The White House Tries an Insulting Sleight of Hand on Inflation

The White House Tries an Insulting Sleight of Hand on Inflation
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

It’s hard to pick out a single issue that has defined Joe Biden’s tenure as president. With so much going wrong, the choices seem endless at times. Is it the complete collapse of America’s foreign policy, helping lead a Russian invasion of Europe? Is it the president’s draconian COVID-19 approach that led to more people dying on his watch (with vaccines available) than the previous president’s? Perhaps it’s the rapid rise in violent crime or the humanitarian crisis on the border?

All of those are worthy contenders, but as the saying goes, “it’s the economy, stupid.” I believe no issue has hit the White House harder than the inflationary boom the nation is currently experiencing. In February, inflation rose to an eye-watering 7.5 percent, and even that number was misleadingly low. Prices on more commonly used products like groceries and energy rose far higher, year-over-year.

That reality has left the Biden administration scrambling, and Jen Psaki thinks she’s come up with a new talking point.

But, is Psaki actually lying, as the RNC charges? The short answer is no, she’s not. Rather, she’s engaging in a bit of sleight of hand meant to obscure the real costs of inflation for American consumers. Let’s break it down, and since I mercifully haven’t had to write on COVID-19 in a while, let’s use it as an example because I think it perfectly illustrates Psaki’s dishonesty.

Everything about the coronavirus is measured in peaks and valleys, right? As you near the peak of a COVID-19 wave, you naturally see the rate of increase slow in regards to cases. Eventually, that rate of increase turns into a rate of decrease as you head down the other side of the peak. Yet, no one in their right mind would look at the plateauing of the rate of increase at the top of a peak and assert that it means things are better than they were when the rate of increase was higher but overall cases were far lower. Rather, the peak objectively represents the worst point for COVID-19, insofar as that current wave goes.

That’s what Psaki is doing here. She’s not technically lying in that the month-over-month inflation increases have plateaued (the rate was 0.6% in Dec. and Jan., after a high of 0.9% in October). Yet, the implication she’s giving, which is that the overall inflation rate has declined, is not correct. In fact, we are likely to see a huge inflation number when the latest numbers come out on Friday, to the point where her clever new talking point is probably going to end up obliterated.

In short, what matters is the total inflation number, which is measured year-over-year and was an astronomical 7.5 percent last month. That’s how you accurately judge the impact on Americans. No consumer cares if a single month shows a slight reduction in the rate of inflationary growth. What they care about is whether they are paying a lot more for something now than they were paying less for a year ago. Cherry-picking individual month fluctuations is a dishonest game, and Psaki knows exactly what she’s doing.

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