Obama,  Russia,  The Right,  Ukraine

Putin envy on the American Right

Last fall I posted about how Vladimir Putin (with his unapologetic anti-gay policies and his supposed defense of “Christian values”) was making some American conservatives weak at the knees.

Paleocon Pat Buchanan especially was in full swoon:

While much of American and Western media dismiss him as an authoritarian and reactionary, a throwback, Putin may be seeing the future with more clarity than Americans still caught up in a Cold War paradigm.

As the decisive struggle in the second half of the 20th century was vertical, East vs. West, the 21st century struggle may be horizontal, with conservatives and traditionalists in every country arrayed against the militant secularism of a multicultural and transnational elite.

And though America’s elite may be found at the epicenter of anti-conservatism and anti-traditionalism, the American people have never been more alienated or more divided culturally, socially and morally.
Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian. And what he is talking about here is ambitious, even audacious.

He is seeking to redefine the “Us vs. Them” world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent west.

In February Mother Jones reported on close connections between anti-gay US evangelicals and leading Russian officials and oligarchs.

Since the beginning of the Ukraine crisis, we have seen another wave of admiration for Putin sweep over some American conservatives– this time in an effort to contrast his supposed toughness with Barack Obama’s alleged weakness.

In that sense they are the ideological descendants of the former Trotskyist turned influential American conservative James Burnham, who was a regular contributor to William F. Buckley’s National Review.

Writing at The New Republic, Isaac Chotiner cites George Orwell’s 1946 essay about Burnham and his book The Managerial Revolution.

What Orwell found in his analysis of Burnham was that this ostensible democrat and cold warrior held deep regard for–and even envied–authoritarian or totalitarian powers, including Stalin’s Russia. This is why, Orwell explained, Burnham originally predicted a Nazi victory in World War II. (Britain, typically, was considered “decadent.”) In later years, Orwell continued, Burnham would write about Stalin in “semi-mystical” terms (with a “fascinated admiration”), comparing him to heroes of the past; Burnham didn’t like Stalin’s politics, but he admired his strength. Of Burnham’s odd quasi-regard for Stalinism and its supposedly destined victory over the forces of sickly democratic regimes, Orwell added: “The huge, invincible, everlasting slave empire of which Burnham appears to dream will not be established, or, if established, will not endure, because slavery is no longer a stable basis for human society.”

Orwell, then, was not merely critical of Burnham’s pessimism (Orwell himself could be overly pessimistic.) He also saw this pessimism as reflective of a mindset that prioritized vicious power-wielding and coercion over other things that allowed states to succeed and prosper.

And now we have Sarah Palin complaining to Sean Hannity that “people are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans and equivocates and bloviates.”

I’ve never seen a picture of Putin wrestling a bear, but he does ride horses shirtless (in contrast to the helmet-wearing [sneer, sneer] Obama on his bicycle), which seems to impress some easily-impressed people:

Rush Limbaugh– who was strangely impressed that the Russian government issued a 100-page report denying the Syrian regime used chemical weapons to kill hundreds of people last summer– continues to swoon (in a disapproving way, of course) over tough-guy Vlad:

In fact, Putin—ready for this?—postponed the Oscar telecast last night. He didn’t want his own population distracted. He wanted his own population knowing full well what he was doing, and he wanted them celebrating him. They weren’t distracted. We were.
Well, did you hear that the White House put out a photo of Obama talking on the phone with Vlad, and Obama’s sleeves were rolled up? That was done to make it look like Obama was really working hard—I mean, really taking it seriously. His sleeves were rolled up while on the phone with Putin! Putin probably had his shirt off practicing Tai-Chi while he was talking to Obama.

Yes, if only Obama had been man enough to cancel the Oscars and practice a martial art while talking to Putin (Tai-Chi is for old folks, Rush), Putin would have got the message toute suite (excuse the wimpy French).

Chotiner observes:

[T]he presumption that Russia has just masterly played the Great Game, and that our weakness will doom us, is nearly automatic among large segments of the American right.

Obama may not be engaging in sufficient bluster and silly photo ops to please his critics on the Right, but he has begun to order sanctions, travel bans and freezing of assets. And he added, “We will absolutely consider if we have to additional steps beyond what we’ve done.”

And Olga Dukhnich, a political scientist living in Crimea, writes in The New York Times that rather than turning out to be a triumph for Putin, his Crimean adventure may turn out to be Russia’s next Afghanistan.

Update: Along the same lines, see (if you can; this may help) Jon Stewart on The Daily Show: