Hootin’ ’bout Putin: Free Speech and Lazy Talk

This Loyal Opposition?

Vladimir Putin counts on American democracy, where a number of political activists are free to criticize an administration, and government of the people, in order to forward personal and partisan political gain – people willing to distort, obstruct, and undermine government in an attempt to reduce options and take over said government for their own ends.

There are conservatives, many conservatives, who clearly admire Putin’s brash and braggadocious ways. Like Senator Mitch McConnell’s infamous 2010 declaration, or confession, that his primary task, and that of his party, was to oppose Obama in every way, Putin has done us a favor by revealing, speaking, and acting out his real purpose and demonstrating the ramifications for the world. [1]

But let’s speak frankly, with all the loose, or fawning, references, even in The New York Times, that Putin, and his military apparatus, has been skillful in aggression and annexation, Putin is still patently a dim bulb needlessly sucking sustenance from Russia, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East. [2] [3] He is so transparent and heavy handed, buffoonery and thuggery permeate his every gesture. As was the case with Hitler (and Stalin along with him) who wrote the book on brazen and deadly national acquisitiveness, Putin’s plays are indicative of something deeply troubling about his compatriots – the Russian people. It cannot be just one man and a handful of associates who are responsible: it is the entire populous and body politic. All Americans were responsible for Iraq, not just Dick Cheney and George W. Bush. And Americans had to try to repair their mistake with “blood and treasure” (the phrase newfangled interventionists are fond of intoning).

In his book Diplomacy, Henry Kissinger asserts that Russia is inherently expansionistic. [4] Let’s face it, America is too, but nowadays we cloak it in less tone-deaf and more business-friendly and culturally hip ways that have the advantage of seeming to serve enlightened self-interest as well.

In the spitting match of high-profile media chatterers, there are liberals, moderates, and centrists on one end and the friends of Russian waywardness on the other. Where do conservatives fall on the spectrum? I fear that, as usual, they fall off the map of relevance, expanding not our options and their minds, but their mouths, spewing money into politics, courtesy of the Supreme Court, and fabricating idiotic comparisons of Americans to Hitler. All the while they actually undermine, if not mortally wound, the middle-American side of the equation along with the hopes of millions.

I am not discussing whether the comments of Bob Corker, say, are right or wrong, but it is the lax-mouthed drawl and hacking hyperbole of what is said and when and in which forum, while representing a high position of national authority, that is the big problem. [5] One might say, and does say, similar things as a private individual around the dining table with family and friends, but even average people know not to put themselves on TV with such outlandish views, meant to wound rather than heal. Do we expect that people around the world are able to parse the avalanche of slurs in American public speech for truth any better than the 20 to 40 percent of fringe American voters and media instigators? I don’t think they can distinguish the nuance in lazy speech because the most educated and authoritative and privileged among us do not evince such disciplined capability when talking to the public.

America cannot meddle everywhere at once – nor should it. We all have, or had, friends and family members who routinely rush into the business of others with consistently poor outcomes. There is a comparison here with what we expect of ourselves internationally. Syria is a tangled mess, and we can do much more harm than good by reacting rashly without information, allies, and a long view.

Apparently, everyone wants to be perceived as having the dogged persistence, prescience, fame, and luck of Winston Churchill. John McCain and Lindsay Graham are two hawkish hyenas (a lazy slur) who clearly enjoy show biz. If one barks at the woods long enough, something unpleasant is bound to emerge. Problem is that perpetual barking is wrong 99% of the time. And these two senators are arguably among the most reasonable and well-intentioned opponents of whatever is happening in foreign affairs while they are not in charge.

Even the usually thoughtful and careful David Brooks gets ginned up by the rhetoric on occasion and whines about – “manhood”? [6] But at least he is not a high-powered elected official – and he rarely indulges his inner stand-up comic. Still he should weigh his words and not be swept up in the torrent of torment and self-loathing that represents itself as conservative today.

Obama has delivered on many big ideas that are good for prosperity and peace. One of those ideas is knowing how not to say stupid stuff. His, and our, government hunted down Osama and no one leaked that his administration was up to something until the deed was done. For one, I respect deliberate, stealthy effectiveness of action and restrained speech over the constant cackle of barnyard hens, Chicken Littles, and cartoonish roosters with Southern accents.


1. Senator Mitch McConnell in the National Journal on November 4, 2010: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”
2. Michael Wines’ article “Putin’s sure Hand Abroad Belies Problems at Home” in The New York Times on May 28,2003.
3. Michael R. Gordon’s article “Russia Displays a New Military Prowess in Ukraine‚Äôs East” in The New York Times on April 21,2014.
4. Henry Kissinger in Diplomacy (p. 25): “Analysts frequently explain Russian expansionism as stemming from a sense of insecurity. But Russian writers have far more often justified Russia’s outward thrust as a messianic vocation. Russia on the march rarely showed a sense of limits; thwarted, it tended to withdraw into sullen resentment. For most of its history, Russia has been a cause looking for opportunity.”
5. Senator Bob Corker on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 22,2014: “I hate to say such a crass thing on Easter Sunday morning … The wisest thing that Assad did really was to kill 1,200 people with chemical weapons.” Yes, crass, but he said it on TV anyway.
6. David Brooks of The New York Times on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on April 22,2014: “Obama, whether deservedly or not, does have a – I’ll say it crudely – but a manhood problem in the Middle East.” Yes, crude, but he said it on TV anyway.

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