Leadership on Display
Note: Welcome to all my new readers, and thank you to everyone who shared the last post. Some programming notes at the end.
Today, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky delivers a Zoom address to Congress from his wartorn nation as the Russian army intensifies its attacks. Zelensky will give his firsthand account to Congress and the United States what is at stake for Ukraine and what he needs. It will be an emotional appeal for clear and definitive support for Ukraine’s long road to stop Russia. Sadly, it will also present leadership that has been faintly visible to Americans since the end of the Cold War.
More, Faster: NATO nations have been clear that they would not get involved in a localized war between Russia and Ukraine. If troops aren’t coming, send in the planes and air defense. Putin expected Ukrainians or, at least, ethnic Russians to welcome the troops as liberators. Instead, they’ve met resistance, requiring more airstrikes and missile attacks. Putting a shield over Ukrainian airspace would give them a better chance to defend.
Personal Appeal to Americans: Zelensky is all too aware of who his audience is, and it’s not Congress. When he addressed the British House of Commons, he drew on Churchill, saying, “We will not give up, and we will not lose. We will fight until the end at sea, in the air. We will continue fighting for our land, whatever the cost.” When he addressed the European Union Parliament, his speech moved the translator to tears.
Bend, but Don’t Break: He’ll express frustration with NATO and possibly the United States, but carefully. He can read the room, and he needs our help, but he has to create a sense of urgency. He’ll praise President Biden because he has to work with him in the months ahead. The goal is to give Washington someplace to build consensus (having a major world power try to kill you makes you more hopeful than the average American).
Humanitarian Assistance: Since the start of the war, more than 3 million Ukrainians have fled the country, and more have been displaced but remain in Ukraine. Zelensky will ask for help to provide aid and shelter to those affected by the war, including allowing Ukrainians to come to the U.S. to help ease the pressure on neighboring countries, like Poland.
Sideshow Performances: Congress remains the most expensive theatrical production in the country with the worst actors. The media will take time to discuss who isn’t there. We can expect at least one member of Congress to make this serious moment about them, followed hours later with fundraising appeals to hardworking Americans to help finance their ongoing silliness.
Contrast on Display
President Biden will also announce new steps to support Ukraine, including military support as part of Congress’s $13 billion aid. It’s unlikely to be aggressive or substantial since he’s marked a slow course from the start. This gets to the problem of leadership. Or visible leadership.
At this point in the war, the only clear line Biden has drawn is that we’re not sending troops to Ukraine. Otherwise, the U.S. has been more in reaction and not in response. There’s a difference.
Last week, the House passed a Russia sanctions bill that, at the request of the White House, removed language, changing our normal trade relations with Russia until it could line up the support of our European allies. Two days later, Biden pushed for its adoption.
Biden relies heavily on keeping the NATO alliance moving in unison, but he’s losing with the people at home. A recent Yahoo News/YouGov poll shows only 39 percent of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of the Ukraine/Russia conflict. Meanwhile, a Wall Street Journal poll indicates 46 percent of Americans believe we should be doing more on Ukraine.
Following the State of the Union, I argued President Biden would need to go outside his bubble to find a wartime consigliere. The war in Ukraine, high gas prices, and historic inflation levels require leadership, and the team is trying, but they are losing the communications war. It doesn’t help that the White House held a briefing with TikTok influencers to help combat disinformation, which even got parodied by Saturday Night Live. I get it. Lots of people use TikTok, but to quote Joe Biden, “C’mon man!”
It’s time for the Oval Office speech. Biden needs to acknowledge the issues and outline where we’re going. On Ukraine, we need more than some weapons and some platitudes praising the resistance of the Ukrainian people. He’s got to do better than blame Putin for the rising gas prices. The market is complicated, but the American people can handle the reality if you speak honestly. The economy is already problematic, but we could be facing a recession. Worth a read is this piece from Full Stack Economics on the risk of a recession in 2022.
He should be more visible. We don’t need hourlong speeches, but we need less video of him walking away from cameras. If President Zelensky can video talks to the Ukrainian people from the streets of Kyiv, Joe Biden can do it from the White House.
Stamp of Defiance
Ukrposhta held a design competition accepting recommendations for a stamp to commemorate the war. The stamp, pictured above, won from an online contest of 20 stamp designs chosen from the 500 submissions. The image honors the 13 soldiers of Snake Island, who refused to surrender to the Russians, saying, “Russian warship, go f#&k yourself.”
Boris Groh originally lived in Crimea until the 2014 invasion, then relocated to Lviv and completed the design in three days. According to the Ukrposhta release, “Their heroic defense impressed Boris so much that he decided to paint a picture to lift the mood and fighting spirit of Ukrainians, as well as to attract the attention of foreigners to Ukraine, who follow his work on social networks.”
There is no release date for the stamp or whether it will be available outside Ukraine. I’m hoping to add a set to my collection very soon, though.
My most recent post, Mark Sanford: Missing in Action, got some attention. Welcome and thank you for all the comments and shares.
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From the Mailbag
Did you ever enjoy working for Mark Sanford?
It’s been almost 28 years since I first met Mark. For 14 of those years, I worked for him in some capacity. Honestly, the most fun I had was doing policy work, arguing the finer points of tax law, regulatory schemes, healthcare, everything. We kept each other sharp, and he was a rising star because of it. There’s probably no more politics left for him, but there are different ways to take those experiences and make them worthwhile. I miss that Mark Sanford, and I suspect he’s still there somewhere.
Has Sanford read your blog? Are you going to ask him to comment?
I recently sent the relevant stories to him and asked him for feedback, criticism, or something. Nothing yet. I joked recently to a few mutual friends that we should do a podcast where we talk about them one at a time and argue. The reaction was mixed. I’m not even sure how I feel about that, let alone whether Sanford would do it. But, if you have opinions, please share them.
Please keep sharing your comments and this site with your friends. The next installment will be how “Hiking the Appalachian Trail” made it into your vocabulary. In the meantime, thank you for reading.
This was very informative, Scott. I handled investments back during Greenspan's years at the Fed! I hope Powell knows what he is doing! We found out in 2008 that we were not "too big to fail." I'm too old for my "lump (sum)" to become a "pimple!" I have always operated on a budget. Unfortunately, those representing us in Washington do not understand this concept and it's impossible to incorporate their actions into my budget! They print money and we foot the bill!