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October 10, 2023

Why Bidenflation Defines Bidenomics

What prognosticators get wrong is the degree of “latency” in American politics.

As the world burns and President Joe Biden’s inadequacies grow only more obvious, Democrats reassure themselves that voters next year will care most of all about domestic issues.

And there, they think, Biden has something to be proud of: Bidenomics.

The economy has delivered good news in recent months — inflation is slowing and employment is booming.

The latest jobs numbers have been rapturously reported by a wide swath of the media. “Jobs report shock: American economy added a stunning 336,000 jobs in September,” ran CNN’s headline.

Yet the same webpage trumpeting that achievement carried an analysis by CNN’s David Goldman acknowledging that the economy still “feels lousy for many people,” and according to the network’s own polling, “A majority of Americans say President Joe Biden’s policies have made economic conditions worse.”

The historian Titus Livy, surveying the last days of the Roman republic, concluded, “We can endure neither our vices nor their cure.”

In our case, we can endure neither inflation nor its cure — and voters are mad about both.

A year ago, Democrats breathed easy: Yes, they lost control of the House of Representatives, but the midterms were not the rout for Biden’s party that everyone expected, despite the dizzying inflation rate.

Republicans were perplexed: Were Americans really indifferent to escalating prices and the tumbling purchasing power of the dollars in their wallets?

Just as puzzling was the way voters seemed not to punish Democrats for heightened levels of violent crime.

In 2020, even with all the headwinds Donald Trump faced, many in the GOP thought that the riots and rising crime of that summer and autumn would secure his reelection.

It was 1968 all over again, and Trump was the new Nixon.

And by last year’s midterms, Biden was meant to be the new Jimmy Carter, presiding over a country beset by malaise, whose best years seemed to be in the rearview.

Yet only now does inflation appear to be doing the damage to Biden that conservatives thought it would do from the start, even though economists say the worst of it is now behind us.

Crime is also catching up with the Democrats, despite assurances from liberals that murder rates in many places are stabilizing or falling.

What prognosticators on both sides get wrong — and I did, too — is the degree of “latency” in American politics.

Those of us who follow politics closely assume that ordinary voters will react as quickly as we do to the latest numbers and trends.

Yet the current mood of the public, as well as its reactions in 2020 and 2022, is easily accounted for by taking a lag into account.

Voters really do care about crime and inflation, but only once the experience of these evils has had time to reshape their outlook.

And where inflation is concerned, the cure is almost as painful as the affliction.

Higher interest rates hurt homebuyers. Bringing down prices means throttling wage growth, too.

Every trip to the supermarket and gas station reminds voters of what inflation has done, yet the pain doesn’t vanish just because professional economists say the forecast is brightening.

And as inflation-reducing measures take hold, groceries and gasoline remain expensive while the pinch of new constraints is felt.

This has been going on long enough for Americans to get sick of it and sick of the president under whom it’s been happening.

Biden can’t complain of any injustice here: If he’s not getting credit for the good news, he didn’t get the full blame he deserved for the bad news earlier, either.

Americans gave Biden a loan, in effect, both in 2020 and 2022. Now the payments are coming due — and those interest rates are up.

After three years, Bidenomics means Bidenflation to most voters.

Meanwhile, cities remain unsafe, even if not every ZIP code is growing more violent, and bloody events around the world are spiraling beyond the president’s control.

Will things get better in the next 12 months — and will Americans feel an improvement quickly enough to reward the octogenarian incumbent with four more years?

On paper, Joe Biden was just the man to give citizens a sense of stability again after the drama of the Trump years.

He was a familiar face of the past — a link to the Obama years and earlier — at a time when voters were deeply troubled about the present.

Now they’re no less troubled, and their most recent recollections of peace and prosperity date to the Trump era.

Bidenomics holds little hope of saving Biden, no matter what happens next.

The damage is already done, and now that voters have had time to process it, they’re prepared to deliver a damning verdict.

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