There have never been 23 million unemployed people in this country. In the worst year of the Great Depression, 1933, there were 12.8 million people unemployedand the unemployment rate was 24.9 per cent.

Actor/director Clint Eastwood. (Photo credit: gdcgraphics at


When a Hollywood actor is wrong in a political speech, the stakes are relatively low. But the Romney campaign defended Eastwood’s 23 million figure by re-inventing what he said to include part-time workers, the so-called “underemployed.”

That’s an indirect way of admitting Eastwood was wrong, of course, and meets the low expectations so many people have of political campaigns. Unfortunately, most of the “fact checkers” out there used the same forgiving analysis that only blurs reality.

Using a nuanced breakdown of workers who may want more work as a way to suggest that people with part-time jobs count as “unemployed” is to act in bad faith. The tactic is imprecise to the point of falsehood.

As of the beginning of August, the United States had 12.8 million unemployed people, more or less, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. On this basis, the calculated unemployment rate is 8.3 percent.  Usually left unstated is that these statistics are only ballpark figures, imprecise measurements that provide some sense of scale, but no serious precision as to the nature of the problem, never mind its history or possible remedies.

Even a critical source like Daily Kos used the mainstream media formulation that you could justify the unjustifiable statistic of 23 million unemployed if you also counted people who weren’t unemployed but.   Daily Kos at least noted that Romney has used this same number, which adds a smidge of clarity to the obfuscation.

If any media analysis stated the simple truth that the U.S. has never had 23 million people unemployed, it’s hard to find. Equally unsaid is the fact that the same number of unemployed people 12.8 million that represented 24.9 percent of the workforce in 1933, now represents 8.3 percent of the workforce. Unasked is whether unemployment is just the price the country pays for capitalism, or whether that price is fair.

More typical is the treatment by CNNMoney, which concluded that: “Despite the back and forth over Eastwood’s remarks, government data show that the 23 million number is largely unchanged from when [President] Obama took office. When Obama was sworn in, about 22.2 million people were unemployed, jobless and not looking for work or working part-time while looking for full-time jobs. That number jumped to 23.7 million by February 2009.”  [Emphasis added]

Not only does this defend inaccuracy, it further blurs a reality that the careful reader spots immediately despite the diversion. That reality is frequently left unstated, but there it is in bold outline: the American economy collapsed under President Bush as a result of policies put in place mostly by Republicans. That’s real.

And whatever argument may be made and there are many that Obama’s efforts have been ineffective, not effective enough or whatever similar characterization you like, the reality remains: Bush hit the iceberg, Obama has been trying to keep the ship from sinking.

Blaming the continuing weak economy on Obama is about as out of touch with reality as arguing that Roosevelt caused the Great Depression

And that leads to another reality that’s even less talked about: For the past three-plus years, Republican determination to let the ship of state sink in hope of drowning Obama has been so well hidden in plain sight that few people see fit to acknowledge it any more. But it’s been a permanent, structural condition of American government since 2009.

Republicans have not only resisted patching holes in the hull and helping to bail, they are now running a campaign based on restoring at least some of the icebergs unregulated banks, unfunded tax cuts, maybe even a new war on Iran to fill the vacuum left by U.S. withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan.

For independent voters with few independent candidates to vote for, the choices in November certainly look ideologically bleak. But those of us who are going to vote for the candidates we have, not the candidates we wish we had, need to work through the political and journalistic smog if we want to have even the hope of making a clear-headed choice.

William Boardman lives in Vermont, where he has produced political satire for public radio and served as a lay judge. 

9 comments for “Clint Eastwood’s Jobless Exaggeration

  1. September 8, 2012 at 17:49

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  2. clarence swinney
    September 7, 2012 at 11:28

    Who Dug the Deep Hole? Who Fumbled the ball?
    Numbers rounded

    Clinton left Bush an 1800B Budget
    Bush Left Obama a 3500 Budget

    Clinton left Bush a 240B Surplus as far as the eye can see
    Bush left Obama a 1400B Deficit as far as the eye can see

    Clinton left Bush 5,700B of Debt
    Bush left Obama 11,800B of Debt

    Clinton left Bush a 237,000 net new jobs created per month
    Bush left Obama a 31,000 lowest number since Hoover.

    Clinton left Bush 17 Million Manufacturing Jobs
    Bush left Obama 11 Million Manufacturing Jobs

    Clinton left Bush a 10,800 Dow
    Bush left Obama an 8028 Dow

    Clinton left Bush Peace on Earth Good Will From Most Men
    Bush left Obama Hell on Earth Two disastrous wars. Enmity of 1500 Million Muslims

    Clinton left Bush a President most highly rated of any peacetime President in Asia, Africa, Europe.
    Bush left Obama the most hated President in history
    Bush left Obama an Housing Tsunami and Financial Volcano
    Bush left Obama, in 2008, an 8500B Bail out commitment Yes! 8500 not just 700
    Bush left Obama his Takeover of Fannie/Freddie, AIG, and first bailout of Chrysler
    Bush increased maximum loan by Fannie/Freddie from $153,000 in 2000 to $300,000 then to $729,000
    That is how F&F got stuck with so many toxic mortgages. Bush gift to Big Bank pals.
    Bush increased FDIC maximum deposit coverage from $100,000 to $250,000. Help the rich.

  3. clarence swinney
    September 7, 2012 at 11:26

    GOP SENATE KILLED –good letter to editor material
    Provides tax credits for hiring service personnel returning from war.
    Keep 280,000 teacherS, cops, firemen, on their job.
    Modernizing at least 35,000 public schools in bad need of repair.
    A bipartisan National Infrastructure Bank modernizing our roads. rails, airports and waterways
    putting hundreds of thousands to work.
    “Project Rebuild”–leveraging private capital to put people to work rehabilitating homes, businesses and communities.
    “High Speed Wireless Project”–freeing up the nations’ spectrum
    Cuts payroll taxes for businesses, double the size of the payroll tax cut for individuals, and give aid to states to prevent public sector layoffs


  4. clarence swinney
    September 4, 2012 at 14:49

    Off subject but important
    Get Money out of politics
    A—Fed fund election—6 months-= 3 primary 3 general—No personal money—
    Outside very very limited—VERY

    B. since no need for campaign funds BAN all government employees accepting anything with a financial value. Present or future promises. This closes K Street Bribery

    C. Progressive Flat Tax by group—14,00 income and we should be
    paying our way and paying down the debt. We can do it with higher tax rate for top.
    We did it 1945-1980 by Taxing wealth.
    Sad but true today top 50% get 87% + of
    individual income and pay 13.5% tax Rate.
    It took a Tax Rate of 32% on Top 50% to balance our budget. It would require a change from (Top 1% paying 23%); (Top 10% paying 19%); and (top 25% paying 15%). The top 2% own 50% of wealth and took 30% of income.
    Redistribute Wealth and fast.
    HOW— by Flat Tax by group—tax income to pay our way—we have done it before.

  5. F. G. Sanford
    September 4, 2012 at 12:25

    Personally, I think Eastwood low-balled the figure, and it was far from a lie. Don’t get me wrong: Eastwood is to me no hero. I think there was a deeply shrouded element of racism at play here, but the vehicle he chose to portray it is very esoteric. That’s a matter for another discussion. For those of you who have never had the opportunity experience minimum wage employment, I would suggest getting a part-time job. Then take the time and do the math. If your part-time job is ten hours a week, multiply your salary by four and decide whether or not you could live at the full-time equivalent. Then, Imagine the aches and pains you experience from constant standing, bending and repetitive motion. If your part-time experiment is on Saturdays, you’ll quickly notice how bad you feel when you wake up on Sundays. Multiply that by four as well. Then, start following the classified ads and see if you can find an apartment you can afford to rent. In the meantime, food, gas and car insurance can be minimized, and you can always sleep in the car. You’ll be able to maintain personal hygiene by utilizing the public restroom at the gas station, and coin-op laundry facilities are not difficult to find. As long as your car doesn’t break down, you can make ends meet. You don’t need a kitchen. Hot dogs and canned food provide a ready source of quality protein, and can be eaten right off the supermarket shelf. Try it. But if your car breaks down or other unexpected expenses crop up, say, you get fined for sleeping in your car, you can always try to get some overtime. Let’s pretend your employer is willing to give you fifty hours a week at minimum wage, with ten hours overtime at time-and-a-half pay. You’ll feel five times as bad on Sunday morning, you still won’t be able to find an apartment, and you’ll barely be able to pay for the new alternator on your old heap of a car.

    Eastwood’s indictment implicated BOTH parties. Full employment at minimum wage is still subsistence living. It’s institutionalized poverty at best, wage-slavery at worst. It’s a permanent state of serfdom from which there is almost no escape, and that’s exactly how the power-brokers in both parties want to keep it. Unions busted, hungry people willing to work for almost nothing, and an endless state of misery which necessitates an insidious cycle of credit and debt. For those who collapse under the weight of the harsh reality of this existence, there are the “for profit prisons”, where our citizens end up in ever larger numbers. From there, they are farmed out as manual labor for as little as thirty cents an hour. On the bright side, they don’t have to look for an apartment anymore. Medical care, for what it’s worth, is free. And, you get hot meals!

    The author’s point of view may be well intentioned, but it’s just another version of the “lesser of two evils” defense of the status quo. I think it’s really delusional if you look at the reality of the labor situation in our country. Either way, what will come out of the next election is crushing austerity and institutionalized misery. What we need is a commitment from both parties to New Deal Economics along the lines of wisdom from economist Richard Wolf and historian Michael Parenti. There is no useful wisdom in this article, no salient advice, and no vision other than “let’s keep things as bad as they are now, because the alternative is worse”. The “lesser evil” strategy is not going to get my vote. Actually, I find it insulting. There is no substantial difference between the two parties. The “elephant in the room” is the 54% of the budget we commit to pointless military expenditures. Neither side is willing to change that. Until we come up with a constructive, as opposed to a destructive strategy. America will continue to decline. Perhaps only that tragedy will be sufficient to get both parties to help “bail out the boat”.

    • September 4, 2012 at 18:44

      you made a very intelligent narrative of the present situation. what do we do now, complain? any solution, suggestion?

      • F. G. Sanford
        September 4, 2012 at 20:15

        I’d suggest every reader watch this video:!

        It’s Bernie Sanders, and I know the rucking fepublicans hate him, but that’s only because they’ve been brainwashed to vote against their own self-interests. When working people earn next to nothing or are unemployed, the tax revenue base is undermined. The deficit will get WORSE, not better with budget cuts. What Ryan, Romney and even many of the Obama democrats are proposing is the economic strategy of Heinrich Brüning, whose feeble-minded economic policies bankrupted the Weimar Republic and paved the way for Hitler to come to power. Brüning became a Harvard professor after fleeing Nazi Germany, and in his defense, he tried to warn the world about Hitler and the Nazis. Nobody listened, but the “Austrian School” of economics which he originally championed is alive and well. This should tell you something about the wisdom of “Harvard Economists”. It’s exactly the kind of disastrous economics our politicians are flirting with now. We need MASSIVE economic stimulus, infrastructure work programs, zero interest education loans, a reformed tax code, trade tariffs on outsourced manufactured products, and SEVERE tax penalties on wealth hidden in off-shore financial instruments. Buy yourself a bag of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups and read the label. Hershey’s Chocolate now manufactures these products in Mexico. This must stop, and the taxes these corporations evade by way of right wing policy initiatives and out-sourcing MUST be recouped. These politicians are robbing the American public blind, and turning us into slaves. They and their wealthy campaign contributors are getting rich doing it, and Americans don’t realize it. It’s BOTH the Republicans AND the Democrats who are doing the bidding of the wealthy. It may all be legal, but from a moral standpoint, it’s just plain treason.

        • Hillary
          September 4, 2012 at 22:25

          I believe you excellently pointed out how Clint Eastwood took shots at the stupidity of both Republicans & Democrats for both the Iraq & Afghanistan invasions .

          Mr.Eastwood took shots at all “politicos” pointing out how V.P.Biden was the intellectual in the Democratic Party & how nobody thought to check with the Russians over Afghanistan.

          I thought he was good.

          • F. G. Sanford
            September 4, 2012 at 23:07

            Thanks for your comment. As I mentioned in another post, whether you admire Eastwood or not, his performance was drop-dead brilliant. The vehicle was Jimmy Stewart’s portrayal of “Harvey”, who has an invisible companion called a “Pooka”, who occupied what appeared to the audience to be an empty chair. Eastwood slammed both parties, each at the expense of the other. This was a consummate professional, a master of his craft, who slipped a comedic submarine into Scapa Flow and blew both parties right out of the water with one torpedo right after the other. By the time anyone realized what happened, Eastwood was long gone. Most of them still haven’t figured it out.

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