The point, however, is that the office he’s now seeking is more like the AG position than the governor’s mansion. And it would give him,once again, a chance to tangle with the bad guys of Wall Street from a position of considerable influence.

I know that opinions differ about just how effective Spitzer’s confrontations were. But at least he tried — which is more than you can say about almost anyone else in our political life.Basically, the malefactors of great leverage were bailed out and went right back to being bad guys again, and everyone in public life pretended that nothing had happened.

That, I think, is why there’s a surprising reservoir of support for Spitzer; people remember him as someone who showed at least some of the righteous outrage that has been so wrongly absent from our national discourse.

It’s a useful reminder, and it’s why I regard his entry into the race, win or lose, as a good thing.

The practical misconception here — and it’s a big one — is the notion that we live in an era of wildly irresponsible money printing, with runaway inflation just around the corner. It’s true that the Federal Reserve and other central banks have greatly expanded their balance sheets — but they’ve done that explicitly as a temporary measure in response to economic crisis. I know, government officials are not to be trusted and all that, but the truth is that Ben Bernanke’s promises that his actions wouldn’t be inflationary have been vindicated year after year, while goldbugs’ dire warnings of inflation keep not coming true.

The philosophical misconception, however, seems to me to be even bigger. Goldbugs and bitbugs alike seem to long for a pristine monetary standard, untouched by human frailty. But that’s an impossible dream. Money is, as Paul Samuelson once declared, a “social contrivance,” not something that stands outside society. Even when people relied on gold and silver coins, what made those coins useful wasn’t the precious metals they contained, it was the expectation that other people would accept them as payment.

Actually, you’d expect the Winklevosses, of all people, to get this, because in a way money is like a social network, which is useful only to the extent that other people use it. But I guess some people are just bothered by the notion that money is a human thing, and want the benefits of the monetary network without the social part. Sorry, it can’t be done.

So do we need a new form of money? I guess you could make that case if the money we actually have were misbehaving. But it isn’t. We have huge economic problems, but green pieces of paper are doing fine — and we should let them alone.

Oh, dear. Jon Stewart took on the platinum coin, and made a hash of it — he faceplanted, as Ryan Cooper says.

What went wrong? Jon Chait says that he flunked econ, but that’s just part of it. He also flunked law, politics, and just plain professional.

So, yeah, as Chait says, Stewart seems weirdly unaware that there’s more to fiscal policy than balancing the budget. But in this case he also seems unaware that the president can’t just decide unilaterally to spend 40 percent less; he’s constitutionally obliged to spend what the law tells him to spend. True, he’s also constitutionally prohibited from borrowing more if Congress says he can’t — which is a contradiction. But that’s the whole point of the discussion.

And it makes no sense at all to talk about any of this without the context of extortion and confrontation.

Above all, however, what went wrong here is a lack of professionalism on the part of Stewart and his staff. Yes, it’s a comedy show — but the jokes are supposed to be (and usually are) knowing jokes, which are funny and powerful precisely because the Daily Show people have done their homework and understand the real issues better than the alleged leaders spouting nonsense. In this case, however, it’s obvious that nobody at TDS spent even a few minutes researching the topic. It was just yuk-yuk-yuk they’re talking about a trillion-dollar con hahaha.

Hey, if we want this kind of intellectual laziness, we can just tune in to Fox.

Paul Krugman with Bill Moyers on Moyers & Company

Even the idea that everyone gets urgent care when needed from emergency rooms is false. Yes, hospitals are required by law to treat people in dire need, whether or not they can pay. But that care isn’t free — on the contrary, if you go to an emergency room you will be billed, and the size of that bill can be shockingly high. Some people can’t or won’t pay, but fear of huge bills can deter the uninsured from visiting the emergency room even when they should. And sometimes they die as a result.

Oh, about the voucher thing: In his debate with Vice President Biden, Mr. Ryan was actually the first one to mention vouchers, attempting to rule the term out of bounds. Indeed, it’s apparently the party line on the right that anyone using the word “voucher” to describe a health policy in which you’re given a fixed sum to apply to health insurance is a liar, not to mention a big meanie.

So let’s be brutally honest here. The Romney-Ryan position on health care is that many millions of Americans must be denied health insurance, and millions more deprived of the security Medicare now provides, in order to save money. At the same time, of course, Mr. Romney and Mr. Ryan are proposing trillions of dollars in tax cuts for the wealthy. So a literal description of their plan is that they want to expose many Americans to financial insecurity, and let some of them die, so that a handful of already wealthy people can have a higher after-tax income.

It’s not a pretty picture — and you can see why Mr. Romney chooses not to see it.

No, I didn’t watch it. In the immortal words of Barbara Bush, why should I waste my beautiful mind on that?

Still, I get the essence. The GOP campaign is based on five main themes, three negative and two positive.

Negative:

The claim that Obama denigrated businessmen, saying that they didn’t build their own firms; which isn’t true.

The claim that Obama has gutted Medicare to pay for the expansion of health insurance; which isn’t true.

The claim that Obama has eliminated the work requirement for welfare; which isn’t true.

Positive:

The claim that Ryan has a plan to balance the budget; which isn’t true.

The claim that Romney has a plan for economic recovery; which isn’t true. (The Economist: “The Romney Programme for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs” is like “Fifty Shades of Grey” without the sex).

Is this a plan?

Ryan basically proposes three big things: slashing Medicaid, cutting taxes on corporations and high-income people, and replacing Medicare with a drastically less well funded voucher system. These concrete proposals would, taken together, actually increase the deficit for the first decade and beyond.

All the claims of major deficit reduction therefore rest on the magic asterisks. In that sense, this isn’t even a plan, it’s just a set of assertions.

Look, Ryan hasn’t crunched the numbers; he has just scribbled some stuff down, without checking at all to see if it makes sense. He asserts that he can cut taxes without net loss of revenue by closing unspecified loopholes; he asserts that he can cut discretionary spending to levels not seen since Calvin Coolidge, without saying how; he asserts that he can convert Medicare to a voucher system, with much lower spending than now projected, without even a hint of how this is supposed to work. This is just a fantasy, not a serious policy proposal.

So why does Saletan believe otherwise? Has he crunched the numbers himself? Of course not. What he’s doing and what the whole Beltway media crowd has done is to slot Ryan into a role someone is supposed to be playing in their political play, that of the thoughtful, serious conservative wonk. In reality, Ryan is nothing like that; he’s a hard-core conservative, with a voting record as far right as Michelle Bachman’s, who has shown no competence at all on the numbers thing.

What Ryan is good at is exploiting the willful gullibility of the Beltway media, using a soft-focus style to play into their desire to have a conservative wonk they can say nice things about. And apparently the trick still works.

“If Ron Paul got on TV and said ‘Gah gah goo goo debasement! theft!’ — which is a rough summary of what he actually did say — his supporters would say that he won the debate hands down.” — May 1, 2012, blogging “On the Uselessness of Debates.”

The crucial point about both of these explanations is that they stand Mr. Christie’s narrative about himself on its head. The governor poses as a man willing to make hard choices for the future, but what he actually did was sacrifice the future for the sake of personal political advantage. He catered to national Republican prejudices that are completely at odds with New Jersey’s needs; he cared more about avoiding embarrassment over a misguided campaign pledge than about serving an urgent public need.

Unfortunately, Mr. Christie’s behavior is all too typical these days.

America used to be a country that thought big about the future. Major public projects, from the Erie Canal to the interstate highway system, used to be a well-understood component of our national greatness. Nowadays, however, the only big projects politicians are willing to undertake — with expense no object — seem to be wars. Funny how that works.