Beware of Straw Men

My morning paper brought another column hammering Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Just another in the constant drumbeat of media criticism of the Floridian. Anytime I look at my Smartnews app, there is at least one and usually several negative DeSantis articles. Froma Harrop’s ad hominem attack today was especially fact-free.To her, Gov. DeSantis is only a grunting “new Donald Trump.” “DeSantis, sadly, was born without a sense of humor.” In short, she found no redeeming features in the DeSantis makeup.

It got me thinking that the Governor is a regular feature on the right of center media but rarely seen left of center. This difference allows the left to paint an unflattering portrait. “Almost every picture of him shows a scowling face with mouth open. There is no charm to smooth over the meanness,” claims Harrop:

Picturing DeSantis

Yet, while accessible to Floridians and many on the right, Desantis makes little effort to court the mainstream media. This absence leaves those receiving news from these outlets with an almost grotesque view of him. Is this a fatal oversight for someone with the highest aspirations or a clever strategy?

Consider Ukrainian President Zelensky. Before the war, Russia and others pictured the President as a corrupt, lightweight ex-comedian. This characterization was echoed in the U.S. by the far-right and libertarians. A whiner always asking for arms for a military Russia could overrun in a day.

Under Zelensky, the Ukrainian military evolved into a solid war machine, able to effectively use the arms it had. The army and the President trusted each other to do the job. Many NATO members contributed to training and sending weapons to Ukraine after the 2014 Russian invasion. The Russian-backed separatists in the east fought to a standstill. 

The Zelensky government underplayed these developments. As a result, Russia, the U.S., and Germany saw little future for Ukraine remaining free. The upshot was Putin massed his forces to swallow the country whole. The U.S. finally sent some arms and threatened sanctions. The Germans sent helmets.

The Russians invaded Ukraine on multiple fronts, with the primary objective to replace the government in Kyiv. The Russian military advanced from the North, East, and South to destroy the Ukrainian army. Almost everyone expected a quick Russian victory. Biden offered to help Zelensky to flee the capital. 

Then something happened. “I don’t need a ride. I need ammunion,” Zelensky defiantly told Biden. The Ukrainian was in the Kyiv streets rallying his people. Talking directly to Leaders and legislators worldwide, Ukraine was fighting for freedom, and they needed help. Suddenly instead of a comedian, we saw a courageous leader and a capable military defending our values.

Days became weeks and folded into months. The Russians, after massive losses, retreated from the capital. Arms poured in from abroad. Even the Germans are sending armored vehicles. Only in the East are the Russians still attempting an offense. Instead of an easy victory, Putin is facing the possible defeat.

Had Zellensky given rousing speeches lauding his excellent military, Russia’s approach to the invasion might have been quite different. The attack goals narrowed. Given Putin’s history, assassinating Zelensky is included in the plan. Instead, the low profile made for a lot of 180-degree turns. Russia turned away from Kyiv, and the allies moved from timid Ukraine support to rushing in top-grade weapons, resulting in an entirely different picture.

Coaches hope their opponents take their team lightly. Zelensky used delusion to significant effect. The valiant Ukrainians made the allies race to deliver the goods by exposing their failure to give proper support before the invasion. Failing to see how an underdog can win is why there are so many upsets in March madness.

In judo, one uses the opponent’s strengths against himself. Zelensky used Russia’s supposed force moves to toss them off balance. The blackbelt Putin should’ve known better.

I get the feeling DeSantis is positioning himself to do the same to his detractors. Once he’s re-elected Governor and cleared to run for President, he will be able to talk directly to the nation. He can tell his story, and people will see who he is.

Many people will be surprised to find how well DeSantis performed as Governor, given how the media portrays him. They’ll find a leader who does the work to find the best way forward—assembling and digesting the data allowed Florida to enjoy the best Covid outcomes of any large state. This result, despite only Maine having an older, more vulnerable population. 

Reintroducing himself when it counts in a Presidential run forces everyone to see who he is. They’ll find a young, knowledgeable man who can explain why he wants to go in a particular direction because he’s absorbed the facts and data. A man willing and able to stand up for what he believes. Rather than a monster, they’ll discover a smiling man with a beautiful family:

Like Zelensky, we’ll see the genuine person. The detractors left holding a bunch of straw no one believes. Putin now wishes he hadn’t misled himself about Zelensky and Ukraine. Those competing with DeSantis will find themselves in the same place.

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