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Joe Biden needs to make voters understand how to make this 'the best of times'

UPI
President Joe Biden should emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt’s "fireside chats" with a series of major policy addresses on the theme of "This can be the best of times …if." His job is to fill in the "if." Photo by Samuel Corum/UPI

Charles Dickens called it the "best and worst of times" in his Tale of Two Cities. His great novel contrasted the relative stability and prosperity in London with the chaos and confusion in revolutionary Paris. In some ways, this mirrors the profound differences between our two political parties.

The U.S. public appears irreversibly divided on virtually all issues, whether vital or trivial, along party lines. On those few issues that are supported by a large majority -- gun control and a woman's right to choose -- progress is blocked by small minorities.

Some 75% of Americans don't want either Joe Biden or Donald Trump as president; the Republican Party in Congress is imploding; the wars in Gaza and Ukraine are worsening; China is flexing its economic and military muscles; unnamed gunmen kill over 130 Russians at a Moscow concert; and parallels with 1914 are being drawn. To many Americans, this is definitely not the best of times.

Can anything be done to reverse this dire outlook? If the answer is yes, that depends on Biden's willingness to throw away the traditional way of doing business. Biden must not think outside the box. He must discard any box.

Biden must understand that the presidency will likely be decided on whether he can convince Americans he is fit to serve another term and/or if Trump suffers a self-inflicted mortal wound, possibly through the legal cases he faces.

Biden's overarching message must be that this can be the best of times. To start, the economy is far better than most Americans believe. But Biden must convince Americans why that is the case and how the crippling increased costs of living will be controlled. Unless he can do this, he will not relieve the source of much of the political disenchantment that infects the country today.

Next, Biden must address the immigration crisis, even if this is a political volte face. Yes, he will be attacked for a flip-flop. But so what? And if his executive actions are overturned by courts, he was right that only Congress can fix immigration with new laws.

Focus on domestic issues is made imperative by the November election. But international crises cannot be ignored. This is what House Republicans are doing by refusing to pass legislation to aid Ukraine and Israel unless or until the border crisis is addressed. And if America is not capable of dealing with more than one issue at a time, these will be the worst of times.

Internationally, the United States has many advantages. Expansion of NATO to include Finland and Sweden and the 800-mile border Finland shares with Russia and Sweden's dominance in the Baltic present Russia with a huge strategic problem. How does Russia counter these new geographic challenges? Politically, Biden can use these arguments to demolish Trump's "let Putin do whatever the hell he wants."

The revision of the U.S.-Japanese treaty and the restructuring of the command relationship will not be missed in Beijing. Along with the AUKUS partnership, in which the United States and United Kingdom will provide nuclear submarines to Australia and share technology, these mini-alliances serve as a further bulwark to China. And other Asian states should be incorporated as part of the AUKUS Pillar 2 technology initiative.

Regarding Ukraine and Gaza, Biden must prepare the public for negotiations that are the only way to resolve these conflicts, despite the seemingly immovable obstacles to peace. Friends of Israel cannot allow Israel to act in ways that are self-destructive. To end the Ukraine war, both sides must make concessions.

A good way to connect to the public is for Biden to emulate Franklin D. Roosevelt's "fireside chats" that reassured the nation in the midst of a deep depression. A series of major policy addresses would be given. His theme: "This can be the best of times ...if." And his job is to fill in the "if."

Ironically, Trump's "Make America Great Again" that plagiarized statements of past presidents could have worked if properly executed. It was not. And anyone who thinks we were better off four years ago in the midst of COVID-19 is wrong. Biden's team must make clear, Trump's reach always exceeded his grasp.

Presidents do not easily accept advice, especially political advice. After all, they were elected. If Biden wants to win, he must not ignore the current polls. But he needs a winning message and a way to connect with the public. A series of fireside chats can accomplish both.

Harlan Ullman is UPI's Arnaud de Borchgrave Distinguished Columnist, a senior adviser at Washington's Atlantic Council, the prime author of "shock and awe" and author of "The Fifth Horseman and the New MAD: How Massive Attacks of Disruption Became the Looming Existential Danger to a Divided Nation and the World at Large." Follow him @harlankullman. The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.