As of today, the number one topic of the media and much of the blogosphere will likely be the measures recommended by the inept chairs of the Deficit Reduction (aka “Catfood”) Commission to reduce the federal deficit. The fact that these men and this topic are the focus of attention is itself a national tragedy, a sign of the political elite’s unwillingness to heed the public’s demands that government focus on the nation’s real priorities.

Whether one looks at public opinion polls, which consistently place confronting massive unemployment and the recession’s economic effects first, or the views of our wisest advisers, there is no public demand or convincing intellectual argument for focusing now on the federal deficit, even for the long run.

It is bad enough that we have been misled by the lies and misrepresentations of deficit hysterics at the Washington Post and Peter Peterson’s billionaire gang, or faux deficit hawks in Congress who would slash an undisputably solvent Social Security while claiming it’s fine to give $700 billion in tax breaks to the richest people in America.

It is even worse that a media that has been given enough information from its own polling, government or think tank reports, and it’s own reporting has fallen for this insanity. This is the economic equivalent of believing we should go to war to rid Iraq of WMD and end Saddam’s alliance with al Qaeda. The justifications for waging war on the deficits are that false, that stupid, that disproved and that disastrous for the nation. It’s been the Washington Post’s Fred Hiatt playing the New York Times’ Judy Miller.

The public is once again smarter than the Village pundits. In poll after poll they’ve said the country’s number one priority by far is to deal with the Great Recession’s disastrous effects on unemployment, economic security, foreclosures, declining wages and disappointed retirement hopes. How one could know that and still think the solution is to delay and reduce Social Security and Medicare benefits is a mystery.

Yet night after night we have to listen to the sickening hypocrisy of the John Boehners lecturing us on how the Democrats lost because they, and only they, failed to listen to the American people. There’s no mandate to radically slash deficits or threaten safety nets in the middle of a recession. And there’s certainly no support for slashing Social Security. Yet that’s exactly where Obama’s selectmen Knowles-Simpson are.

The country does not need a crash program to reduce the deficits now, so asking a high-level commission to focus on that problem and present its recommendations now is the worst possible distraction one could imagine. Instead, the country desperately needs an economic recovery plan, a jobs plan, a state rescue plan, an infrastructure investment plan, an alternative energy plan. Where are the Presidential commissions for these real priorities?

The Catfood Commission is not merely a momentary distraction from what needs to be done; it is a calculated displacement — a cynically manipulated replacement of the right priorities with exactly the wrong ones. As long as Washington and the national media debate the details of budget reduction, it will be impossible to discuss what we need to do to put people back to work or even to ameliorate their suffering until the jobs and economic security return.

The Bowles-Simpson proposals should not be debated; they shouldn’t even be read. Instead they deserve to be put on a shelf, probably for at least three years and likely more, until this country is well on its way to economic recovery and the numbers of unemployed are several millions fewer and steadily declining. No other economic/budgetary priority comes even close.

When Obama established his commission, it may have been the worst strategic blunder by a Democratic President in our lifetimes. It’s almost impossible to calculate how much damage he may have done to the country in this single, foolish act. We have 15 million unemployed, millions undergoing bankruptcy and/or foreclosures, record poverty, state and local governments in budgetary collapse, services being slashed, teachers/firemen/police losing jobs — all of which could be prevented but will take more federal spending because that is the only place increased demand can come from. Yet the Deficit Commission focus will now be an unneeded obstacle to every proposed solution.

The only useful thing a responsible deficit commission might have done now is to debunk the falsehoods and hypocrisy of the deficit hysterics and faux deficit hawks. A truly responsible group might then have continued working, in public, to analyze long-run future budgetary issues. But they’ve not only failed to clarify the problems and debunk the myths; they’ve made public understanding worse. If they’d been commissioned by a successful corporation wanting to understand its future priorities, these folks would have been fired months ago.

Now we have to spend all our energy fighting a set of deficit proposals, including proposals to weaken Social Security, from two men chosen by Barack Obama whom no one with any sense would ever trust with setting the nation’s priorities. Next will come mindless proposals for balanced budget amendments, whose constraints could turn a sovereign federal government with its own currency into a gridlocked California or Greece.

And liberal Democrats now squarely confront the dilemma that the only way to stop the slide into fiscal insanity and restore the nation’s focus on its real priorities is to defy and discredit a supposedly Democratic President. This is his error; make him fix it or go down with it. I hope they wake up in time.

John Chandley

More:
Kevin Drum, Is the Deficit Commission Serious? [no]
Paul Krugman, Unserious People
Dean Baker, Erskine Bowles, Morgan Stanley, and the Deficit Commission
Jon Walker/FDL, Disaster for Democrats
Masaccio/FDL: Catfood Co-Chairs Use Social Security to Cut Deficits
Michael Whitney/FDL — FDL Petition — Tell President Obama and Catfood Commission: Hands Off

DeLong: Unexpected thoughts: “I’d be a happier camper if Obama (and Biden) resigned tonight.” And that was before he read this.