New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wrote on Monday that he walked away from a recent lunch meeting at the White House with the sense that President Biden fears he will not be able to unite the country, one of his signature promises from his presidential campaign.
After clarifying the meeting with Biden, which took place last Monday, was “off the record,” Friedman said he “left our lunch with a full stomach but a heavy heart.”
“Biden didn’t say it in so many words, but he didn’t have to. I could hear it between the lines: He’s worried that while he has reunited the West, he may not be able to reunite America,” Friedman wrote.
“It’s clearly his priority, above any Build Back Better provision. And he knows that’s why he was elected — a majority of Americans worried that the country was coming apart at the seams and that this old war horse called Biden, with his bipartisan instincts, was the best person to knit us back together,” Friedman wrote.
“It’s the reason he decided to run in the first place, because he knows that without some basic unity of purpose and willingness to compromise, nothing else is possible.”
Public polling shows a growing number of Americans are losing faith in major institutions like government, media and elections. Biden’s poll numbers and approval ratings have meanwhile sank to record lows in recent months, as his administration works to beat back ongoing waves of the coronavirus pandemic, record rates of inflation hurting the economy and a bloody conflict in Ukraine raising concerns about global war.
“But with every passing day, every mass shooting, every racist dog whistle, every defund-the-police initiative, every nation-sundering Supreme Court ruling, every speaker run off a campus, every bogus claim of election fraud, I wonder if he can bring us back together. I wonder if it’s too late,” Friedman commented. “I fear that we’re going to break something very valuable very soon. And once we break it, it will be gone — and we may never be able to get it back.”
Biden agreed with this sentiment, the longtime columnist suggested, noting the president is “not blameless in this dilemma, nor is the Democratic Party — particularly its far-left wing.”
“Under pressure to revive the economy, and facing big-ticket demands from the far left, Biden pursued expansive spending for too long. House Democrats also sullied one of Biden’s most important bipartisan achievements — a giant infrastructure bill — by making it hostage to other excessive spending demands,” he wrote.
“To defeat Trumpism we need only, say, 10 percent of Republicans to abandon their party and join with a center-left Biden, which is what he was elected to be and still is at heart. But we may not be able to get even 1 percent of Republicans to shift if far-left Democrats are seen as defining the party’s future,” Friedman wrote.
Biden is a well-documented reader of Friedman’s columns, recent editions of which he has used to pose that the president could win a Nobel Peace Prize if he successfully helps de-escalate a conflict in the Middle East. Friedman also floated a 2024 presidential ticket that would tap Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) as Biden’s running mate.