It All Comes Down to Cases

December 18th, 2011 at 8:25 pm

I highly recommend this debate today between Rep Barney Frank and Robert Reich on one side and Rep Paul Ryan and George Will on the other.  The topic was the role of government in our lives.

The thing that’s so notable here–truly important, I’d say—is the way Barney Frank handled the debate.  He simply wouldn’t allow Ryan and Will to get away with lofty aphorisms about “big government” and forced them to deal with cases.

What about the auto bailouts—would we be better off if GM and Chrysler were liquidated?  How can we manage unstable financial markets without financial reform?  You want limited gov’t, but you leave out defense.  And in fact, when it comes to gay marriage, you want gov’t in the bedroom.  You say you’re for economic mobility but your budget slashes away at Pell grants, training, child care for working parents.

Rep Ryan and Will had no idea how to deal with this kind of granular analysis.  Ryan fumbled around trying to poke holes in Barney’s attacks, but he simply hasn’t done the work Barney has to get under the hood of what’s actually going on in these policy debates.

EG, Ryan on why he voted for the auto bailout: “…in order to prevent TARP from going to the auto companies, because we already put $25 billion aside in an energy bill, which I disapproved of, to go to auto companies.”

(Huh??  TARP money was very clearly the source for the auto bailouts.)

It gets worse:

FRANK: Do you think the automobile intervention was successful or not?

RYAN: I think we should have done a bankruptcy…

We did a bankruptcy!  GM and Chrysler went through bankruptcy—such restructuring was integral to the deal.

Here’s Will, summing up their position:  “I think big government harms freedom, because it is an enormous tree in the shade of which the smaller institutions of civil society cannot prosper.”

OK, but what should we do to help kids whose economic circumstances unquestionably block them from realizing their potential?  How should we address deficient public infrastructure?  What about regulating financial markets and consumer protections?  What about the ongoing recession in the job market?

The dude needs to either stop prattling about trees in the shade or step out of the way and let someone who’s put in the time on the critical issues of the day have their say.  I’m not suggesting that Rep Frank’s solutions to all these problems are the right ones.  I am saying you either have to offer a different solution or explain why the status quo is just fine (Reich did a nice job with these points in his wrap up).

I’m sure some listeners found Barney to be too unyielding in his relentless insistence that his opponents deal with cases instead of their rhetorical flourishes.  To me, and I suspect to most listeners of all political stripes who tuned in hoping to figure out what the heck is wrong with today’s politics, Frank not only carried the day but showed the way forward.  It’s a shame he’s retiring, but with his informed passion, I can’t imagine he’s going away any time soon.  Much to Paul Ryan’s chagrin, I’m sure.

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3 comments in reply to "It All Comes Down to Cases"

  1. Bob weber says:

    The program was excellent. There needs to be more debate and discussion like this rather than just talking points and superficial questions without follow up that is the usual. I turned David Gregory off last week as he allowed his guest to blather on without requiring some foundation and basis of fact in the response to his question. I find Up with Chris Hays and GPS to be shows with actual discussion from knowledgeable.

  2. the buckaroo says:

    …seems the difference between the two agendas of big government boils down to the Conservative Brotherhood’s need to peer into our bedrooms & not into the boardrooms…the Libs maintain the opposite is govs role.

    Think there is a Barney & Friends Show coming to the local Faux Newscorp outlet?

  3. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    Of greatest interest to me were Reich’s points:
    (1) the ‘big government’ meme is a canard,
    (2) **who** should government be working for?

    George Will invoked Reagan and Jefferson. But what did Jefferson ever tell us about global finance, offshoring, or tax havens that might be practical advice today…?

    The other point that bears mention in a blog comment was the question from the evangelical minister, who raised the topic of economic inequality — which is partly a function of tax policy.

    Surprisingly, the evangelical minister synched with Robert Reich’s points — not with the points made on behalf of the GOP. (Ryan’s plea to ‘get out of this class division rhetoric’ was droll. Was he suggesting that evangelical ministers should never raise the specter of income inequality…?)

    Prior to watching the video, I’d landed on two blogs today that each linked to a Bureau of Investigative Journalism’s report about an estimated 600 million euros that UK banks have cheated EU governments out of — via tax havens and financial ‘services’ based in the City of London and affiliated tax secrecy jurisdictions.

    It’s worth noting that the Church of England is raising questions about the income inequality in the UK, so I don’t think it’s just the US evangelicals who are starting to ask tougher questions about economic, finance, and tax structures.

    In other words, ‘taxation’ and finance appear to be percolating closer to the center of public conversation, and the evangelical minister’s questions alluded to both of those topics.

    At this historical moment, against the background of the economic, social, and financial news we are seeing, Reich’s (and the evangelical minister’s) questions appear to be more resonant with each passing news story — including the one about how Ryan’s House GOP group has once again done a turnabout at the 58th minute of the 11th hour.

    My takeaway: that evangelical minister gave me hope.
    People do care.
    We are paying attention. And starting to ask a lot more questions.
    There’s the upside.