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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: This election is not only about the price of chicken thighs | COMMENTARY

In his only debate with Democratic challenger Heather Mizeur, left, Rep. Andy Harris, R-1st, said Election 2022 turned on "whether you think you’re better off than you were two years ago."

“It’s about whether you think you’re better off than you were two years ago, whether you think this country is on the right track. That’s it.”

That’s how Rep. Andy Harris, the Republican running for a seventh term in Congress (despite having pledged not to), summed up voter choice in Election 2022.

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Because Harris obviously wants more Marylanders to vote for him than for his Democratic challenger, Heather Mizeur, he’s betting that a majority of voters feel they are not better off than they were in 2020, when Donald Trump was president, and that the country is on the wrong track under President Joe Biden because even chicken thighs have gotten pricey.

No doubt, given inflation, things are worse than they were two years ago, and conventional wisdom says people always vote based on how they’re doing financially. That’s why Harris and fellow Republicans think they have a winning issue in inflation, blaming it on Biden and Democrats.

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At any other time, I’d say they were right. But there’s a lot more at stake. There’s a lot more than the price of chicken thighs driving voters to the polls. There’s abortion rights and, above all, the threats to democracy posed by Republicans who deny the 2020 presidential election results and support a former president who encouraged insurrection.

But let’s go over Harris’ take.

First, let me dispense with that right track/wrong track business. Our happiness with the state of the nation has been in general decline since after the 2003 invasion of Iraq. The last time an impressive majority of Americans (71%) said they were satisfied with the way things were going was 1999, when Bill Clinton was president. According to Gallup, citizen satisfaction with our country spiked a few times after that — immediately following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, again during Barack Obama’s first year as president, and in the winter of 2020, (coincidentally when Trump was impeached for the first time) — but it has mainly been falling.

In fact, our confidence in the country dropped even during relatively positive economic times. Gallup polling shows that our satisfaction level was just as low during Trump’s first year in office as it has been during Biden’s presidency.

Inflation wasn’t a factor during Trump’s term. It began to occur in early 2o21, just after Biden took office.

What caused it? Several factors.

Trump and Republicans in Congress enacted tax cuts at a time when the economy was doing well. Some economists believe those 2018 cuts contributed to inflation, and that was even before the coronavirus pandemic disrupted the economy and prompted Congress to spend big to help Americans harmed by it.

Meanwhile, Biden’s critics say he and the Democrats brought on inflation with another round of pandemic-related stimulus payments that went to millions of Americans last year. Some see another cause in Biden’s domestic spending to address climate change, infrastructure needs and the cost of health care.

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The president always takes heat for a rocky economy. But is Biden to blame for the higher prices of energy and food? Wasn’t inflation going to occur because of the pandemic, no matter who was president?

“Yes,” says Alessandro Rebucci, associate professor in economics and finance at the Johns Hopkins Carey Business School. “Just look around the world. There is no such a thing as ‘red and blue’ countries with less and more inflation because of their color.”

Conditions at the local level, where we live and work and shop and eat, are never the sole responsibility of the president, Rebucci says.

“Having said this,” he adds, “the current administration chose to go for a larger than strictly necessary stimulus package in 2021, and that has contributed to getting inflation going in the U.S. … Nonetheless, inflation is primarily coming from the supply-side effects of the pandemic shock, and is affecting all countries around the world, so obviously that cannot be blamed on Biden.”

As for the first part of Harris’ statement about being “better off than you were two years ago” — and the suggestion that we’re not — I offer a few reasons why it’s not all gloom and doom:

While there’s reason to worry about a winter of new infections, a stepped-up effort by the federal government resulted in some 80% of Americans getting at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine.

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More than 31 million Americans now have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act. A change in rules by the Biden administration could make some 5 million more eligible for it.

The nation’s unemployment was 7.9% in September 2020. By last month, it had fallen to 3.5%.

Thanks to Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland and the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol, we’ve learned all about Trump’s involvement in the insurrection.

Prosecutors have charged more than 800 people for their involvement in the attack and secured more than 300 convictions.

We’re finally spending big to catch up on infrastructure projects and address climate change.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have been authorized by Congress to negotiate drug prices.

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We have expanded background checks for people who want to buy guns.

We have expanded health benefits for veterans who were exposed to hazardous wastes in burn pits.

Know-nothings and grifters no longer inhabit the presidential cabinet.

Trump is no longer president, and that fact, alone, must take some of the pain out of paying more for chicken thighs.


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