Stuck in the wrong conversation

STUCK IN THE WRONG CONVERSATION…. During the hour-long episode of “Meet the Press” yesterday, there was exactly one reference to the U.S. unemployment rate, uttered by former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm (D). The word “spending” was used 40 times.

The very first sentence of the broadcast was host David Gregory telling viewers, “The battle to rein in government is shaping up to be the major fight not only of this year, but of the 2012 campaign.”

There was no discussion of how, exactly, this became “the major fight,” only that the political establishment has decreed it to be. If you thought economic growth and job creation was at the center of the policy discussion in Washington, I’m afraid your attitudes are so 2010.

There are very few prominent media voices whose priorities remain sound. E.J. Dionne Jr., thankfully, is one of them.

Take five steps back and consider the nature of the political conversation in our nation’s capital. You would never know that it’s taking place at a moment when unemployment is still at 9 percent, when wages for so many people are stagnating at best and when the United States faces unprecedented challenges to its economic dominance.

No, Washington is acting as if the only real problem the United States confronts is the budget deficit; the only test of leadership is whether the president is willing to make big cuts in programs that protect the elderly; and the largest threat to our prosperity comes from public employees.

Consider another example. Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) twice acknowledged publicly that his proposed spending cuts would force more American workers from their jobs, on purpose. The first time he said it, Boehner told reporters, “So be it.”

How many times did this rather startling remark come up in any of the five major Sunday morning public affairs shows? Zero. It was simply ignored.*

And the reason it was ignored isn’t hard to understand: pesky Americans may think jobs and the economy are the most pressing national issue, but the political world has no use for such parochial concerns. The establishment has moved on.

This reached a farcical level on “Meet the Press” when Republican strategist Ed Gillespie insisted that President Obama is “out of touch.” Why? Because the president is committed to creating jobs, promoting innovation, and cultivating economic development through high-speed rail.

To be “in touch,” apparently, is to consider such priorities unimportant.

Dionne concluded, “In his State of the Union address, Obama made a good case that budget cutting is too small an agenda and that this is also a time for more government — yes, more government — in areas that would expand opportunities and strengthen the economy. That argument has been entirely drowned out. If politics is reduced to a crabbed and crabby accountants’ war, Obama loses. The country will, too.”

* Corrected: It turns out Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) brought it up on “Face the Nation,” a reference that didn’t turn up in a Nexis search. My apologies for the error, but the larger point, obviously, stands.