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One thing we all need to learn from Zelensky’s big speech

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky gave a powerful, historic, and well received speech to Congress this week, and it could end up being seen as the turning point in all of this. Zelensky likely helped shore up support for Ukraine among the American people, which in turn will steer the rest of the world toward continuing to arm Ukraine and ostracize Vladimir Putin.

One thing in particular stood out to me about Zelensky’s speech. Zelensky’s country has been invaded, bombed, terrorized, put at risk of nuclear meltdown, you name it. But even as Zelensky laid out the very real dangers and challenges that Ukraine still faces, he insisted his side will prevail, and he never once suggested that Putin will win.

Many of the liberal activists in the United States need to learn from this. You never talk about how the other side is supposedly going to win. You just don’t. You talk about how important it is to win. You talk about how things would go horribly wrong if you were to lose. But you talk about how you’re going to win.

This isn’t cheerleading. It’s strategy. If you talk about how your side is losing or is going to lose, all you’re doing is telling everyone out there that your side is a bunch of losers and a lost cause. With this messaging, you will get zero people on board. Instead you will kill momentum for your own side.

If you want to win, you start by saying you’re going to win, then you rally the fighters on your side to put in the work required to win, and that momentum helps get bandwagoners on board with your side, and in the end, the odds are that you will indeed win. If you start by saying you’re going to lose, then you just killed whatever chances you had of winning. You forfeited the contest right out of the gate, because no one wants to sink time or resources or emotional investment into a side they think is going to lose anyway.

It’s not about “optimism” or “keeping the faith” or any of those childlike concepts. It’s about the (cynical) political reality that people like a winner. They’re more likely to get on board if you talk about how you’re going to win. They will not get on board if you talk about how you’re going to lose. Why would they?

Zelensky understands this. His back has been against the wall all year, in some really dire ways. But he talks about how he’s going to win, because he knows that kind of talk increases the odds that he will win. Democratic Party politicians understand this. They talk about how they’re going to win. But frankly, the majority of Democratic activists do not understand this at all. They talk, often obsessively, about how they’re going to lose.

Many of them think that yelling “we’re gonna lose” means they’re being vigilant. Many of them think that giving up at the start of the battle, and spending the entire battle expressing righteous outrage, is somehow noble. They’re completely, tragically, and harmfully wrong.

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Then there are those of you who, for instance, got on board with trying to win the midterms. You identified the winnable House and Senate races, you decided to help win them, you announced that you intended to help win them, you put in the work required to win them, and you won the clear majority of them. That’s how it works.


You have to be realistic about what a win looks like. Neither side ever, ever, ever has a magic wand. There are no total victories in politics, just significant ones. But you figure out what a win looks like in any given situation, you decide to win, and you fight for that win.

“Vigilance” doesn’t mean going around talking about how you’re going to lose. That just demotivates the activists on your side who are trying to put in the work required to win, and it turns off those outside your base who are trying to decide whether to get on board with your side. Vigilance consists of deciding to win, saying you’re going to win, and putting in the work to win. Just ask Zelensky. He and his countrymen have been in a battle for their lives all year, and yet he still talks about how they’re going to win. It’s a key component in any strategy for giving yourself a chance to win.

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