Inflation is the essential issue this Election Day

By Matthew Gagnon

On Sunday, Gov. Janet Mills addressed an audience at Bates College in Lewiston, where she discussed the upcoming election, now less than one week away. 

“I watched ‘Meet the Press’ this morning,” she said at one point during the talk, “and more talk about: ‘Well now Republicans have this inflation issue, and people aren’t thinking so much about abortion and things like that.’ No, it’s a distraction. It is something we have to deal with, a major problem, but they’re distracting people from the issues they really want to vote on when they get in office.”

The audio clip of her saying this was predictably pounced on by Republicans, who have been focusing on her use of the word “distraction,” suggesting that she was making light of inflation. The clip, though, is only a partial section of her remarks, the context is missing, and it is not clear exactly what her point is. 

My read was that she was accusing the Republicans of taking up the issue of inflation as a cudgel in this election, but that it was a surreptitious attempt on their part to use the issue to win the election before they started voting on things that they “really cared about.”

Even if that was her point, though, it is still a bad look for the governor. At the very least she seems to be annoyed that inflation is dominating the public dialogue to the degree that it is, and she believes other issues — like abortion — should be at the center of the discussion.

That is certainly in keeping with her campaign plan. On Tuesday, Mills participated in a downtown Portland rally on abortion rights, despite national polls showing that the issue is just not driving this election

It is also in keeping with the rhetoric of her ideological allies. Over the weekend, the Portland Press Herald ran an editorial bemoaning the importance being placed on inflation by voters. “Inflation should not take center stage this election,” it argued in the headline.

Contained within the editorial is a myriad of tortured arguments. Chief among them is the notion that the inflation crisis is really no one’s fault. It laments voter sentiment that expresses dissatisfaction with candidates, as though they “either had something to do with the way things changed, or found themselves unable to do anything to change them back.”

To the Press Herald, “when we act as if elected officials have responsibility for the host of economic variables that got us here, we let the ungovernable distract us from the governable.”

This is, I suppose, consistent with the belief that it is “no one’s fault.” After all, if no one has any responsibility for the crisis, no one can really do much to fix that which was created by no one.

The money quote from the piece, though, is at the end. “Weaponizing a one-of-a-kind economic moment for political ends,” they say, “is a diversionary tactic.”

A diversion. A distraction. This is what inflation is, as an issue, to some on the left.

The problem with their argument is that inflation is, in fact, an issue that was created by policy, and policymakers. Inflation is hardly an “ungovernable” issue, and talking about what happened, why it happened and who is to blame is a worthwhile exercise. 

Doing so helps us learn the lessons of what got us in this mess in the first place, and it can also help us to identify the people who carelessly contributed to it, so we may hold them accountable.

Inflation exists in the United States to the extent that it does today primarily due to a combination of two factors: an expansionist monetary policy, coupled with a massive injection of money into the American economy in response to COVID by means of $7 trillion of fiscal stimulus, which placed massive upward pressure on inflation

That reckless spending problem was caused by Republicans and Democrats, no doubt about it. But, eventually, the Republicans wised up and stopped supporting massive spending bills, while the Democrats just kept right on rolling. Remember, Joe Biden’s Build Back Better agenda started as a $4 trillion proposal, which to many on the progressive left was just not big enough.

A reckless Federal Reserve and unimaginably high spending in a very short period of time is what primarily drove inflation. It didn’t just happen to us out of nowhere, like an unexpected natural disaster.

So no, it isn’t a diversionary tactic, nor is it a distraction. It is real, and those that are responsible for it — in both parties — should be held to account. Remember that on Election Day.

Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Policy Institute, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.

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