An entertaining column in The Washington Post describes the Democratic Party as “working through the five stages of grief when it comes to inflation — and, by extension, their midterm prospects.”
Columnist Catherine Rampell is on target here, even though by some economic measurements, there is cause for optimism.
For example, by late summer or early fall, the United States is expected to recover all of the jobs eliminated during the coronavirus recession. Right now, the country still has at least 1 million fewer jobs than it did in February 2020, the month before the virus attacked.
But as Rampell notes, a rising number of jobs, and even rising pay, doesn’t help much when people can’t keep up with something that’s rising even faster — prices.
Until recently, many Democrats were in the first stage — denial — about inflation. Some even claimed Republicans were hyping price increases to distract from job growth. While it’s true that many analysts said inflation would subside as the economy reopened and supply chains got back to normal, so far that hasn’t happened.
Rampell wrote that Democrats moved to the second stage — anger — last fall and winter. The culprit, they claimed, was corporate greed. It’s a lousy argument. Greed caused neither the business crash of 2020 nor the lava-hot rebound of the past several months.
Now some, including President Biden, have moved to the third stage of grief — bargaining.
The president is among those playing “Let’s Make A Deal” by releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in an attempt to bring gasoline prices down, and he also is talking about forgiving student college debt.
“Never mind that poorly targeted student debt forgiveness might accidentally increase inflationary pressures,” Rampell observed. “Or that the politics of a broad-based debt jubilee are not an obvious slam-dunk.”
She may not be far off the mark when she wondered if Democrats, in advance of this November’s midterm elections, might continue bargaining by trying to revive some elements of the Build Back Better program that died in the Senate.
“According to the usual taxonomy, two stages of grief remain,” Rampell added. “The next, depression, seems to be already creeping up on some Democrats, as they openly despair over the darkening economic outlook and what it portends for their midterm chances.
“Acceptance of those election results might not be far behind.”
The majority party in Congress historically loses seats in a midterm election, and right now that is the most likely outcome for Democrats. Voters may take global unity over Ukraine into account, or the mood might improve if the job market continues growing this summer.
But as James Carville once said, “It’s the economy, stupid.” As long as gasoline prices are in the $4 per gallon range, the midterm outlook — at every stage — clearly favors Republicans.
— Jack Ryan, McComb Enterprise-Journal