Joe Biden won’t get away with blaming Vladimir Putin for inflation
Inflation has been rising for six months, well before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Republicans are trying to make sure voters don’t forget that.
Joe Biden in the mid-1970s was a first-term senator when President Gerald Ford implored Americans to wear “Whip Inflation Now” (WIN) buttons and stickers. The Ford administration’s sartorial effort to raise awareness about fast-rising prices and get Americans to spend less drew widespread media ridicule and even raised private doubts among top White House economic advisers. Biden watched inflation become a major theme in Democratic presidential candidate Jimmy Carter’s defeat of Ford.
Inflation is now getting too close to disco-era highs for comfort, with Biden as president after 36 years in the Senate and eight years as vice president. Inflation skyrocketed 7.9 percent over the past year, according to the February report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the fastest rate of inflation since January 1982.
That puts Biden and Democrats in dangerous political territory heading into November’s midterm elections. But Biden — whose poll numbers have already been boosted following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine — thinks he has a boogeyman to pin the problem on: Vladimir Putin. The Biden administration blamed the Russian president Thursday for the rapid American price hikes, as it did earlier in the week when it came to spiking gas prices.
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Unfortunately for Biden, it’s a tactic that’s unlikely to work. As he witnessed from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue more than four decades ago, rampant inflation has the potential to steamroll the political fortunes of presidents in both parties — and it’s difficult for them to use geopolitics as a way out.
It’s certainly the case that there will be some economic impact on Americans that Biden can credibly attribute to the steps he’s taking in response to Russia’s war. On Friday, Biden called for suspension of normal trade relations with Russia, which, if approved by Congress, would bring the U.S. into line with sanctions already imposed on Russia by the European Union and Group of Seven industrial nations.
Biden said the U.S. will also bar imports of Russian diamonds, seafood and vodka, which comes on top of a sweeping ban on Russian oil, natural gas and coal, and the imposition of sanctions on certain Russian banks. That includes expulsion of many Russian banks from SWIFT, the financial global messaging network, which is effectively the backbone of world commerce.