Commentary on Political Economy

Wednesday 15 May 2024



Opinion | EV Tariffs and the Inanity of Bidenism


President Biden signs a document imposing tariffs on electric vehicles and other goods imported from China at the White House in Washington, May 14. Photo: Chris Kleponis/Zuma Press

It’s time to admit that the Biden administration might be something more than snake-bit.

The latest evidence of actual clinical incompetence is its 100% tariff on Chinese electric vehicles, announced Tuesday. If the goal is to get Americans to use EVs, how does it make sense to raise their cost to consumers? It doesn’t. The real explanation is the familiar process by which bad policy begets bad policy—in this case, the disaster unfolding in Detroit saddled with billions in losses for EVs the public won’t buy at anything resembling the cost of building them.


If the New York Times is correct, the tariffs won’t apply to Chinese-built gasoline cars. President Biden perhaps doesn’t understand his own Rube Goldberg setup well enough to realize that Detroit’s gasoline-vehicle profits are desperately needed to support his electric-vehicle boondoggle.

Mr. Biden’s staff is using protectionism to conceal the fiscal and industrial fiasco he’s conjuring with his EV policy.

We speak admiringly of strategic thinkers who can “see around corners.” The Biden administration is apparently unable even to see the next obvious thing that’s going to happen.

Its Afghanistan withdrawal only landed the U.S. in a more costly and dangerous war by inciting Vladimir Putin.


Its attempt to appease Mr. Putin with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and other gestures had the opposite of the desired effect.

Mr. Biden’s plan to amplify his credit for America’s post-Covid recovery, which he was going to get anyway, blew up when his additional splurge of relief spending stoked the inflation that sours voters now on his economic management.

His epidemiologically unnecessary vaccine mandates were a naked attempt to leach some Operation Warp Speed credit in his direction. These mandates, which even his own political advisers were openly cynical about, now feed the vaccine skepticism of Robert F. Kennedy Jr. voters that Mr. Biden will wish he had in the fall.

The joke has grown stale in the retelling, but when his one-man brain trust, Jake Sullivan, took to the pages of Foreign Affairs magazine to gussy Bidenism into a grand strategic play, he included a claim of credit for the most peaceful Mideast in a generation.


The article was at the printer when the Middle East exploded on Oct. 7.

In symbolism as well as dollar terms, however, Mr. Biden’s EV own goal is perhaps his most emblematic in a succession of own goals, which may well cost him the crucial state of Michigan.

Even Mr. Biden’s top climate officials, if granted anonymity, will admit green energy subsidies do nothing to cut fossil-fuel use and reduce emissions. His climate strategy embodies exactly the kind of “fast” but faulty thinking the late Nobelist Daniel Kahneman wrote a book warning about.

Unfortunately fast thinking is the only kind Mr. Biden does. Not helping are certain New York Times columnists who, despite knowing better, still strain to grant him FDR-like virtues. They seem to forget the aging cipher maneuvered into the 2020 nomination to block Bernie Sanders. His rise was due entirely to party leaders who accurately foresaw that Mr. Biden could hide in his basement and let a once-a-century pandemic defeat Donald Trump.

Mr. Trump is a politician of instinct too—his main instinct being a bottomless cynicism about people like Mr. Biden. This causes Mr. Trump to miss a lot (like the occasional role principle plays in politics) but his nostrils are at least open to whiffs of reality:


Mr. Biden’s weak and recidivistic pandering to young voters with student-loan forgiveness; his pathetic attempt to be on both sides in the Israel-Hamas war; a Ukraine strategy that, after two years, is a success only if the goal is to coax Mr. Putin to hang in there and hope victory may yet be possible.

Only one explanation is left for Mr. Biden’s continued stalling on the border despite stark warnings from his own FBI about terrorist infiltration: He is pandering to a group of activists too small to qualify even as a voting bloc. The same goes for his perverse unwillingness to send the signal the world clearly needs to hear about rising U.S. defense budgets.

This, and so much else, might have been avoided if Mr. Biden had found the wisdom and self-restraint to do as he originally implied—i.e., free himself from frantic careerist calculation and embrace the role of one-term president. (After all, careerist calculation looks especially shabby from a politician visibly past retirement age and ready for the pasture.)

But credit Team Biden with one exercise in Huntereseque shrewdness. They rightly saw that any Republican nominee not named Trump might give voters rein to vent their throw-the-bum-out instinct. To avoid Jimmy Carter’s fate, they would make sure voters could only rid themselves of Mr. Biden by surrendering to Mr. Trump.

This bet may yet pay off for Mr. Biden, if not the country. Should he lose, it also sets him up to rocket to the bottom of the presidential standings, permanently displacing the luckless James Buchanan as America’s worst president.

Journal Editorial Report: A new government EV rule will give consumers and carmarkers little choice. Images: Getty Images/Zuma Press Composite: Mark Kelly


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Appeared in the May 15, 2024, print edition as 'EVs and the Inanity of Bidenism'.

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