As some of you may know, I’ve been looking, along with some of my colleagues, for a touchstone issue that could get all the groovy people and non-profits working for social change to just agree on one thing, for once. And even tho the media is already writing Obama’s budget off as pie in the sky, why not rally around it with a straight face? It is the official Federal Budget for 2015. It is out there representing a ton of work and a giant leap forward. Why not let the budget be that touchstone we’ve been looking for? I think all the orgs and people who are on the side of the angels should come together for a change and just say: Good budget, let’s pass it. As is. So if you are in one of those orgs, please pitch this. Next generation post-occupy. Rallies. Positive not negative. People united. Clear story to sell. #passthebudget #asis #period.
Putin is ascending, insofar as he is expanding his and Russia’s power and sphere of influence. It continues to be unlikely that sanctions will drive him to the bargaining table. His popularity will grow, and the stakes will seem too high to directly oppose him. Thus, he will be successful with his strategy of territorial expansion in the name of refighting WWII. The West’s only response will be to whine and impose limited monetary and trade sanctions. What Putin offers back is a clear goal of Greater Russia that makes historical sense to his constituency. His behavior reveals a nuanced and polemical understanding of the trajectory of these historical forces and a willingness to play his hand out on the world stage.
The question is whether it is up to the US to rise up and accept the challenge. Let’s consider what a stronger US response might look like, the ideology on which it could be based, and the messaging that would result. One can imagine an American President saying: “If we have to re legislate this, let’s get on with it, and, if necessary, let’s win again.” Putin has been clothing his initiative in Cold War rhetoric, and it may be that the goal is to take up the gauntlet of this redeemed failed glory that Putin has thrown down, and hit them over the head with exactly that. The advantages of reframing the debate in precisely those historical terms the Neo Soviets so selectively romanticize is that at the end of the day, they stand more to lose from such a resurrection than we do. So perhaps we should not shy away from reminding, in whatever ways are necessary, those remaining vestiges of Soviet grandeur that that system died for a reason, and their attempt to resurrect a post-collapse Soviet state, a capitalist collectivism (elitism), will fail. With the ubiquity of mobile devices and the transparency of social media, augmented with satellite imagery, it is easy to discredit Putin’s untruths, and perhaps we should. We should consider making a full court press of presenting our findings about what’s really going on on the ground in a media blitz with a rhetoric we have been far too timid to use, but that we avoid at our peril.
Putin is lying to his own people about where the troops are being sent, and in fact they’re being sent 30 miles inside Ukraine. He’s lying about casualties, going so far as to actually move graves so people can’t see them. He’s lying about his involvement and his goals. He’s lying about the existing situation, and meanwhile he’s driving the situation. And the scariest aspect is the subtext: we really were great and we took a fall we shouldn’t have, and so now we’re getting even while Europe sleeps, scapegoating a lot of people along the way, all to reclaim some of those power dynamics. Somehow, the other side has to say: not so fast. I’m suggesting we do it by painting them with their own brush. We would create a new context, and a powerful one at that, by taking up what is essentially their core marketing slogan, some kind of USSR pseudo-renaissance, against them. Imagine if the message from the West was: nobody liked this non-democracy fascist deal to begin with, your corrupt statist oligarchy has already failed, and we’re not going to let Ukraine get swallowed up. We’re going to correct on a daily basis and publish to the world what we know to actually be true about this war. We’re going to shine a light.
Babe the Blue Ox stopped by this week to watch a televised stream of Putin holding a press conference about why he’s invading Ukraine. We both just loved watching it. It’s just so much more sophisticated and interesting than anything you get here. And, I must say, it’s a good piece of rhetoric. See if for yourself here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ayu3Ecdbl0Q or read the transcripts courtesy of the Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-putin-says-russia-will-protect-the-rights-of-russians-abroad/2014/03/18/432a1e60-ae99-11e3-a49e-76adc9210f19_story.html.
Think of Obama talking. No, really. Close your eyes for a moment and picture it. Can you imagine him actually getting into it like Putin does? Obama’s mired in DC hipster-American-pop-crypto speak. He speaks the language of JayZ and Beyonce, selfies and the NBA. Compare that to a leader who respects his audience enough to delve into history, use sophisticated logic, speak in metaphor, and in general, be intelligent. Intelligence in discourse gets my vote.
Putin goes through the argument and he is not afraid to finally
share his and his country’s feelings of victimization. I don’t think it has been articulated before. He’s admitting, on a world stage, that the Crimea annexation comes from victimhood. This is amazing. It’s an opportunity, except we can’t hear it. This is the same as the America’s inability to hear the drug addict pleading for help. We say he’s bad and throw that druggee in jail! Same thing. Imagine if Obama actually responded to the speech. What would it look like if the POTUS said, “I listened with great interest to the leader of Russia’s explanation, and I must say I was quite moved by his feelings of victimization. I would like to reach out to him and say: we have far more to discuss than I realized”. Think of that kind of an approach.
I honestly don’t think the USA is morally superior to Russia, and
even if I did, I don’t think it’s healthy to think that way. We have aspects which are indeed more advance, but we have sufficiently offset those aspects with some of our downfalls. To that end, let’s call it a wash. I happen to hold the politically incorrect view that the Russian people may be slightly less pleasant than most people, but that’s based only on the neighborhood. But I digress. I’m not saying Putin’s likable, no, instead I’m saying that an intellectual rundown on the history and logic of the country’s actions blows away anything our country has done since Richard Nixon.
So there you have my review of Putin’s Masterwork, Act I. He makes a lot of good points. Sure, it’s overblown rhetoric, but it’s smart! He gets a thumbs up from this reporter. I wish I was a White House reporter. I would ask Obama: “I noted Putin’s speech to the Duma, and it’s a very complex, nuanced, detailed explication of Russia’s actions. He stretches the truth, bends it, even breaks it in a few places, but overall the talk holds together, and he’s not afraid to address every possible objection. I also notice the way you talk about it, Mr. President, and I wonder, are you being dumb on purpose? Is this what your advisers tell you will play to the american people? Is this really as far along as your thinking extends on the subject? Mr. President, is your kind of sound-byte NBA coach speak? Is this emblematic or causative of our national decline?
70 years ago I rolled up my sleeves alongside the Russians and together we turned the Nazis from the most terrifying killing machine the world had ever known into Colonel Klink and Sergeant Schultz. The Soviets sacrificed more lives in that conflict than anyone. Wikipedia puts “total Soviet population losses due the war (sic) at 26.6 million.” The US has got nothing close to that in our collective memory. So while we were curling up with our situation comedies and blithely forgetting how we ended that conflict, the Ruskies were firmly caught in the crazy-making historical remnants of that nightmare.
We thought WWII, which ended in fire, with a bang, would be the end. But it wasn’t. We endured a Cold War where the USSR became our new mortal enemy, and through a long twilight struggle, so the story goes, we endured and finally won a second time, this time beating the Soviet Union, this time in ice, with a whimper.
Why did we win? Perhaps it was largely due to the initial disadvantages they were operating under from the earlier trauma they endured as a country and we didn’t. We chose to believe it was due to the moral superiority of our way of life and culture. Vladimir Putin did not see it that way. And what we are now seeing is that, like the end of WWII, neither did the game end when we seemingly won the Cold War 44 years after we beat the Nazis.
There was supposed to be a New World Order, ideally different from the Nazi’s, and the Soviet’s, but as it turns out, and now we are being forced to witness, somewhat powerlessly, also very different from the American’s vision as well.
Indeed, now we are being shown how a more stable and sustainable Russia is going to balance the power. Originally, Khrushchev spun off Crimea to Ukraine, and was happy to do it. Shifting Crimea back to Ukraine was at the time a small accounting change on the USSR balance sheet. Ukraine was still one of the Soviet Republics, and anyway the Tatars, or many of them, didn’t side with Stalin in WWII, which is why he deported millions of them to the middle of nowhere in Russia. Today, given that Crimea is sufficiently within the Russian sphere of influence, it would seem that Putin was just blustering, and was aware he could get what he wanted simply leaving things as status quo. But it turns out this is not the case, and as of today we fully realize: he’s moving to annex Crimea. Indeed, he’s already annexed it. Even as he smiles and acts as if a referendum is forthcoming.
What is Uncle Sam to do? In light of the recent turn of events, I am struck by the amazing brilliance of what I call the Soviet soft touch, as much as by how living inside of history, as Putin clearly is, gives him power that we, cut loose from it, lack. Putin says no plans to annex, take it easy, relax, we’re responding to a crisis. He calms, as the killer knows he must, expertly, benefiting from years of KGB experience, to ensure the clear shot or clean slice. The subject must be relaxed lest there be any unnecessary, how shall we say, unpleasantness. There is a sophistication to the deviousness that even with all the advances from Kissinger to Cheney we have lately struggled to achieve, we cannot match. Those who say Putin will leave things status quo, based on any political or economic calculus, would be right, but for the rub of the long tail. And so they come for the Tatars.
~Comrade Uncle Sam
What would you do if you were Obama right now? How serious is the crisis of confidence? Certainly the most serious so far, probably by a lot.
I always thought of Obama as kind of a jock in nerd’s clothing, doesn’t really get into the details. And while I liked the idea of leveling and raising the playing field a little bit for health care, what’s emerging is that he didn’t really think it through.
I’ve been trying to use the Website the last few days, and it does freeze up a lot. Sadly, the whole country was in such a tizzy about the ACA that all it really took was the system failing like this to tip things the other way.
So what can he do? Defend his steady hand and calm demeanor, and regarding this debacle, be humble and beg for forgiveness. What if he said: “I think my strengths have been genuine competence, where at this unsteady time, that actually counts for a lot. I deliver. I execute. I am a good manager. I need a little support from the American people right now, so I’ll ask you, do you think I’m working for your best interests? I’d like to hear from you.”
And then from here on out he has a virtual town hall thing going. He manages a Web site directly in touch with the American people. He agrees to spend 25% of his remaining term on issues that emerge from this process that are not adequately receiving attention in other realms.
OK, that’s not gonna happen. He seemed like a populist, but he doesn’t govern like one. I just wish Obama could connect with the American people as President, and not just as a candidate.