Inflation as a political issue

Note that inflation is real, and in most elections “the economy” (meaning how am I personally doing financially?) is the main issue for most voters. This isn’t news, but I tire of the simple, superficial repetition of the trope by national news commentators, left and right.

The mistaken and undisputed notion is that inflation is the major problem and that it will hurt the Democrats. Well, not necessarily. Not if the news media are thoughtful and honest (which we should be able to assume), and not if voters are thoughtful and informed (don’t assume that too quickly!).

As with all issues, voters should ask and the news media should let us know: what is the position of both parties on the issue (beyond “for” and “against”). On this, we do not know what the Republicans would have done to avoid inflation, nor what they would propose to deal with it. They don’t have a platform. In 2020 they decided to give up on writing a platform and decided to just be in favor of whatever Donald Trump wants. Really. Moreover, Republicans in Congress have for several years refused to propose solutions or participate in the development of bipartisan solutions; they have simply resolved to oppose anything the Democrats come up with. Filibuster, not helping legislate, and letting the Democrats, as incumbents, take the blame if something goes wrong. (I should add that they don’t mind attending ribbon cuttings to take credit for successes, even when they’ve opposed their adoption).

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Today’s inflation is global. It is mainly caused by interruptions and blockages in the supply chain, due to the pandemic, Putin’s war in Ukraine and the increase in number and intensity of disasters linked to climate change. When demand exceeds supply, there is inflation. But the inflation rate in the United States is the lowest in the world, thanks in large part to the creative measures taken by President Biden to reduce and contain the cost of gasoline, and thanks to his various legislative efforts alongside the Democrats in Congress. No honest person can contradict it, but no one seems to say it either. Putting this in the global context makes ludicrous the knee-jerk claim that inflation is caused by the policies of the incumbent president and should therefore hurt Democrats’ electoral chances. But, alas, ridicule often prevails; we elected Donald Trump president once.

Moreover, American political culture has been corrupted by the unfortunate degradation of the Republican Party, and by Trump lifting the rock and integrating what was underneath (e.g., white nationalists, neo-fascists, Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers, you get the idea). Now, as a result, politics has become superficial and ideological, polarization is an ugly reality, and fascism is knocking at the door. In this context, I guess the superficiality of the media on the discussion of inflation is insignificant – except that it affects election results, and at the moment we are still about democracy and elections.

Dr. Lawrence K. Pettit is retired and lives in Helena.

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