Before the ruthless and devastating invasion of Ukraine, hardly anyone in America knew the name “Zelensky.” Volodymyr Zelensky had spent most of his adult life as an actor/comedian in Ukraine, but became associated with a new political party called Servant of the People, in early 2018. Many Americans snickered when this unknown former comedian was elected to the Ukrainian presidency in 2019. That election was quickly forgotten, though. Back then, Americans were intensely focused on another contest between an unconventional president and a career politician.
But today, the whole world knows the name Zelensky. His defiance in the face of an unprovoked, devastating invasion by a vastly superior force has shown him to be a leader of historic proportion, deeply respected – loved by his countrymen.
There are, of course, many qualities that define leadership – among them courage, commitment, and self-sacrifice. Zelensky not only talks the talk, but he walks the walk. His impassioned speech before the European Parliament concluded with a standing ovation and tears of compassion. He proved his unparalleled courage and commitment to the people through his own self-sacrifice. How many others in his position would remain with the people during these desperate and dangerous times? It's that genuine commitment that distinguishes Zelensky from other so-called leaders.
Our own president recently delivered a speech to Congress and to the nation. As is customary, it was interrupted several times with applause.
During his SOTU address, Joe Biden talked about the problems facing our country almost as if he happened to notice them while passing by. From that perspective, his remarks might not have seemed so incredible. At one point, he actually said, “We need to secure the border.” Of course, he never mentioned the fact that his policies have allowed more than two million unvetted immigrants to waltz across our border unchallenged and countless others to be blocked from deportation. Neither did he mention that those flooding into our country were allowed to enter without Covid vaccinations while untold numbers of Americans were losing their jobs due to Biden's vaccination mandates.
He talked about the need to end the drug epidemic. But he didn’t mention the fact that tens of thousands of American citizens are being poisoned every year by unprecedent amounts of fentanyl flowing through his open borders.
And he empathized with the hardship of rising gas prices and inflation, but seemed uncaring that his closure of our oil pipelines, his heavy restrictions on drilling and exploration, and his reckless spending have all contributed significantly to rising prices. And he failed to mention that his energy policy has made us more dependent on Russian oil, and that the resultant increase in Russia's oil revenues has actually helped finance Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
But when he proclaimed how important it is for us “to show the nation that we can come together and do big things,” half the country gasped. For though he strategically avoided the phrase “systemic racism” in his speech, he and his acolytes have used those very words, and words like them, countless times to divide Americans and to deride our country. It was just a year ago that he proclaimed, "Systemic racism is a stain on the nation’s soul." Does that sound like someone who wants to unite the country? Does it sound like someone who’s proud of his country?
Biden’s patter is continuously adjusted to suit his audience and the circumstances. He has no concept of commitment and clearly no interest in the American people. That’s one of the reasons he’s greeted with jeers of “Let’s go Brandon” wherever he goes, while his counterpart in Ukraine is venerated as a true leader – a hero.
Zelensky’s leadership also provides a lesson for Russia’s Putin. Many believe that Putin has visions of grandeur, that he sees himself as the leader of a reconstituted Soviet Union. But he’ll never be the leader that Zelensky is. Putin will never be anything more than a butcher, a killer of women and children, a war criminal. His growing desperation is palpable. It’s an admission that he vastly underestimated the strength and tenacity of the Ukrainian people. They’re not the same Ukrainians who once lived under Soviet domination. They’ve lived in freedom. They know what freedom is, and they’re determined to fight for it. They will make any military victory for Putin a costly one, because they’re motivated, not by expansionism or greed, but by patriotism. And they’re inspired by real leadership.
Watching the gut-wrenching scenes in Ukraine, we in the free world cautiously offer basic, limited assistance to the Ukrainians, delicately trying not to upset a madman as he decimates this peaceful nation, ever mindful of Putin’s nuclear arsenal. And we find ourselves nervously hoping that Putin stops at Ukraine. For if he should decide to move on to any one of the NATO nations, we know he’ll still have that nuclear arsenal.
When we Americans are one day faced with the choice between liberty and tyranny, freedom and subjugation, let’s hope we haven’t forgotten the words of our own Patrick Henry. Let’s also hope, when we’re forced to make that choice, we can emulate the courage of the Ukrainian people, and that we have a president with the leadership qualities of President Zelensky.© Peter Lemiska
The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.