Prospect of Putin Presidency Gives Pundit the Vapors

I read a lot of opinion pieces so that you don’t have to. Some are good enough to make our Viewpoints section. Some are… special:

[P]olitical events in Russia will become more important in the coming years, and Americans should prepare for the leverage Russia will begin to exercise.

Photo-illustration; Painting of Peter the Great: Getty; Putin: Sergei Guneyev / RIA-Novosti for TIME
Photo-illustration; Painting of Peter the Great: Getty; Putin: Sergei Guneyev / RIA-Novosti for TIME
Putin as Peter the Great (click image for irritating commentary)

OK, I have fresh batteries in the flashlight, a week’s supply of nonperishables in the pantry, and jumper cables in the car. What other preparations should I make?

In foreign affairs Russia will continue to block interventions into countries like Syria with their permanent veto in the UN Security Council. Whatever one’s opinions might be on humanitarian intervention it is clear what an absurdity it is for a country like Russia, whose actions in Chechnya are not far removed from Assad’s in Syria, to be able to influence international humanitarian work.

Actually, your opinions on humanitarian intervention may determine whether you find Russia’s obstructionism offensive at all. If you consider humanitarian intervention a blood sport played by cynical opportunists, then you won’t be outraged when one cynical opportunist takes his ball and goes home. Furthermore, many on the receiving end of Western interventions would have difficulty distinguishing “international humanitarian work” from what Putin and his predecessors have done in Chechnya and what Assad is doing in Syria.

Russia will continue to wield its influence over Eastern Europe, a part of the world where liberal values are struggling.

Photo by Matt Barganier, Cluj, Romania
Photo by Matt Barganier, Cluj, Romania
The only Vlad for me

Now we’ve entered the heart of Op-Edistan, where “liberal values” are always “struggling.” Would it help if we built more torture chambers in Eastern Europe?

It should worry Americans that Russia, straddling both Europe and Asia, will be able to dictate the pace of the twenty first century more and more.

Even if dictating the pace of a century were a real possibility instead of pundit claptrap, Putin could no more do it than Peter the Great or Josef Stalin could. This sort of threat inflation makes me appreciate the relative sobriety of China panic. The Russians are not even conceivably coming.

It looks like Russia’s influence will continue to be exerted under corrupt and illegitimate governments with a demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and expansionist mindset. Whoever is the President this time next year (probably Obama) should make more of an effort to establish good economic and diplomatic relations with countries still under Russia’s shadow, especially countries in Central Asia and Eastern Europe, in order to limit the amount of damage an presidency like Putin’s can inflict.

And to which head of state can we turn to limit the amount of damage a presidency like Obama’s (or Romney’s, or Santorum’s) can inflict? Who will save Americans and others from the demonstrable disregard for civil liberties and the expansionist mindset of the Kremlin on the Potomac? Is there an extraterrestrial force for good to which we can appeal?

Our Language Cops Are
a Bunch of Barney Fifes

Andrew Sullivan:

I’ve touched slightly on the term ‘Israel-Firster’ – a shorthand that has an ugly neo-Nazi provenance, which is why I don’t use it…

As Justin Raimondo pointed out Monday, that etymology is false: the term was first used no later than 1953 by Alfred M. Lilienthal, a Jewish American. Not that that fact will change anything. I expect no correction from Sullivan, and I couldn’t care less about his source, Spencer Ackerman, whose views on intellectual honesty you can read for yourself.

But let’s assume that, for once, they weren’t bullshitting and the term was coined by an asshole. And? Does a sorry origin taint a word or phrase for all eternity, even if the term — as Sullivan effectively admits in the aforementioned post — is accurate and useful in certain cases?

Just for kicks, I searched Sullivan’s blog and Tablet magazine, where Ackerman acted out his latest “plate-glass window” fantasy, for “highbrow,” “middlebrow,” and “lowbrow.” It won’t surprise you to learn that the searches turned up plenty of hits. It may surprise you to learn where those words come from:

Highbrow/lowbrow

“Highbrow,” first used in the 1880s to describe intellectual or aesthetic superiority, and “lowbrow,” first used shortly after 1900 to mean someone or something neither “highly intellectual” or “aesthetically refined,” were derived from the phrenological terms “highbrowed” and “lowbrowed,” which were prominently featured in the nineteenth-century practice of determining racial types and intelligence by measuring cranial shapes and capacities. A familiar illustration of the period depicted the distinctions between the lowbrowed ape and the increasingly higher brows of the “Human Idiot,” the “Bushman,” the “Uncultivated,” the “Improved,” the “Civilized,” the “Enlightened,” and, finally, the “Caucasian,” with the highest brow of all.

– Lawrence W. Levine, Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America (1988)

The original Attackerman

Ugly, huh? You can find similar histories for several other commonly used terms (though “rule of thumb,” contrary to a popular myth, isn’t one of them). Will Sullivan and Tablet‘s writers ban the -brows? I doubt it, and really, why should they? If they found those adjectives useful before and had no intention of endorsing phrenology or “scientific racism,” then there’s no reason for us to presume evil motives now.

None of which is to say that some words aren’t overused or shouldn’t be used more carefully. But if “Israel-firster” is one of those terms, then “anti-Semite” is a thousand times more so. You have your work cut out for you, deputies.

F***ing Chronology, How Does It Work?

As often happens, one brilliant post at The American Spectator‘s blog (via Larison) led me to another. Behold:

When I arrived late at the town hall event in Meredith, he [Ron Paul] was prefacing an answer to a question about Israel by expressing admiration for Zionist principles of independence and self-reliance, going on to say, of course, that Israel shouldn’t get any US aid. (Paul, or someone on his staff, has clearly read this Jeffrey Goldberg post.)

Ah, so Paul cynically stole a talking point from Jeffrey Goldberg — who had, um, explained Paul’s position on Israel by quoting the congressman. It doesn’t get much sneakier than that.

Obama vs. Romney: There Goes One Lesser-of-Two-Evils Argument

Kevin Drum, the Leonidas of the left 49-yard line, predicts the ways in which a Romney presidency would differ from an Obama presidency. Drum assumes that Romney would have a Republican majority in the Senate, so this is not a best-case scenario for liberals. I scanned the list for anything related to foreign policy and civil liberties, and here’s all I found:

We might stay in Afghanistan significantly longer than we would otherwise — though I’m not sure about this. …

Romney has talked tough on China, but that’s just campaign bushwa. He’d quickly find out that his options are extremely limited on this score. On foreign policy more generally, Obama is actually fairly tenacious, despite Romney’s bluster to the contrary, and I doubt that Romney would be able to move much further to his right.

So, on two sprawling issues that could make a difference in a tight race, it’s practically a wash. No wonder liberals have aimed so much ire at another Republican.

Kevin Drum on Mike Gravel and Dennis Kucinich

Kevin Drum advises those who want a noninterventionist, pro–civil liberties candidate to ditch Ron Paul and look elsewhere. I grew curious about what Drum had to say about the two least interventionist, most pro–civil liberties Democrats who ran for president in 2008.

Here’s Drum on Mike Gravel:

About halfway through last night’s debate I suddenly noticed that Mike Gravel was missing. What happened?

Democratic Presidential candidate Mike Gravel was forced to withdraw from the Oct. 30 Drexel debate after being unable to meet the required criteria for polling and fundraising. The criteria to participate are set by NBC news and include sufficient and polling requirements, as well as an actively documented campaign.

“There was no record that Gravel made more than five separate appearances in New Hampshire [and] Iowa, where the first caucuses will be held,” NBC News Political Director Chuck Todd said. Gravel’s campaign committee claims that he has made more appearances, but that his schedules were not released.

Thank God. I know lots of people support Gravel’s appearance in the debates based on some inchoate belief that “he deserves to be heard,” but not me. He’s not seriously running and he never has been, and the point of the debates is to give the public a look at actual candidates, not to give equal time to any crank who has a burning desire to mouth off to a national audience. That’s what blogs are for.

Good riddance, Mike. The court jester routine got stale a long time ago.

Emphasis mine. There’s plenty more of that in Drum’s archives. Drum mostly just ignored Kucinich, as far as I can tell, though he did say four months before the Iowa caucuses that Kucinich, Gravel, and the slightly antiwar, marginally pro–civil liberties Chris Dodd should “put their egos back into cold storage and stop wasting our time.”

It’s almost as if Kevin Drum considers noninterventionism and civil libertarianism themselves cranky.