Checkout counter at grocery store

People stand at the checkout counter after shopping at a supermarket in Alhambra, California on July 13, 2022. (Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images)

'Hey Dems, Blame the Corporate Profiteers': Progressives Offer Midterm Messaging Advice on Inflation

Targeting price gouging and the greed of major companies "has the advantage of being a vote-winner and the advantage of being true," said one commentator.

With just over two weeks to go until the midterm elections and polls suggesting that Republicans' claims that Democrats and social spending are to blame for historic inflation have struck a chord with voters, progressives have doubled down in recent days on their demand that the Democratic Party go on the offensive and talk about "the real villains" behind the rising cost of living: corporate profiteers.

While Democratic strategists and politicians have seemed eager in recent months to change the subject from the economy--effectively ignoring the struggles of a majority of U.S. households as the GOP hammers home the message that Democrats are to blame for high gas and grocery prices--progressives including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan have urged the party to see that they can and should face the issue head-on.

"There is one obvious way for Democrats to defend themselves, to go on the offensive and blame the real villains of this inflationary story--villains who right now are getting a complete pass," Hasan told his audience on Sunday night. "Because yes, rising food prices and energy costs have pushed U.S. inflation to the highest rate in more than 40 years, as we're told ad nauseum."

"But do you know what's at its highest rate in more than 70 years?" he continued. "Corporate profits."

At The Guardian on Sunday, former Labor Secretary Robert Reich agreed that in addition to being part of a global trend, "inflation in the United States is also being caused by corporations raising their prices faster than their costs to fatten their profit margins."

"Corporate profits continue to climb even as consumers are taking it on the chin. It's a giant redistribution from consumers to corporations," he wrote. "This would seem to be a natural issue for Democrats to be sounding off about."

Hasan pointed to the most recent reported net profits of companies including BP, which "secured its biggest windfall in 14 years last quarter with $8.5 billion," and Amazon, which "saw a 333% increase in profits between 2020 and 2022."

As Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) explained in a viral video taken during a congressional hearing last month, the recovery from the economic shocks of the first two years of the coronavirus pandemic is not the first time the U.S. has experienced high inflation, but numerous analyses have shown that the current inflation crisis has been driven largely by corporate profits.

"More than half of the increase in prices [is] driven by corporate profits, less than 10%, driven by labor costs," Hasan told his viewers, showing a graph Porter held up at the hearing.

With that in mind, he added, "why can't [Democrats] call for a windfall tax on the ginormous profits of Big Oil or Big Pharma?"

"There has to be an across-the-board, all-hands-on-deck, 24/7 Democratic Party campaign that identifies price gouging and corporate profiteering as one of the key drivers of inflation in this country."

Hasan's segment aired as recent polls have consistently shown that the economy and inflation top voters' lists of concerns as the midterm election approaches, and that voters who are most worried about the rising cost of living are increasingly leaning toward Republican candidates.

As Common Dreamsreported last week, independent voters swung toward the GOP over the course of a month according to the latest New York Times/Siena College poll, with 51% of independents saying they plan to vote for Republicans. Independent women supported the GOP by a margin of 18 points this month after backing Democrats by 14 points in September, and respondents who named the economy and inflation as their biggest concerns supported Republicans by a 2-to-1 margin.

On Monday, FiveThirtyEightreported the Democrats' chances of maintaining their narrow control of the Senate have dropped by 11% over the past month.

While President Joe Biden has occasionally taken aim at corporate price gougers and companies that have raked in huge profits during the pandemic, said Hasan, "it's not enough to just occasionally mention it in passing."

"Going forward it should be considered political malpractice for Democrats to allow any conversation about inflation that's not centered on the role of corporate profiteering," he added. "One, it has the advantage of being a vote-winner, and two, it has the advantage of being true."

While many Democratic candidates and advisers have portrayed abortion rights and the protection of U.S. democracy as the key issues of the midterm elections--despite evidence to the contrary--Sanders has spent the past several weeks driving home the message that the party must run on a comprehensive message about the economy.

On Thursday, the senator is set to begin a tour of eight states, holding at least 19 voter mobilization events where he intends to take aim at Republicans for their plans to hand out tax cuts to the rich and cut Social Security and Medicare benefits, while going on the offensive regarding the state of the economy.

"At a time when working families are struggling, having a hard time filling up their gas tanks, paying for food, paying for prescription drugs, we are living in a nation today where the richest people are doing phenomenally well," Sanders told CNN on Sunday as he explained his plan to mobilize working people ahead of the election. "And one of the reasons for inflation is the incredible level of corporate greed."

Hasan urged the rest of the Democratic caucus to join Sanders in clearly explaining to voters that supporting the Republican Party--which unanimously rejected a bill to crack down on price gouging by oil companies this year--will not give them relief from inflation.

"There has to be an across-the-board, all-hands-on-deck, 24/7 Democratic Party campaign that identifies price gouging and corporate profiteering as one of the key drivers of inflation in this country," Hasan said. "You have to lay it out for the voters, because the facts are on your side."

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