In the latest issue of Vanity Fair (October) is a detailed essay on Vladimir Putin called ‘Dead Soul’ that is a MUST READ. It is incredible, shocking, thought provoking and the consummate ‘truth is stranger than fiction’ read.
In essence, it documents how Putin’s Russia is an unseemly marriage of endemic corruption, Mafia-style criminality and 1984-like spy state tactics. This is a country that is less about a return to Soviet Union era Communism, and more akin to the horrific subterfuge envisioned in the movie, ‘V for Vendetta.’
After reading the article, you can’t help but wonder what it was that Vladimir Putin said to George W. Bush (at their first meeting in 2001) that prompted Bush to say he had “gotten a sense of his soul.”
You also have to wonder what it says about us as Americans that we twice elected a president who trusts gut instinct over facts, binary decision-making over reasoned, pragmatic analysis, unilateralism over multi-lateralism and most troubling, fear over hope.
The greatest irony in ‘Dead Soul’ is that, far from being groomed for his role as supreme leader of the new Russia based on proven skills and experience, Putin was plucked from obscurity by the oligarchs as someone that could be packaged up and marketed as westernized, moderate and market friendly.
Unfortunately, once in power, Putin consolidated his grip on the country and crushed the very patrons that enabled his ascent.
Enter Presidential Election, 2008, and the cynical choosing of Sarah Palin by one-time maverick, John McCain, as his VP.
As Frank Rich puts it crisply in, ‘The Palin-Whatshisname Ticket’:
“The cunning of the Palin choice as a political strategy is that a candidate who embodies fear of change can be sold as a ‘maverick’ simply because she looks the part. Her marketers have a lot to work with. Palin is not only the first woman on a Republican presidential ticket, but she is young, vibrant and a Washington outsider with no explicit connection to Bush or the war in Iraq. That package looks like change even if what’s inside is anything but.”
Rich notes sarcastically of the GOP's bullying of the media with cries of sexism, elitism and liberal bias:
“They want the bar for admission to the White House to be placed so low that legitimate scrutiny and criticism of Palin’s qualifications, record and family values can all be placed off limits.”
Ironically, however, some conservatives not only see this as hypocrisy and a double standard at work, but worry that historical conservative hallmarks of prudence, experience and knowledge are giving rise to an ugly strain of populism.
Byron York of National Review, a rare conservative who acknowledges the double standard, captured it best: “If the Obamas had a 17-year-old daughter who was unmarried and pregnant by a tough-talking black kid, my guess is if they all appeared onstage at a Democratic convention and the delegates were cheering wildly, a number of conservatives might be discussing the issue of dysfunctional black families.”
David Brooks, a conservative writer for The New York Times in ‘Why Experience Matters’ sounds the alarm that Palin is unqualified to be a heartbeat away from the presidency, noting:
“In the current Weekly Standard, Steven Hayward argues that the nation's founders wanted uncertified citizens to hold the highest offices in the land. They did not believe in a separate class of professional executives. They wanted rough and rooted people like Palin.
I would have more sympathy for this view if I hadn't just lived through the last eight years. For if the Bush administration was anything, it was the anti-establishment attitude put into executive practice.”
And the problem with this attitude is that, especially in his first term, it made Bush inept at governance. It turns out that governance, the creation and execution of policy, is hard. It requires acquired skills. Most of all, it requires prudence.
What is prudence? It is the ability to grasp the unique pattern of a specific situation. It is the ability to absorb the vast flow of information and still discern the essential current of events — the things that go together and the things that will never go together. It is the ability to engage in complex deliberations and feel which arguments have the most weight. How is prudence acquired? Experience."
He finishes, “Sarah Palin has many virtues. If you wanted someone to destroy a corrupt establishment, she'd be your woman. But the constructive act of governance is another matter. She has not been engaged in national issues, does not have a repertoire of historic patterns and, like President Bush, she seems to compensate for her lack of experience with brashness and excessive decisiveness.”
Returning to where we started, the Palin parallels to Putin are a bit unnerving. Rich summarizes what a McCain victory means:
“If we’ve learned anything from the GOP. convention and its aftermath, it’s that the 2008 edition of John McCain is too weak to serve as America’s chief executive. This unmentionable truth, more than race, is now the real elephant in the room of this election.
No longer able to remember his principles any better than he can distinguish between Sunnis and Shia, McCain stands revealed as a guy who can be easily rolled by anyone who sells him a plan for “victory,” whether in Iraq or in Michigan. A McCain victory on Election Day will usher in a Palin presidency, with McCain serving as a transitional front man, an even weaker Bush to her Cheney.”
Putin’s benefactors couldn’t be troubled to look too closely at exactly who they were coronating, and they lost their grip and their country in the process.
Along similar lines, it remains to be seen whether the last eight years have taught us anything, as well as whether Obama can finally convey the gut-level passion, vision and roll up your sleeves mentality needed to overcome the economic devastation that is at the core of the fears that Palin and company are trying to exploit.
In the end, though, we as citizens get the government that we deserve and demand. And nothing more.
UPDATE 1: Excerpt from Katie Couric interview of Sarah Palin. All that I can say is "heartbeat away from the presidency" and the fact that McCain says emphatically with a straight face that Palin is "absolutely ready to be president" tells you all that you need to know.
UPDATE 2: The New Yorker has written a really good article on how McCain came to pick Sarah Palin. Here is an excerpt:
McCain had met Palin once, but their conversation—at a reception during a meeting of the National Governors Association, six months earlier—had lasted only fifteen minutes. “It wasn’t a real conversation,” said the longtime friend, who called the choice of Palin “the fucking most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard.” Aides arranged a phone call between McCain and Palin, and scrutinized her answers to some seventy items on a questionnaire that she had filled out. But McCain didn’t talk with Palin in person again until the morning of Thursday, August 28th. Palin was flown down to his retreat in Sedona, Arizona, and they spoke for an hour or two. By the time he announced her as his choice, the next day, he had spent less than three hours in her company.
- V and The Quiet Coup: on Bush presidency watering down of democracy and American principles
- Rhetoric - Why it matters: Obama's acceptance speech and where free markets and government meet.
- Base motivations: The Matter of McCain v. Obama.
- Why Experience Matters: David Brooks, NYT Op-Ed - excellent piece.