Streetwise Professor

December 23, 2007

Pooty-poot as POTY.

Filed under: Politics,Russia — The Professor @ 8:57 am

So Putin is Time’s Person of the Year. Time is one of those publications for people who think they are egg-heads but are more likely to be pinheads. It consists primarily of massive dollops of leftish-conventional wisdom (“LCW”) served up as Deep Insight.

The most annoying part of the article is its regurgitation of the LCW that Putin has restored Russia economically. Here’s the antidote: the Stoner Weiss-McFaul article in Foreign Affairs that argues quite effectively that the Russian economic rebound and Putin’s ascendancy have been merely coincidental, and if anything, Putinism has retarded Russian economic growth. Putin is the beneficiary of the effects of an oil boom combined with the 1998 devaluation combined with a more efficient allocation of resources attributable almost completely to the privatizations and liberalizations of the much denigrated 1990s. A comparison of Russian economic performance with that of other CIS and Eastern European countries does not flatter Putin and Putinism.

The touting of the (chimerical) stability of Russia under Putin is another example of the superficiality that passes for incisive journalism. Umm, Adi, are you deaf? Can’t you hear the growls emanating from underneath the Kremlin carpet? And we are talking about Russia here. Ever heard of a dude named Potemkin? Maybe a little less credulity and a little more digging and pushing might be warranted. Ya think?

The article also highlights Russia’s restored international “respect.” Really. Sourcing on that? Gerhard Schroeder? Putin and too many Russians crave–and get–the kind of respect that thugs and ganstas get. It is fair to say that Russia matters in ways that it did not in the 1990s, but what really seems to matter to Putin et al is that people pay deference; he and his ilk care very little as to the means by which that deference is induced or compelled. Remember that respect and deference are two very different things; respect and resentment never travel together, but deference and resentment very often do. Under Putin, Russia has repeatedly played the spoiler and supported dark forces (the cult of stability doesn’t extend to Lebanon, for instance), and often it appears that there is no larger purpose behind this than to show that it can and it will. Good attention, bad attention–who cares? Attention is all that matters, and bad attention seems to come so much more easily.

As for Putin himself? Well, he was just being himself. The by now familiar tu quoque retorts to any criticism. The aggressiveness. The cockiness. The touchiness about gettin’ respect (which betrays a deep insecurity, if you ask me, and which again seems to mean the “respect”–i.e., deference–that a gansta craves.) It amazes me that anybody who lives west of, say, Minsk, finds this anything but repellent (and that anywhere east thereof finds anything but embarrassing.) But, there’s no accounting for taste. (Or, as I am sure they say in the Time editorial offices, “De gustibus non est disputandum.”)

For other views on the Putin-POTY thing, I strongly recommend Bob Amsterdam, Micheal Weiss, and Jules Crittenden. Each is very different–Bob’s is thoughtful and gentle, Jules’s is thoughtful and scathingly cutting, and Michael’s thoughtful and somewhat in-between in tone–but each effectively skewers Time’s annoying pretensions and Adi Ignatius’s credulous and fawning puff-piece.

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