Barney Frank schools Paul Ryan on the economy

In a televised debate, retiring Congressman Barney Frank offered concrete solutions to the nation's economic woes–while Ryan could only respond with rhetorical flourishes.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP/File
In this file photo, Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. gestures during his news conference on his retirement on Capitol Hill in Washington. During a televised debate on the role of government Sunday, Frank took Republican Paul Ryan to task for not defending his views with concrete examples of how small government is effective.

I highly recommend this debate yesterday 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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