Vladimir Putin is a thug, a gangster, a demagogue, who has gained popular approval in Russia by encouraging his people’s most barbaric impulses and demonizing everything civilized. Yet he has his Western admirers.
We’ve examined lefty movie director Oliver Stone‘s unsavory enthusiasm for Putin, ditto that of conservative journalist Christopher Caldwell, who’s characterized Putin’s Western critics as “harsh” – a word he seemed loath, interestingly, to use in describing Putin’s own imprisonment, torture, and assassination of pro-democracy dissenters.
Now we’ll look at a few other right-wing Putin fans.
- First up: Jacob Heilbrunn of The National Interest. Just as Caldwell slammed Putin’s Western critics as “harsh,” Heilbrunn chided them for “pummeling” Putin – a thought-provoking choice of words, given that Putin literally has people pummeled (and worse). In response to a London Times article noting parallels between his actions and those of Joseph Stalin, Heilbrunn asked: “But is he really that bad?”
Yes, Heilbrunn recognized his obligation to accept a degree of criticism of Putin: “No one is under the illusion that Putin is a very nice man or that he isn’t in charge of a pretty nasty regime.” But he held out the illusion that Putin is “creating a stable foundation for a democratic state as emerged in Spain after the death of Francisco Franco.” Sheer fantasy.
- Let’s move on to Rod Dreher, a sometime contributor to National Review and Weekly Standard, who wrote in August 2013 that while he “deplore[s] the anti-gay violence taking place in Russia today,” he “agree[s] with Pat Buchanan when he says that Vladimir Putin’s Russia is defending traditional Christian moral standards and actual Christians more than America is.” While the West has become “post-Christian,” argued Dreher, Putin’s Russia is “in important ways more conscious of its Christian history and character than the United States.”
Four months later, Dreher returned to the topic, saying that while Putin, through “our Western eyes,” might look like “an authoritarian who hates gay people,” what really matters is that “Putin is playing a long game here, a game that is far more serious and consequential for the survival of his country than American culture warriors can see.”
- Or check out Justin Raimondo, who, writing in January 2015, mocked concerns about the corruption of Putin’s regime – saying that the roads in Russia, for example, can’t possibly be any worse than the ones in his own neck of the woods in northern California – and rejected the idea that Putin was eroding political freedoms or that his elections were rigged. Raimondo denied that Russia is on its way to being a “failed state”: “Russia is nowhere near becoming anything like, say, Somalia, a classic failed state.”
Similarly, “Russia is very far from being a ‘dictatorship’”: Putin’s suppression of opposition parties and media isn’t all that much worse, Raimondo claimed, than the situation in the U.S. For Raimondo, Putin isn’t an aggressor but a victim – namely, of a “wave of Russophobia.” Besides, however bad Putin may be, he insisted, some of Russia’s other potential leaders are much worse, and if any of them gain power, it’ll be the West’s fault.
- Then there’s surgeon, author, and presidential aspirant Ben Carson, who in February 2014 wrote that “there may be some validity” to Putin’s claim that the US and Europe had become godless. “While we Americans are giving a cold shoulder to our religious heritage,” Carson averred, “the Russians are warming to religion. The Russians seem to be gaining prestige and influence throughout the world as we are losing ours.”
- Writing in the same month, William S. Lind, former director of the Center for Cultural Conservatism, celebrated Putin for helping Russia to “emerg[e] once more as the leading conservative power” Quoting Putin’s criticism of same-sex marriage, his statement that many Europeans are ashamed of their religious convictions, and his insistence on “the rights of the majority,” Lind asked: “Should we not cheer a Russian president who dares to defy “political correctness?”
While America, he concluded, “is becoming the leader of the international Left[,] Russia is reasserting her historic role as leader of the international Right.” He called on his fellow American conservatives to “welcome the resurgence of a conservative Russia.”
- In March 2014, Billy Graham’s son and successor, Franklin Graham, praised Putin for cracking down on homosexuality, favorably contrasting his brutal suppression of gays to President Obama’s “shameful” support for the human rights of gay people. “Putin is right on these issues,” Graham asserted, saying that Putin had taken an admirable “stand to protect his nation’s children.”
Graham asked: “Isn’t it sad…that America’s own morality has fallen so far that on this issue — protecting children from any homosexual agenda or propaganda — Russia’s standard is higher than our own?”
Conservatives like these used to despise the Soviet Union. But they’ve made a role model out of Putin’s Russia, which is basically the Soviet Union with a makeover.
Still, none of them is quite as eloquent in his enthusiasm for Putin’s tyranny than Pat Buchanan, who once upon a time was perhaps the fiercest Cold War combatant of them all. We’ll move on to his perverse praise for Putin next time.