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Obama Debating Dummies Is Easy; How About Debating the Grownups on the Real Issues?

The White House is sending out transcripts and videos of President Obama’s “debate” with the dummies, as though they think this shows the President in total command of the national discussion over America’s future. But what Obama’s encounter with House Republicans shows is how silly and irrelevant is Washington’s view of the tough issues facing America.

The most astonishing thing about the Republican reaction is that the confrontation confirmed to them they’ve been right all along — they honestly believe their own talking points and remain unfazed by any facts to the contrary.

No matter what the CBO says or independent economists/experts tell us, they remain convinced it must be Obama who created massive deficits. It’s an article of faith that federal stimulus spending can’t save or create jobs (never mind what state governors did to save teachers, etc), and it’s sacred text — or Luntz’ talking points — that Obama is pushing a massive government takeover of health care, even though he prefers to leave the health insurance system in the hands of private insurers and refuses to back a public option.

It is astonishing that the House leadership thought people like Mike Pence, Jeb Hensarling and Marsha Blackburn were an intellectual or political match for Barack Obama. But it’s explainable when you realize they wake up every morning and see the world through different eyes than yours or mine. There is little hope of bridging that chasm.

It is a sign of how juvenile our political discourse is that Obama must even respond to some of the assertions he faced from House Republicans, but that’s where we are. When he says, in the second video, that he is “not an ideologue,” we hear murmurs of disbelief from an audience that has conditioned itself to think of him as an extreme radical, a notion the rest of us find laughable.

Debates with deluded dummies in the hope of convincing them is not just pointless; it is a distraction from the more important discussions we need to be having.

It’s easy to rebut lightweights like Mike Pence or Hensarling. But when Obama and credible experts tell us the stimulus worked to save or create 0.6 to 1.6 million jobs (CBO) or between 1.5 and 2.0 million jobs (WH Council of Economic Advisers), and then he admits that still leaves over 5 million jobs lost in the Great Recession, we need Obama to do more than defend the last stimulus.

Instead, we need him to make the case for another, better stimulus and to explain why, when it became clear last summer (or even before) that unemployment would be far worse than his own advisers projected, he didn’t immediately direct his advisers to prepare a second stimulus and major jobs initiative. Why wasn’t that put before Congress by last Fall so it would be kicking in now and through the rest of 2010-11?

To be sure, with a lazy he said/she said media — CBS (Schieffer) and ABC (Tapper) network coverage was especially pitiful, and PBS’ Judy Woodruff gave Hensarling 6 minutes to resurrect himself without real challenge — the White House has little choice but to swat down phony assertions from the dummies. But the real debate is one we’re not having; it’s the one Obama and his economic advisers have refused to have with those who knew what they were talking about and warned him, over and over again, that his economic stimulus was too small and not focused.

In one of the exchanges Friday, Obama very cleverly told the Republicans they had foolishly narrowed their own bargaining position by using inflammatory, apocalyptic rhetoric about him and his “centrist” proposals (meaning Bob Dole and Howard Baker would approve). That made it impossible for them to even talk with him lest they alienate their now hysterical and misled base. That’s true.

But what is Obama doing by ignoring the more relevant and critical debates with his many economic critics on the sane side of the spectrum? Has he not defined the legitimate debate so narrowly that it can only take place between Bob Dole and John Boehner? There are no credible solutions in that space, and it’s a long way from where the discussion needs to be.

Obama should be having a real discussion about how large — in the hundreds of billions — and in what form a jobs program needs to be. We should be discussing whether we need more direct government creation of jobs — FDR understood this — rather than filtering a few tens of billions through business tax credits when consumers are more worried about their jobs, their health insurance and their mortgages.

It is mindless to debate phony Republican talking points about government health takeovers, with people who not only lied about death panels but cannot even acknowledge that every universal coverage/care system in the advanced world relies on extensive government structure, funding and price/quality regulation.

We don’t have a lot of time to waste with people who don’t understand that “free market” solutions don’t work when the nation’s insurers, providers and drug industries are highly concentrated and often not amendable to market competition in the first place.

We need to be debating whether so-called “market” exchanges will solve a provider cost problem whose solutions are compromised by market power and pervasive unpriced externalities.

The President has run away from real debates on these and a dozen other national issues. His refusal to engage genuine, credible critics while playing instead on the dummies’ anti-intellectual turf is what is crippling his credibility and sabotaging his ability to govern and actually solve these hard problems.

Dismissing the dummies should be the media’s job. If the President wants to have a debate on the real issues facing America, how about confronting the grown ups, and not just the 12-year olds?


Paul Krugman, Cossack Rahm Works for the Czar

Brad DeLong, Can Someone Please Tell Me How This is Supposed to Be Good Policy?

NYT “Fact Check,” Searching for Some Light Amid the heat

Dean Baker, President Obama’s Tax Credit for Cutting Jobs

Calculated Risk, Larry Summers “Statistical recovery and a human recession” and see the graph.

And must read — Baseline Scenario, Simon Johnson, “Populism”

Frank Rich, The State of the Union Is Comatose (includes list of Republican “ideas”)

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John has been writing for Firedoglake since 2006 or so, on whatever interests him. He has a law degree, worked as legal counsel and energy policy adviser for a state energy agency for 20 years and then as a consultant on electricity systems and markets. He's now retired, living in Massachusetts.

You can follow John on twitter: @JohnChandley