Things Are Getting Better

[ Posted Wednesday, August 10th, 2022 – 14:22 UTC ]

As we head into the dog days of August, Democrats have finally gotten some good news to spread, out on the campaign trail. Legislatively, things are definitely looking up, after Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema finally relented and allowed major portions of President Joe Biden's agenda to head to his desk. But it wasn't just the reconciliation bill, there has been a flurry of bills passing, from allowing Sweden and Finland into NATO to helping America's veterans who were exposed to toxic burn pits during their service. Democrats in Congress are showing that they can indeed get things done, with or without the help of the obstructionist Republicans. But the good news doesn't end there, because the economic picture is getting better as well.

You wouldn't know this from listening to the news on television (although, not having seen it today, perhaps they'll prove me wrong this evening, who knows?). When gas prices shot up to just over $5 a gallon, the nightly news ran with it as a lead story for weeks on end. "Gas is expensive!" they reminded everyone, just in case you had missed that story the day before. They've also been leaning in to "Inflation is soaring!" with the same fervor.

But now? The price of gas has fallen over a dollar a gallon. Nationwide it now stands either just at or just below $4 a gallon (depending on which figures you track). The price of crude oil continues to fall, so this downward slide at the pump can be expected to continue for at least the near future. Before Russia invaded Ukraine (which caused prices to shoot up so quickly), gas had been fluctuating between about $3.25 to about $3.45 a gallon, so prices still have a ways to go to get back to where they were. Prices have fallen by a dollar or perhaps $1.05, but they've still got 60 or 70 cents more to go, to put this another way.

Today, the official monthly inflation number was announced and, due to some prices going up (rent, in particular) and some going down (gas, obviously), the monthly change in inflation worked out to zero. Taken as a whole, prices did not rise during July. At all. The yearly rate fell faster than expected too, down from 9.1 percent to 8.5 percent. There's obviously a lot more ground to cover before this gets back to the target of around 2 percent, but at least now it is headed in the right direction.

America has moved beyond the COVID era, at least in most of our day-to-day ways. With the vaccines and treatments now available and with the variants getting far less lethal, COVID is now seen as more of a bad flu than a death sentence. This will (hopefully) mean that no further wild swings in the economy will occur due to the pandemic. That's good news for everyone. Airfare prices even fell last month, as the burst of people taking post-COVID vacations has now ebbed.

Democrats are usually pretty timid about talking up the economy, because they live in a kind of perpetual fear of appearing out of touch. If some people are still having a rough time of it, then politicians don't want to be seen as looking through rosy-tinted glasses. But since the news media largely yawns at good economic news (it doesn't sell as well as bad news or conflict), it's really up to the Democrats to go out and make the case that while everything isn't perfect, we are moving in the right direction. Unemployment is as low as it has been for 50 years. Wages are going up. Gas prices are coming way down. Inflation is on its way to being tamed. Again: We are moving in the right direction.

Presidents (and politicians in general) often complain that they get too much blame when times are bad. There's no magic lever in the Oval Office to bring down the price of gas or inflation, in other words. But the flip side of that is that they can claim more credit than they probably deserve when times turn around and get better. I mean, why not? If you're going to take the blame for things beyond your control, then you might as well claim the credit on the other side of the hill, right?

President Biden has actually been doing a pretty good job of this. He did what he could with the limited means he had available (like releasing oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, for instance) and now the economy has gotten better. Biden hasn't been shy about touting this turnaround, to his credit. He's also not been shy about his jobs record -- 10 million new jobs on his watch, the most in all of American history, and unemployment lower than it has been in half a century. Biden reminds everyone of these numbers with pretty much every appearance he makes -- as well he should.

But Biden's not on any ballot this November. A lot of Democrats are. And the case they need to make is for the voters to continue to allow Democrats to run Congress. Call it "don't change horses in midstream," to coin a phrase. Overselling the picture is still a risk, so leaning on "things are getting better" is the way to frame this. When Democrats are in control, they try to accomplish things to make life better. When Republicans are in control, all they want to do is cut rich people's taxes and overturn people's freedoms. That's a good political case to make.

Republicans have lost one issue after another in the run-up to this year's midterms. Remember when they thought anger at schools requiring masks was going to be their golden ticket to victory? Yeah, that's not on many people's minds anymore. Waggish Republicans stuck little stickers on gas pumps that said: "Thanks, Joe Biden!" when the price was skyrocketing, and now they're hastily trying to scrape them off because the meaning has turned from ironic to literal. And if inflation continues to fall, it will largely defuse their last big issue and they'll be left with their perennial complaints about the southern border as pretty much their only campaign plank.

Oh, and vindictiveness -- can't forget that one. They're doubling down on the promise of political vengeance. Which Democrats should also point out: "Republicans are promising to defund the F.B.I. and hold hearings on everything under the sun to 'get back' at Joe Biden and the Democrats. Do you really want a Congress that does absolutely nothing for two years other than attempt partisan payback? Really?" This will be greatly enhanced if Donald Trump announces his presidential run before November, too, because then Republicans will have to pay fealty to: "Let's investigate the 2020 election again!" as well. That's what the other side is offering. Spleen-venting.

Democrats should counter this with a sunny and positive message: "Things are getting better. We are moving in the right direction. Elect us again and things will continue to improve." Republicans have absolutely no plan whatsoever to fix any of America's problems, after all. What is their plan to solve inflation? It doesn't exist. What were they pushing for to get gas prices down? Meaningless posturing. What is their overarching concern? Making abortion as illegal as possible. Investigating Hunter Biden and Anthony Fauci. That's pretty much all they've got.

It's still August. We are in the doldrums of summer. Congress is going to take weeks off, and some of that time will be spent campaigning. After that it'll be a two-month sprint to the finish. So good economic news couldn't have come at a better time, really. Things aren't perfect, but hey, at least they are getting better.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


4 Comments on “Things Are Getting Better”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    You wouldn't know this from listening to the news on television (although, not having seen it today, perhaps they'll prove me wrong this evening, who knows?).

    MSNBC had been "leaning in to "Inflation is soaring!" with the same fervor", but John Heilemann was promoting this Axios headline today:

    Inflation drops to zero in July due to falling gas prices

  2. [2] 
    Elizabeth Miller wrote:

    Hey, JFC! How the heck are you!?

  3. [3] 
    Kick wrote:


    The price of gas has fallen over a dollar a gallon. Nationwide it now stands either just at or just below $4 a gallon (depending on which figures you track).

    It has been nosediving dang near every day for almost two months to the point we paid $3.19 a gallon this morning. Shouldn't be too long before it's $2-something in my neck of the woods. :)

  4. [4] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Optimism still sells.

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