FRED BARNES DOESN’T KNOW WHAT HE’S TALKING ABOUT…. Conceit is nearly always unseemly, but it takes a smug fool with misplaced arrogance to be truly offensive.

The Weekly Standard‘s Fred Barnes devotes his latest column to bashing President Obama’s economic policies. That, in and of itself, is unremarkable. Barnes is a Bush/Cheney Republican, and Obama isn’t. They’re bound to see economic policy differently.

What’s striking, though, is how Barnes presents his argument. Instead of simply making the case against the administration’s policies, he feels comfortable arguing that Obama is “an economic illiterate,” the “Know-Nothing-in-Chief,” and a leader lacking “even a sketchy grasp of economics.” This from a shameless conservative hack who has never demonstrated any proficiency in any area of public policy.

At his press conference, Obama endorsed a surtax on families earning more than $1 million a year to pay for his health care initiative. This is no way to get the country out of a recession. Like them or not, millionaires are the folks whose investments create growth and jobs — which are, after all, exactly what the president is hoping for.

Another tax hike — especially on top of the increased taxes on individual income, capital gains, dividends, and inheritances that Obama intends to go into effect in 2011 — is sure to impede investment. It’s an anti-growth measure, as those with even a sketchy grasp of economics know. But Obama doesn’t appear to.

In the world where the grown-ups live, the surtax, if passed, wouldn’t kick in until 2011. Just as important, there’s no evidence tax increases on the very wealthy have ever stunted economic growth. These are the kind of details those with even a sketchy grasp of current events know. But Barnes doesn’t appear to.

He declared it “a good thing” that banks are profitable again, but he couldn’t leave it at that. He went on to bemoan the absence of “change in behavior and practices” among bankers. As for the “record profits” of insurance companies, he had nothing but disdain.

This, Barnes argued, is evidence of a president who doesn’t understand economics. But that’s absurd. Obama raised concerns about changing the behavior and practices of banks, because the president would like to avoid things going to back to the way they were — conditions that led to the collapse of the economy in the first place. He objected to health insurance companies making “record profits,” because American families are struggling badly with rising health care costs. If Barnes disagrees, fine, but the president’s concern is hardly evidence of ignorance.

Barnes goes on (and on) from there. Obama, he says, needs to cut corporate taxes. The stimulus, he argues, needed even more tax cuts. If Obama disagrees, Barnes says, he must be an idiot.

What an embarrassment.

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.