It seems that National Review Editor Rich Lowry never tires of carrying water for the sponsors of his magazine, whether it’s the high-tech giants who help pay his gargantuan salary, or his neoconservative donors, whom he also faithfully serves. Most recently he honored his patrons with a dutiful denunciation of Russian President Vladmir Putin entitled “Vladimir Putin Shouldn’t Be a Right-Wing Hero,” in which he offers this gem:
In recent years, there’s been a reversal in which Democrats who were consistently soft on Russia from the Cold War to Hillary Clinton’s attempted reset have become, at least rhetorically, much tougher-minded about Moscow, whereas elements of the American Right that once were the fiercest Cold Warriors have warmed up to Russia as Putin has grounded his autocracy in religion and social conservatism.
What Lowry fails to see, however, is that the changed attitude among those who were once the “fiercest Cold Warriors” battling Communist Russia is entirely understandable. Most of those on the right who opposed Soviet Communism felt sympathy for the Russian people and traditional Russian culture. In contrast to the zealots on the left who in their fevered imaginations are still fighting Nazi Germany, onetime anti-Communists opposed not a nation but a pernicious ideology. Thus, many anti-Communists of yesteryear quickly changed their attitude toward Russia once its post-Soviet leader turned out to be a man of the right.
Lowry goes through the usual litany of charges against Putin, some of which may be true even if they seem lifted from The New York Times or from the war party at Fox News. For all the charges leveled against the Russian strongman, however, there seems to be considerable evidence that Putin saved his country from dismemberment after Boris Yeltsin’s disastrous rule in the 1990s.
But let us say arguendo that Putin is a ruthless Russian nationalist, who is trying to reconstruct most of the former Soviet Empire and who hopes to take over Eastern Ukraine, which has a sizable Russian minority. Geopolitical differences would clearly divide Putin and what Washington perceives as American interests. The question then becomes how far the U.S. should push back. From Lowry’s tone, it seems that we should be doing something really big to put “one of the world’s most cynical and dangerous men” in his place. Can we ever be excessive in dealing with such a putative monster, whom Lowry evokes in terms that would be more appropriate for describing Hitler or Stalin?
But Lowry’s exercise in superlatives is not necessarily intended to get us to declare war on Russia. It’s meant to underline his contempt for “the sources of Putin’s appeal” in this country, namely “populists from Pat Buchanan to Tucker Carlson.” Although this conglomeration of deplorables is allegedly quite large, Lowry reveals only two of its most visible members. Unlike his erstwhile bud at National Review, David Frum, who in 2003 called out the paleoconservatives by name as “unpatriotic conservatives,” Lowry has no desire to mention the unmentionables (namely readers of Chronicles and other likeminded publications and people); and so, he lists for our benefit only two baddies: Tucker and Buchanan. But he does believe there is a huge crowd out there who envy Putin’s “pushback against fashionable progressive causes and his alliance with the Russian church to form a bulwark in favor of traditional values and Western civilization.”
Lowry clearly does not believe this American populist attitude has any justification. I beg to differ. Although Putin is not a flawless hero, the right’s affinity for him is entirely understandable. Unlike National Review and Fox News, Putin unflinchingly pushes back against the LGBT lobby, and he never burns incense at the altar of “diversity.” I could never imagine this nationalist leader calling for the removal of the statues of a longtime national hero—as Lowry notoriously did in the case of Robert E. Lee—nor could I imagine Putin imitating the gestures of our entire political class by weeping over his country’s “racist” past. To some of us on what Lowry styles the “populist” right, Putin’s statements about social morality and much else contrast favorably to what we hear from our authorized conservative movement and (needless to say) the establishment left.
Ironically Lowry goes after Putin for most of the evils that are now besetting the American government, for example, an indescribably corrupt executive branch, surveillance agencies snooping on the democratic opposition, and opponents of the regime being held in solitary confinement without the prospect of release (because of their nonviolent and in some cases even doubtful participation in the Jan. 6 capitol protest). In a breathless display of hypocrisy, Lowry blames Putin for what would surely apply to our country, now fallen into the hands of the totalitarian left. We, too, behold a nation being ripped away from the “people, who deserve to govern themselves” and who should not have to “see the national wealth plundered by the ruling elite.” Americans have an even greater right to scream bloody murder about what’s going on in this country than Lowry does to tear into a foreign government, 5,000 miles from American shores.
Paul Gottfried is editor in chief of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He is also the Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years, a Guggenheim recipient, and a Yale Ph.D. He is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents.
Enable GingerCannot connect to Ginger Check your internet connection
or reload the browserDisable in this text fieldRephraseRephrase current sentenceEdit in Ginger