I should have declined when the baby asked me to try his new flight simulator video game. As you may know, flying makes me grumpy. “But dad,” the baby insisted, “this is different. You get to be the pilot!”

Well, okay.

Taking off was easy and kind of fun. I didn’t have to go through airport security. I didn’t need luggage. I wasn’t in the cargo hold, or even in a regular cabin seat. I was in the cockpit – which is surprisingly like my favorite branch of my tree – already lined up on the runway. Plus I had a full bowl of macadamias next to me. All I had to do was push the throttle, build up speed, keep going straight, and pull back on the joystick. All according to the baby’s instructions. I learned how to turn, and we circled the airport a few times.

Then it came time to land. The runway was off to my left. Okay, that’s easy. Move the joystick to the left. Turn turn turn and … now the runway’s on my right. Oops. Move the joystick to the right. Turn turn turn and … now the runway’s on my left again. All while the ground keeps getting closer, with the baby saying “No, dad, you’re over-steering! Pull up and try again.”

My landing would be a nice topic for a cable TV disaster documentary. Clearly, I’m not a flying squirrel. But they don’t have to land on runways, so maybe that wasn’t the problem.

President Obama’s 2008 election campaign focused on two central issues: the economic crisis and health care. His first major policy initiative was the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had floated the idea of a $500 billion stimulus in December 2008, President Obama asked for $775 billion and in mid-February 2009 Congress ultimately passed a bit more than that. Within hours, “the Markets have had their say and so far the sentiment is pessimistic.”

Then the administration moved on to health care, and that debate flared for the next year. The end result was the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, passed in March 2010. Two months later, the Washington Times was reporting “Health care law won’t rain in costs,” citing a report that omitted several key cost-saving measures in the bill.

Because the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act could not undo three decades of damage from conservative dogma in 18 months and the not-yet-implemented Affordable Care had not fixed the nation’s health care problems – and because a corporate-funded Tea Party movement whipped up conservative turnout – Republicans recaptured the House in the 2010 midterms. And our national political dialogue shifted from jobs and health care to deficits and debt.

Yet as Paul Krugman argued in Sunday’s New York Times, that focus has become a “fatal distraction:”

I don’t mean to dismiss concerns about the long-run U.S. budget picture. If you look at fiscal prospects over, say, the next 20 years, they are indeed deeply worrying, largely because of rising health-care costs. But the experience of the past two years has overwhelmingly confirmed what some of us tried to argue from the beginning: The deficits we’re running right now – deficits we should be running, because deficit spending helps support a depressed economy – are no threat at all.

Those rising health care costs may be less threatening once the not-yet-fully-implemented, not-yet-fully-scored Affordable Care Act rolls in. But there’s no evidence for that yet and no time to wait, Republicans say. The key is to cut taxes and slash government spending. Of course there’s no evidence for that creating jobs either, but evidence is irrelevant when a policy fits conservative dogma.

On Thursday, President Obama will address a Joint Session of Congress to propose a jobs plan. As Krugman and others have said, nothing President Obama will propose stands the slightest chance of passage before the 2012 election. But I’ll bet a bowl of macadamias that, within weeks if not days, the president’s plan will be criticized for not having worked yet.

I still can’t land in flight simulator, but I’m getting better. The baby was right: I was over-steering. I’ve figured out that I have to anticipate and plan ahead, and that changes take time to work through. Maybe someday we will learn the same is true of government.

And maybe on that day I’ll be able to fly to my roving reporter gigs on flight simulator. If I learn to land.

Good day and good nuts.