An irate campaign manager slammed a crumpled newspaper down on the table in front of me, as I was reading through the results of yet another poll that didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. The incumbent in the upcoming race for the State House was about to lose, and lose big. I looked over the top of the polling numbers at the newspaper, and then looked at the campaign manager. Somehow I resisted the urge to point out that if his face got any redder, he could have the nickname “Rudolph the red-faced idiot.” I wasn’t amused with the situation anymore, and the only reason I hadn’t left was because of the paycheck.
The problem that day was the fact that one of the local papers had a story that illustrated the primary problem with the entire campaign, and the candidate himself. Yet again, he was being depicted as an arrogant, out-of-touch incumbent that no longer did anything for his constituents. The man had a reputation for running roughshod over everyone, and the public was fed up with it. There was no way to rescue the campaign, I knew it, and if the man wasn’t such an insufferable creature, I might have walked away. But, I endured it, for the pay, because at least I’d walk away with something to show for putting up with his abuse.
Working on that campaign was a huge mistake, and typically I don’t think about it. However, when I am faced with severely arrogant and bluntly, toxic politicians, that experience leaps to mind. Vladimir Putin earns a distinction that even Obama hasn’t, when it comes to comparing the two. Putin is significantly worse than that controlling, megalomaniac that got himself out of office by treating his constituents like trash. Putin is far worse, because he has far more power, and is constantly claiming more every chance he gets.
And now, thanks to the gross incompetence of our current administration, Putin is attempting to assert power over the U.S., through not only the situation in Syria, but also the tragedy at the Washington Navy Yard this week. That candidate I worked for years ago flew off the handle about that news item that had his campaign manager so furious. His response was to attempt to get the reporter fired. It didn’t work, but only because he had abused the goodwill he previously had from the publisher. As just a legislator, he didn’t have the power to do anything that would force the issue. If it was Putin, the paper would have been shuttered by the end of the day.
There was a great deal of talk about the op-ed The New York Times published, allowing Putin to state his case on Syria directly to the U.S. public. Some people may think that it has been largely dismissed, thanks to the voluminous responses from both the press and the administration, but the content never really was the whole issue for Putin. No, just the fact that he managed to get it published as quickly as he did was the real prize for him, because it proved that he can control the U.S. press, at least a little. That is what this is about. He wanted to know if he could claim the ability to speak directly to the U.S. public through the media, and now he knows that is the case.
Katrina Jørgensen, a writer and activist who has worked with the Young Republicans and conservative organizations worldwide, has become very familiar with the nature of Putin, when it comes to his controlling the narrative about himself. She had the audacity to write something about him that was less-than-flattering, and was met with unusual obstacles when she attempted to travel to Russia. While she can go there, it would cost her more than others, in the form of additional “fees” for a visa. While she will never know for certain, she strongly suspects that the reason for these special fees is directly related to her writing. When Putin had the op-ed published, I asked her thoughts on the man.
To put it simply, Vladimir Putin is playing the hypocrite. Since he was re-elected as President he has pushed a number of new crackdowns on freedom of expression—or honestly, anything threatening his position as The Great Decider. Unlike many countries that violate human rights and trample on basic freedoms, Putin has chosen to flaunt his abuses by bringing back the Soviet Show Trial. Examples include the band Pussy Riot, Sergei Magnitsky post-death trial, and anti-corruption blogger-turned political foe – Alexei Navalny. Putin’s “equal response” to the U.S. visa ban on officials charged with human rights offenses was to stop any and all adoptions to the U.S. for Russian orphans in desperate need of homes. The crackdown on gay propaganda has less to do with a fear of homosexuality, and more to do with Putin’s need to exercise power in a country that is increasingly wising-up to his tactics. The recent Moscow Mayoral race is a perfect example of this: with the opposition candidate receiving an unprecedented 27% of a rigged vote, President Putin is losing his grip. If Russia were to wake up and want a real democracy, it would not include Putin.
Harsh, but accurate words, the primary problem in the West is the fact that people seem to forget Putin’s background. He is not a part of a new Russia, but is part of the old Soviet guard, quite literally. For whatever reason, people admit that yes, he was a member of the KGB, but somehow manage to act like that is part of some deep, dark past – that Putin has changed in the intervening years. He hasn’t. Only the image he sometimes tries to project to the world has changed. But, he remains an arrogant, power-hungry Soviet, no matter how much he chooses to lie to the U.S. public about his past and current abuses against the human rights of those he rules.
And like the Obama administration is full of sycophants that tow the “party line” for him, there are plenty of the same in Russia, delivering Putin’s message. Alexei Pushkov, a member of the Russia Parliament, was criticized for a tweet he wrote shortly after the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard, in which he suggested that the shooting was a prime example of U.S. exceptionalism. Of course, Putin had already told the world that Americans should stop considering themselves exceptional in his op-ed, so it’s not difficult to think that this message from Pushkov is just more of the same. However, the conversation did turn inevitably to the concept of gun control, once the mainstream media started firing back. And, it’s safe to assume that’s precisely what Putin wants.
With a KGB background, one would think that instead of remaining silent about the disastrous policy of leaving our military unarmed while on base, Putin would have said something about how that isn’t a smart policy to maintain at this point. If he was honestly a real ally, that’s precisely what he should say, especially since we’ve now had two mass shootings on military bases. But, Putin isn’t interested in doing the U.S. any favors. The question that should be asked every time when dealing with him is “what’s in it for Putin?” In the case of Syria, Russia has business concerns that he wants to preserve, and he will certainly take advantage of the U.S. in carrying out whatever happens on the ground in that country. Obama’s claims about “no boots on the ground” will go up in smoke, because Putin will demand our military involvement in the confiscation of chemical weapons. At best, that will be a move to preserve his own military assets – let ours be tied up in all of that. At worst, his intent is to spread us even thinner than we already are, to make us more vulnerable. The same goes for the issue of gun control.
Putin is all for gun control in the U.S., same as China. Unfortunately, that is an issue that isn’t brought up very often. It should be repeated, ad nauseum. Putin does nothing without first weighing how it will benefit him and increase his power, period. We must ask ourselves, how would disarming the American citizenry benefit Putin? How does keeping our military disarmed on our bases benefit Putin? The answer to those questions, on a purely strategic level, is fairly obvious. If we are not armed, we are easier to defeat in battle. Of course, if anyone suggests that Putin has designs on conquering the U.S., that person would probably be relegated to the “tin-foil-hat crowd.” That doesn’t change the fact that regardless of Putin’s intentions, there is no way it is a good idea to adopt anything that he wants in our domestic policy. It is insanity to assume that Putin doesn’t have a secondary motive in everything that he does, because his history in the KGB, and as a leader has repeatedly shown that is how he operates.
We are already very familiar with power-hungry politicians, and how they operate. The fact that the mainstream media is failing to recognize Putin as one is their problem. Our problem, as usual, is to point out how the media is absolutely wrong. The only issue is we have to be careful, to prevent being completely marginalized on this issue. We need to use the experiences of people like Katrina Jørgensen to show what Putin is made of, in real and concrete terms. We need to read Radio Free Europe, and foreign press sources that cover his human rights violations on a daily basis. And finally, we need to continually point out that with friends like Putin, we don’t need enemies.