Things are changing among Euro-American Putin observers. Even the New York Times today compares Putin’s antics in chasing photo-ops as a hard man with Bush’s.
I really am keen to see how Barack Obama will interact with Dmitry Medvedev and other Russian politicians. Just as Bush exits, I’ve been re-reading some old news stories on his style of interaction with his opposite number, Putin. One of my favourites, from Andrew Greeley writing in the Chicago Sun-Times in 2005:
Bush a hypocrite to lecture Putin
Suppose that Russian President Vladimir Putin visited Canada and announced that the United States was retreating from its principles of freedom since the World Trade Center attack. The United States, he might have said, has denied due process of law to some American citizens. It has established a concentration camp in Cuba. It has tortured prisoners, indeed often and in many places. It denies aliens the right to trial by jury — indeed, it acts like the only ones who have Mr. Jefferson’s inalienable rights are American citizens, and not always.
Then he says, while I’m at it, there are a lot of flaws in your democracy. You certainly don’t think your Electoral College is democratic, do you? Neither is your Senate, with its disproportionate representation of smaller states. Rhode Island is as big as California? Gimme a break!
And what about your gerrymandered congressional districts (presumably he knows about Elbridge Gerry) which guarantees the re-election of incumbents, especially if they are conservative Republicans? What about Tom DeLay’s open theft of Democratic congressional districts in Texas? Is your House of Representatives all that democratic?
And all the capitalist dollars that are poured into your campaigns? And the false attack ads aimed at the character of an opponent? And the endless spinning of the truth so that it no longer means anything? Would Mr. Jefferson and Mr. Madison approve of that?
How dare, he might conclude, the American pot call the Russian Samovar black?
Now, Greeley is careful, he knows the response which is likely to thunder at his door, by daring to use such analogies. So, he continues:
It is not my intention to say that Russia is more democratic than the United States. Patently it is not. Nor do I propose to argue that American democracy is far from perfect. Patently it is far from perfect. Rather, I am suggesting that for President Bush to come to the edge of Russia (Slovakia) and preach about democracy to Putin is rude, crude and undiplomatic. It is an insult to Putin and to Russia and to the Russian people.
The most important questions come towards the end:
What good would come of his criticism? Why did he bother to make such a big deal out of it?
One answer (mine) is that he thereby (re)produces an understanding of what exactly democracy is, shapes potential political identifications for his listeners (including all the many readers of news which reprinted his criticism), and indeed attempts to structure the field of possible political action, not only in the US, but around the globe.
…image via American DeTocqueville.