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“The world needed a hero.”
March 17, 2022
[Audio version here]
The world needed a hero. Volodymyr Zelenskyy answered the call. In doing so, he became the sinew binding the Ukrainian people as they resist Putin’s atrocities. The lesson of Volodymyr Zelenskyy is that during times of crisis, people yearn for leadership and direction—and will follow those who can summon the courage to step beyond their limitations and doubts to lead the way. That is a lesson each of us must follow in our own lives.
We live in anxious times. Friends and family are weary and broken by lies and hypocrisy and grievance-fueled conspiracy theories that defy belief. The urge to look away in disgust or recoil in fear is strong, but so too is the desire to continue the struggle against injustice and autocracy. People are desperate for direction and hope. All it takes is one person willing to show determination and perseverance to inspire others. Let that person be you. Inspire others by refusing to surrender to fear and anxiety. If you can do that, you will become a leader—maybe even a hero.
A tale of two speeches.
President Zelenskyy delivered a powerful address to a joint session of Congress. He spoke with determination about Ukraine’s ability to survive and prevail. He challenged Congress and President Biden to do more for the Ukrainian people. He urged Biden to become a “world leader for peace” by drawing the line against Putin’s aggression in Ukraine. He pleaded for the imposition of a no-fly zone to curtail the slaughter of women and children and innocent civilians. He presented heartbreaking photos of the carnage inflicted by rockets and mortars directed at hospitals and apartment buildings and churches. He forced members of Congress to look into the eyes of grieving parents holding the hands of lifeless children. Zelenskyy’s speech moved and unified Congress in a way not seen since WWII. It was a triumph, come what may.
On the same day, Putin addressed the Russian people. His speech was filled with despicable lies. He claimed that Russian soldiers are not targeting civilians, a desperate, feeble lie in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. In a humiliating admission, Putin acknowledged that western sanctions would inflict economic pain, inflation, and unemployment on the Russian people. He claimed that those sanctions had nothing to do with his war on Ukraine. He described pro-Western Russians as “scum” and “traitors.” In a sure sign that Putin will direct his fury over the stalemate in Ukraine at his Russian subjects, he called for a period of “self-purification”—code used by nearly every dictator everywhere to justify bloody purges. Indeed, Putin has already begun purges of his military and intelligence services. When the long knives are drawn from their scabbards, no one is safe—not even the king.
On a day when Zelenskyy was triumphant, Putin was cowed and cornered. He still can inflict unimaginable pain and destruction, but he is on the defensive, attempting to recover from blunders born of hubris, paranoia, and delusions of grandeur. All because a former comedian summoned the courage to step beyond his limitations and doubts to lead the way for the Ukrainian people.
Coda: “Putin is a war criminal.”
On the day Zelenskyy and Putin gave competing speeches, a reporter asked President Biden if he considered Putin a war criminal. Biden responded, “Oh, I think he is a war criminal.” Biden’s acknowledgment of Putin’s status as a war criminal comes after Russian troops intentionally targeted a building housing civilians, including children. To protect those children, Ukrainians had prominently painted the word “children” on both sides of the building. Russian soldiers nonetheless destroyed the building, killing dozens and wounding many more.
International revulsion against Putin’s war crimes is growing. On Wednesday, China issued a statement of support for Ukraine. See Newsweek, China Praises Ukraine Resistance, Pledges Economic Support. China said, in part,
China is a friendly country for the Ukrainian people. . . . We will always respect your state, we will develop relations on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. We will respect the path chosen by Ukrainians because this is the sovereign right of every nation.
Time is Putin’s enemy. To keep his soldiers in the field, he must kill ever more civilians. As he does, he loses what little support he has among the few remaining countries that reluctantly remained by his side in the opening days of the war.
A positive report.
On Wednesday, about 120 subscribers to this newsletter joined a fundraiser / Zoom call with Representatives Adam Schiff and Sean Patrick Maloney. The presentations were encouraging and confidence-inspiring. I am an optimistic person by nature, but even I experienced a jolt of enthusiasm and hope while listening to Adam and Sean. I share my notes of the conversation below, but a word of caution: Both Adam and Sean were in their cars as they spoke, and I took notes as I participated in the discussion—so please forgive any inadvertent errors. (I am sure readers will catch and correct any inaccuracies and report them to me.)
First, I want to note that Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney is the Chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee. If you haven’t heard him speak, you are missing something special. He has a clear strategy for defending the Democratic majority in the House that is achievable and realistic—though he needs our support to compete with the dark money flowing into Republican coffers.
Both Adam and Sean noted that Democrats believed they might lose their House majority because of redistricting alone—possibly losing as many as 20 seats. But as you all probably know by now, experts believe that Democrats have gained five favorable districts because of redistricting. But the underlying details are even more encouraging.
Before redistricting, seven Democratic representatives held seats in districts carried by Trump. After redistricting, only three Democrats must run for re-election in districts won by Trump. In contrast, before redistricting nine Republicans held seats in districts won by Biden, but after redistricting fifteen Republicans must run for re-election in districts won by Biden.
As to the handwringing among pundits over the allegedly “historic” number of Democratic retirements, only one of those retirements is in a district that Trump won in 2020.
Rep. Maloney also noted that of the thirty-two “frontline” Democratic candidates identified by the DCCC as critical to our success, those candidates have raised $98 million for the 2022 campaigns, while their opponents have raised only $17 million. But a note of caution, Republicans are piling up money in “unaligned” PACs that can direct money where needed the most, so we shouldn’t get overconfident. But the fundraising disparity in favor of Democrats at the candidate level is a good sign.
One other interesting observation is that Democratic vulnerability in 2022 is affected (positively) by what happened in 2020. In the 2020 elections, Democrats lost thirteen seats that were the “hardest to defend” because many were in districts Trump won in 2020. Those “hard to defend” seats have been wrung out of the calculus for 2022—in other words, we aren’t going to lose them again. So, part of the “conventional wisdom” that the party in power loses in the midterms has already come true.
Finally, we should note that the GOP primary candidates are veering to the far right in 2022, making it more difficult for them to be competitive in the general elections. Add to that Senator Rick Scott’s GOP platform that promises to raise taxes on 50% of Americans and to phase out Social Security for everyone.
During the call, Rep. Maloney described the enthusiastic reception for President Zelensky by saying “the world needed a hero,” which I borrowed as the title for this edition of the newsletter.
As always, Adam Schiff was inspiring. He is the Chair of the House Intelligence Committee and is bringing another steady hand to the US response to Putin’s war on Ukrainians. As a reminder of the stakes in 2022, Kevin McCarthy has promised to remove Adam from the House Intelligence Committee if Republicans flip the House, which would be a grievous loss of experience and judgment for our nation.
Overall, I gained a sense that the Democratic Party—or more specifically, the DCCC—has its act together in a way that is not immediately apparent from pundits reporting on Democratic prospects in 2022. I feel better, and I hope you do, too. But as always, we have absolutely no reason to be complacent. We have lots of hard work to do, and time is growing short.
Join Focus for Democracy for a presentation on 2022 election landscape.
A reader involved in Focus for Democracy has invited other readers to join a presentation by Working America that will analyze the 2022 election landscape. Per the reader, “We’ll be presenting a comprehensive analysis of the 2022 landscape and why supporting Working America with an early onramp can make the difference in the midterms and 2024.”
Working America is the community affiliate for the AFL-CIO. The event will be held on Wednesday, March 23rd at 5pm Pacific/ 8pm Eastern. Click here to register.
In 2022, we all should vote like we are Ukrainians.
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Talk to you tomorrow!