It was apparent just hours into Russia’s war of conquest that this would not be a quick campaign. Europe was in for a long war, and the West’s commitment to supporting Ukraine’s defense would have to be just as protracted. To his credit, Joe Biden didn’t take the American public’s support for this mission for granted.
There is a price to preserving liberty, prosperity, and peace, Biden said, and “defending freedom is going to cost.” Americans have stoically borne this burden. Their steadfast support for the Ukrainian cause despite its costs should be respected. That’s why Democratic efforts to launder Americans’ patriotic endurance into something with more instrumental political utility is so detestably cheap.
“They’re going up,” Biden said simply when asked in March about the rising price of gasoline. When asked what he planned to “do about it,” the president shrugged. “Can’t do much right now,” Biden said. “Russia is responsible.” This proved unsatisfying, but the administration’s conundrum was intractable. The threat Putin represents to American interests must be mitigated, but the administration could not afford to alienate environmentalists within the Democratic coalition by paring back the president’s executive actions targeting America’s domestic energy industry. What to do?
The solution? Transform the Democratic Party’s antagonists on environmental issues into Judases betraying the war effort.
Suddenly, the “Putin price hike” became everybody’s fault. Congressional Republicans who refused to sign onto a federal gas tax holiday, GOP-led states that refused to do the same at the municipal level, and private enterprises profiting off an artificial global crunch in petroleum supplies—all were to blame. The president accused Republicans who dared to criticize the administration’s domestic priorities of shilling for Moscow, and the administration insisted that private enterprise had a “patriotic duty” to ignore their fiduciary obligations. It was, as NBC News observed, an attempt to “shift blame for gas prices.”
What an incredible coincidence it was that at least some of the blame for the conditions unleashed by Putin’s land grab in Europe can be placed at the feet of the Democratic Party’s perennial punching bags.
Putin’s actions and the West’s response to them contributed to rising fuel costs, as did the Biden White House’s anti-fossil fuel policies. It is craven in the extreme to shift the blame for these conditions onto average Americans who are, in the White House’s telling, conspicuously lacking in patriotic zeal. But Democrats didn’t stop there. America’s partners abroad are just as responsible for the Democratic Party’s predicament.
In its scramble to relieve the pain of rising gas prices, the Biden White House embarked on a diplomatic offensive. The administration groveled before the regime in Venezuela despite pledges to avoid negotiating with Nicolas Maduro’s thugs, and the president made the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia to fist-bump with a man he spent his first year in office deliberately, even ostentatiously, snubbing. It was all for naught, as we learned this week after the cartel of petroleum-producing nations agreed to cut production levels to get ahead of an oncoming global economic downturn.
Overnight, the Saudi government, which has long been a pariah in Democratic eyes, became that once more. But the Saudi’s failure to fully commit to the West’s effort to isolate Moscow has opened up the most recent avenue for Democratic attacks. “The United States must immediately freeze all aspects of our cooperation with Saudi Arabia,” Sen. Robert Menendez said of the Saudi-led effort to “underwrite Putin’s war.” “Let’s be very candid about this,” Sen. Dick Durbin agreed. “It’s Putin and Saudi Arabia against the United States.”
In evaluating Democratic arguments here, it’s hard to ignore the party’s unqualified legislative efforts to punish the Saudis for contributing to higher gas prices, which were not initially accompanied by the claim that it’s all part of the war effort. With a rhetorical flourish, what was once a tawdry, flailing effort to revive Democratic political prospects has a new flag-waving gloss to it. Sure, a consistent application of the principle applied to Riyadh would compel the U.S. to abandon its partnerships with India, Turkey, Egypt, South Korea, and even much of Europe. But that’s a problem for another election cycle.
When it comes to blaming Putin for your own political pratfalls, West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin may have turned in the most brazen performance yet. When the senator finally acknowledged that he had been bamboozled by his fellow Democrats and would not get relief for fossil-fuel producers in exchange for his vote in support of higher taxes on fossil fuel, Manchin insisted that Putin had him over a barrel.
To reassure the senator that his vote for “the biggest piece of climate legislation” in American history would not go unrewarded, Democrats handed Manchin a loaded gun. He could, if push came to shove, threaten his party with a government shutdown if they didn’t uphold the terms of the deal he struck with Democratic leadership. But he caved, not because the politics of the matter were terrible for Democrats, mind you, but because his recalcitrance “only serves to embolden leaders like Putin who wish to see America fail.”
Democrats should be more jealous stewards of the American public’s support for the effort to contain an expansionist Russia despite the costs involved. It has proven durable, but Democrats are putting that consensus at risk. If the party in power were genuinely unnerved by Republicans who are attempting to politicize the issue, they wouldn’t be politicizing it themselves.