“Is Vladimir Putin a paleo-conservative?” right wing commentator Pat Buchanan wrote in a column for Townhall yesterday. “In the culture war for mankind’s future, is he one of us?”
With that simple question, Buchanan has done the unthinkable — empathized with Russia’s evil president — and the online world is outraged.
“Putin is a killer, a despot, and a thief on a world-historical scale,” the Daily Beast’s David Frum tweeted this afternoon, “but the important thing is that he hates gays!”
But Buchanan’s question (and the apparently positive answer he finds) deserves more than a mere dismissal. Indeed, it may represent a broader trend among U.S. conservatives that found some unlikely people sympathizing more with Russia’s president than their own — just this summer, for example, Matt Drudge branded him the “leader of the free world.”
In many ways, Putin really looks a lot like a U.S.-style conservative. On the social side, he supports organised religion (in particular the Orthodox Church) and doesn’t support Russia’s LGBT community, while fiscally he seeks a balanced budget and low taxes. He is hard on terrorism but also steadfast in his opposition to military intervention in Syria, which places him far more in the Republican camp than the Democratic camp.
“I am sure I could put together a long list of quotes that would make Putin seem like a card-carrying member of the Tea Party,” economist Clifford Gaddy, co-author of “Mr Putin: Operative in the Kremlin,” told Business Insider earlier this year.
Of course, this all looks different from the U.S. because the national interests that Putin acts in are Russia’s, not America’s — he has spoken out about American Exceptionalism, for example, quite passionately. That’s understandable, he is president of Russia, not America.
Putin is fantastically complicated and thoroughly cynical, however, and you have to wonder if his interest in the “culture war for mankind’s future” is really sincere. For example, Russia’s anti-gay propoganda bill actually originated in the Duma, not the Kremlin, and Putin seems to have just gone along with it because it was popular (it’s also worth noting that, while rightly controversial, the law is relaxed when compared to the homophobia that emanates from some countries). He has repeatedly spoken out against racism and violence against ethnic minorities and immigrants within Russia, though this is probably more out of practical concerns about his future Eurasian Union than anything else (admittedly, his embrace of Russia’s colonial history doesn’t fit well with paleo-conservatism).
Ultimately, when you compare political ideologies between different countries, you often realise you are comparing apples to oranges: Putin’s most prominent rival, Alexey Navalny, has some viewpoints that would make Western liberals wince, most notably those on immigration and nationalism. At his core, Vladimir Putin is a man really only interested in state power, a real realpolitiker. Nonetheless, he has more in common with U.S. conservatives than most would like to admit.
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