Turn on any cable news show covering American politics these days and you’ll see a drumbeat issue for the corporate media is inflation.
In particular, if you’re paying attention, the media tend represent the issue as not just inflation but that inflation represents a big problem for Biden and the Democrats heading into 2022.
The tendency in these reports is to focus on the pain Americans are feeling at the pump when they fill their gas tanks and the higher prices they are paying for groceries.
While the coverage doesn’t necessarily hold Biden responsible for inflation, it does tend to suggest it his problem to fix and that Americans will hold him and Democrats responsible.
This type of coverage of the mere politics, as opposed to the underlying reality of inflation, constitutes in its own right a kind of disinformation campaign that risks turning working-class and middle-class voters back to the very Republican Party that, in actuality, has shown little care for, and in fact caused, the economic woes these Americans have experienced because of stagnating wages, high healthcare costs, and gross and growing economic inequality for which Republicans themselves have advocated.
In this sense, the media coverage of inflation fuels the narrative that if Biden can’t tame inflation, the voters will be right to elect Republicans to office.
That is, if Biden can’t stop the surge in prices, regardless of their causes, then somehow it makes sense to turn back to the party who has been undermining democracy, fomenting authoritarian politics, and doing nothing to improve the plight of working- and middle-class Americans. Trump’s tax cuts were a boon to the wealthy and corporations in the United States and still resulted to companies laying off thousands of workers. Republicans tried—but fortunately failed—to repeal the Affordable care Act, thanks to John McCain’s dramatic hold-out thumbs-down vote.
Meanwhile, the Democrats, as evidenced by the passage of the American Rescue Act without a single vote of Republican support, are the only party in town trying to ensure a social safety net in place to ensure Americans can continue to meet their needs while pandemic drags on. They are the only party trying to make sure Americans can access affordable childcare, pay reasonable prices for prescription drugs, have support for their families in the form of paid family leave, and receive a child tax credit that has dramatically decreased child poverty in America.
But if Biden can’t tame inflation quickly enough, which isn’t even his administration’s fault, then voters, the media would implicitly have you believe, should choose authoritarian rule and economic devastation by choosing to elect Republicans who have done nothing to address Americans’ economic woes and done everything in their power to undermine democracy, disenfranchise millions of voters, and redirect wealth to the richest Americans.
What the coverage doesn’t do, and easily could, is make any attempt to explain to voters how inflation works, what’s causing it, and what would end it.
And they could remind me voters what has happened to their lives and to our democracy under Republican rule, particularly since 2016.
Mainstream economists are clear that not only is inflation not Biden’s fault and not only does he not have many tools at his disposal to ease it, it’s not even his job.
David Kelly, for example, a chief global strategist at JP Morgan, attests, “We put all of this on the President. We put him on a pedestal and pretend he has this power that he doesn’t have. This is the Federal Reserve’s job.”
Jason Furman, Harvard professor and top economic adviser to former President Barack Obama, effectively concurs with Kelly: “The awkward fact is inflation is the job of the Fed. Biden should be focused on other things. That’s not great political advice because people are upset about inflation, and they want the president to solve their problems. But the truth is, it isn’t his problem to solve.”
The other monumental irony involved in holding Biden responsible for inflation and potentially pushing voters back to Republicans is that Republicans, their policies, and the culture they have fostered have been chief reasons for both the cause and persistence of inflation.
As Kevin Liptak and Matt Egan report for CNN, “Ultimately, what prompted high inflation is what will end it: The Covid-19 pandemic. When demand for services returns, workers return to the jobs market, and production of goods ramps back up, some of the factors driving up prices will ease.”
Mark Zandi, a chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, seconds this view: “You’re not going to get inflation down unless you quell the pandemic.”
And yet it is Republicans who have not gotten on board in promoting vaccination to Americans, instead tending to engage on COVID denial and to let anti-vaxxing rhetoric proceed unchecked.
Additionally, Zandi has noted, Biden’s proposed policies would go a long toward helping Americans economically: “Build Back Better is critical to reining in the cost of living, particularly for lower and middle-income families.”
And the real issue isn’t precisely inflation. It’s that Americans who work for a living don’t earn living wages to begin with, such that increases in prices hit them hard, and that we do not have a sufficient social safety net or a guaranteed basic income in this nation.
The Republicans never support raising the federal minimum wage. They persistently attack Social Security and the Affordable Care Act. They don’t seem to care that billionaires get away with paying no taxes, instead arguing for more tax cuts.
But the media seems to forget or not care about these small. Inflation—that’s the big problem. Never mind that our democracy is under attack, that white supremacy and domestic terrorism are surging and are stoked by congressional Republicans.
Want things to get better? Vote for authoritarianism and inequality. This is what the nation’s mainstream corporate media would have you believe.
Tim Libretti is a professor of U.S. literature and culture at a state university in Chicago. A long-time progressive voice, he has published many academic and journalistic articles on culture, class, race, gender, and politics, for which he has received awards from the Working Class Studies Association, the International Labor Communications Association, the National Federation of Press Women, and the Illinois Woman’s Press Association.