President Joe Biden is in deep trouble within his own party. A New York Times/Siena College poll in July indicated 61% of Democrats would prefer a different standard-bearer in 2024.
Biden’s predicament stems from staffing his administration with progressives who too much prioritize his social agenda and impose policies that often poorly address economic issues closest to hearts of most voters.
In 2020, Biden offered himself to Democrats as the moderate alternative to Bernie Sanders and other more-progressive politicians vying for the party’s nomination. Democratic primary voters may have been sympathetic to cries for greater economic, climate and racial justice but were apprehensive about the more extreme measures advocated by other candidates.
Once the nomination was secured, however, Biden pivoted to unify Democrats by engaging hard-left party leaders like Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez in writing his platform. Ultimately, he picked the likes of Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm and National Economic Council Director Brian Deese for top spots.
He gave his party constituents the government they feared—one that eschews pragmatism for ideology.
Now a combination of events beyond their control and of their own making have the country facing tight food and energy supplies and the kind of inflation that undid President Jimmy Carter.
Drought conditions in the American West and now Europe are pushing down crop production and would have pushed up food prices somewhat even if Russia had not invaded Ukraine. The president’s infrastructure program recognized the problem posed by more arid conditions but hardly devotes enough money or policy focus to better conserving and using the water still available.
More broadly, shutting down refineries and limiting oil production doesn’t convert the grid to wind, solar and perhaps nuclear any quicker. It just makes essential driving much less affordable and makes more expensive the diesel and natural gas
necessary to power American farmers and process their products.
The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 penned by Sens. Charles Schumer and Joe Manchin doubles down on electric vehicles and a greener grid. It does offer to increase oil and gas drilling leases on public lands but is hardly an inflation fighter.
The president’s top 68 appointees have an average of 2.4 years of real business experience. By and large, except perhaps Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo in private equity and Interior Secretary Deb Haaland running a gambling casino, they have spent their careers in politics, academia, law and think tanks. Many have an antipathy toward big business.
Since the pandemic, about 2 million barrels of U.S. refining capacity have come off-line or are scheduled to be shut. That’s approximately 10% of the petroleum consumed in the United States and well enough to jack gas prices.
Administration officials have suggested with profits so high the industry could pay for a new refinery in a year. That’s absurd—no business is going to invest in an activity the administration has targeted for extinction.
Industry CEOs have tried to explain all this to Granholm but no change in policy has been forthcoming.
Americans are unsettled about abortion and climate change, but the economy and inflation top voter concerns. Though most households are in strong financial positions nothing seems to impose pessimism like inflation seemingly out of control.
According to the San Francisco Federal Reserve of the factors that can be pinned down, the recent increase in inflation is about 40% too much demand and 60% too little supply.
Our president persistently blames Russian President Vladimir Putin and National Economic Council Director, Brian Deese likes to cite monopolists, but their fingerprints are all over the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan that juiced household checking accounts with money Federal Reserve magicians created out of thin air.
The supply-side conditions are well known—the logistics hangover from the pandemic, the fallout from the Russian invasion of Ukraine on energy and food supplies, and shortages of refining capacity here at home.
Biden gets a pass on shipping log jams but Americans expect him to do something about the Russians other than merely imposing sanctions that likely hurt Iowans more than Muscovites. And they appear unimpressed by alibis that villainize oil companies and likely would be receptive to a policy shift that simply drills for and refines more petroleum.
The good news for Biden is that Democrats like him better than the visible alternatives. In head-to-head polls, he beats Vice President Kamala Harris, California Gov. Gavin Newsome and Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Wrapping it all together, voters want Biden to be less ideological and more pragmatic.
The good news for Democrats overall is they can still turn things around for the midterms. Generic House polls and state level polls for the Senate remain close.
Peter Morici is an economist and emeritus business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.