MISSING THE POINT OF ‘DIVERSIONARY TACTICS’…. The recent talk about Rush Limbaugh filling the leadership vacuum atop the Republican Party has been rather unpleasant for GOP leaders on the Hill. They don’t want to agree with the right-wing blowhard (which would alienate mainstream Americans), but they don’t want to denounce him, either (which would anger the party’s unhinged base).

And while the party mulls its options, Limbaugh keeps talking, Democrats keep egging him on, and Republicans keep apologizing for making the talk-show host angry.

Today, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) has a Washington Post op-ed with a new response: all of this talk is intended to distract the public.

In the first two months of 2009, the Democratic Congress and the White House have spent more money than the combined cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and the response to Hurricane Katrina. After they doled out taxpayer dollars at such a blistering pace, the instinct of many inside the Beltway is to do what’s most convenient: desperately try to change the subject by creating straw men — called “the party of no” — to rally against.

And in a carefully calculated campaign, operatives and allies of the Obama administration are seeking to divert attention toward radio host Rush Limbaugh, and away from a debate about our alternative solutions on the economy and the irresponsible spending binge they are presiding over. This diversionary tactic will not create a single job or help a single family struggling in today’s economic crisis. And that is where our focus should be.

President Obama has said that we must change the way Washington operates in order to address the unprecedented challenges of today. I hope that those inside and close to the administration begin heeding his advice, because the change-the-subject campaign they are employing is the oldest trick in Washington’s book. This isn’t about the leadership of political party officials or the influence of radio hosts. It’s about the need for both parties to work together toward real solutions to end this recession and put Americans back to work.

As a matter of politics, that’s not a bad pitch. Republican lawmakers, the argument goes, want to talk about policy, and all of this Limbaugh stuff is just trivia. The Republican Party, appearances notwithstanding, is desperate for seriousness in policymaking.

But from a substantive perspective, Boehner’s argument is kind of silly. For one thing, Democrats aren’t responsible — at least not solely responsible — for elevating Limbaugh into the role of de facto Republican leader. It’s the result of a combination of factors, including his gift of self-promotion and the GOP’s interest in kissing his ring.

More importantly, though, I don’t think Boehner fully appreciates the point of “diversionary tactics.” As the Minority Leader sees it, Democrats don’t want to talk about their economic policies, so they’re talking about Limbaugh.

But here’s the follow-up question: why would Democrats be reluctant to talk about their economic policies? Americans like the Democrats’ economic policies. The policies make sense, especially when compared to Republican rhetoric about spending freezes, tax cuts, deficit reduction, and a balanced-budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Put it this way: with Democrats enjoying a huge advantage on economic policy in the midst of an economic crisis, and with the GOP’s economic agenda coming straight out of the Hoover playbook, what possible incentive does the majority party have in mulling “diversionary tactics”? Why engage in a “change-the-subject campaign” when your side is winning the most important economic debate in generations?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.