“Joe Biden’s term has become a punchline,” writes Stephen Collinson, “even to the president.” The CNN analyst uses the backdrop of the White House Correspondents Dinner to inform readers of just how bleak Democrats’ midterm prospects look, largely because of Biden’s terrible performance. While it’s traditional for presidents to poke fun at themselves at Nerd Prom, in this case it sounded more like whistling past the political grave for Democrats, Collinson argues:
But his jokes were rooted in the painful reality of a presidency hostage to economic and global forces beyond his control and compounded by some of the tactical errors of his White House.
We can — and should — quibble with the claim that “economic and global forces” were beyond Biden’s control. For one thing, I don’t recall too many media outlets making that argument about COVID-19 in 2020. The economic forces that are now battering the White House mainly have two sources: inflation and supply-chain crises, which overlap each other. Biden could have avoided the former by following Larry Summers’ advice and not pushing a third tranche of unnecessary stimulus in March 2021 with Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. That massive spending included enough direct stimulus to both exacerbate a monetary-supply issue that had been building for years and spike demand to massive heights while Biden’s administration ignored the supply-chain issues that created shortages on goods.
The monetary supply issues stretch back more than a decade, of course, but who was VP when Ben Bernanke began his quantitative-easing strategy? Why, Joe Biden, as VP to Barack Obama. Why did Bernanke embark on massive expansions of monetary supply? In large part because the Obama/Biden administration responded to the 2008 financial crisis with one massive stimulus bill and large amounts of growth-dampening regulation and energy restrictions, and the Fed felt forced into monetary expansion to encourage growth instead. All that was needed for massive inflation was a catalyst — and Biden provided it with the American Rescue Plan, again a massive stimulus pushed while ramping up regulation and imposing energy restrictions.
And as for the global forces, some of that is beyond Biden’s control. The new lockdowns in China will hammer the US economy, which points up a chronic issue of over-dependence on China for America’s supply chains. That problem preceded Biden, it preceded Trump, and to some extent preceded Obama too. Trump’s tax cut and tariffs were designed in large part to convince US companies to shift supply chains back to the US, but not enough of that was accomplished.
However, if the “global forces” refers to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, then Collinson is letting Biden off the hook too easily. Biden got picked by Obama for running mate shortly after Russia’s invasion of Georgia in 2008, supposedly to give Obama more foreign-policy heft. The Obama/Biden administration responded by sending Hillary Clinton to give Sergei Lavrov a “reset button” that pretended that Russian imperialism was just a misunderstanding by the Bush administration, then all but ignored Vladimir Putin’s seizure of Crimea and Donbas. The week before the latest invasion, Biden was mumbling about “limited incursions” and incrementally ramping up threats of sanctions rather than act decisively when sanctions might have deterred the invasion up front.
And let’s not forget Biden’s abandonment of 14,000 Americans in Afghanistan last August, either. How many are left? How many have been killed? Biden set those global forces in motion all by himself, a debacle that may have convinced Putin to invade Ukraine sooner rather than later.
Collinson doesn’t quite get it on the economy either:
Some economic analysts have suggested that inflation — on its worst tear since the 1980s — has peaked. But a key index watched by the Federal Reserve — the Personal Consumption Expenditures price index — was up 6.6% for the year ended in March, according to figures released last week. Energy prices spiked by the war in Ukraine were up 33.9% and food was up 9.2% over the same period. Another report last week showed a surprise decline in gross domestic product of 1.4% in the first quarter. While there were technical factors that might mean the figure is not as bad as it appears, it did spark fears of a recession, following warnings of a downturn on the horizon from several large Wall Street banks.
These numbers get to the fundamental weakness of the Democrats’ case as they approach the midterm elections. Biden cannot lock in full credit for the economy’s strong rebound from the pandemic and historically good job numbers because millions of Americans are disgruntled by high prices.
Biden wasn’t going to get “full credit for the economy’s strong rebound” anyway. That rebound began in the third quarter of 2020, for one thing. For another, we’re still making up lost ground from the cratering of the economy in 2020Q2, especially on jobs, where we’re still about 4 million short of where we would have been without that crater. The economy didn’t need a “rescue” by 2021Q1 — it needed regulatory room to recover, and it needed cheap energy especially. Biden’s policies have actively interfered with the recovery, and inflation is only one manifestation of that. This time around, the Fed can’t bail Biden and Democrats out from those bad policies.
That’s why the midterms will be a nightmare for Democrats. And why they should be a nightmare for Democrats, too. Collinson gets enough right here for that message to resound among Democrats. Republicans already know it, of course.