There was a party at the White House on Tuesday.
Folk singer James Taylor was on hand to entertain a crowd of hundreds gathered on the South Lawn. The crowd included union leaders like Randi Weingarten, executive branch officials, and prominent Democratic elected officials that, according to Deadline, the White House had invited from "far and wide"—at least as far away as K Street.
"This achievement is a testament to our unity, our optimism, our persistence, along with the tireless efforts of a devoted staff," said Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D–Calif.) during her turn at the podium. "Mr. President, thank you for unifying and inspiring a vision of a stronger, fairer, safer future for all," she added. "Your extraordinary leadership has made this glorious day possible."
"That's an applause line," Pelosi paused awkwardly to remind the assembled crowd, which dutifully complied.
Meanwhile, in the real world, no one was applauding. Tuesday afternoon looked anything but glorious.
An ugly consumer price index report released earlier in the day by the Department of Labor showed that inflation was still untamed, and it sent the markets into a spiral. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell by 1,200 points, or nearly 4 percent. The S&P 500 tumbled by 4.3 percent, and the tech-heavy Nasdaq Composite took the worst beating of all, falling by 5.2 percent. Overall, it was the worst day for the stock market since June 2020, a painful reminder that Americans are stealing dealing with the twin scourges of rising prices and falling investment returns. We are paying more and getting less.
But at least the politicians had a nice party!
The White House probably couldn't have picked a worse day to celebrate the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act. Despite its name, the bill is mostly a package of Democratic domestic tax and spending agenda items. The biggest portion involves a series of subsidies for green energy. Whatever merits that might have, it's not going to reduce inflation.
The only part of the bill that does address the country's high and rising prices was a provision to use some new tax revenue to pay down about $300 billion of the federal government's staggering budget deficit. But that's already been wiped out, as President Joe Biden's decision to forgive student loans for an estimated 43 million people will end up adding even more to the deficit.
The hard truth is that there isn't much that politicians can do to bring inflation under control because it is a phenomenon of monetary policy. Reckless fiscal policy that demands heavy borrowing and printing can—and has—set off inflation, but once the tiger is out of the cage there is little to be done except wait for higher interest rates to cool the economy. Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell, who is largely responsible for actually combating inflation, has indicated that the fight won't be won quickly or easily. (The Fed is expected to raise interest rates again next week.)
All we can ask of politicians is that they stop making the situation worse by spending even more money, and that they stop celebrating the mess they've made while average Americans struggle to pay for groceries.
On Tuesday, Democrats failed on both counts. The only purpose the South Lawn party served—besides calling to mind George W. Bush's "Mission Accomplished" speech and that time John Kerry trotted out Taylor to sing "You've Got a Friend" to the victims of a terrorist attack—was confirming how hopelessly out of touch these elected leaders and their friends are.
Credit CNN's Alisyn Camerota for having the best reaction to what was unfolding. As she pivoted the network's coverage from the White House party to the bad news coming from Wall Street, Camerota said what we all were thinking: "Feels like it's hard to be celebratory."
But that's only true if you live in reality.