The Conservative Man-Crush on Putin

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Feb. 11 2014 2:44 PM

The Conservative Man-Crush on Putin

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Putin, on a man-date.

Photo by Mikhail Klimentiev/AFP/Getty Images

A few months ago, the wonderful Marin Cogan noticed a subculture of Americans, most of them right-leaning, who admired the manliness of Vladimir Putin. They meme'd photos of the Russian president shirtless or hunting or hunting while shirtless. Often, they tried to imagine America's own "metrosexual black Abe Lincoln" doing the same, and collapsed with laughter.

Earlier this year, when Putin supposedly caught—and kissed—a 46-pound pike fish, posters on Free Republic, a major grassroots message board for the Right, were overwhelmingly pro-Putin:
"I wonder what photoup [sic] of his vacation will the Usurper show us? Maybe clipping his fingernails I suppose or maybe hanging some curtains. Yep manly. I can't believe I'm siding with Putin," one wrote. "I have President envy," another said. "Better than our metrosexual president," said a third. One riffed that a Putin-Sarah Palin ticket would lead to a more moral United States.
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Now, most of the Putinphilia on the Internet is nonideological—it's only as deep as "hey, this grumpy-looking Russian guy poses shirtless a lot." (Some Putin observers attribute this to overcompensation. The president is 5-foot-7, shorter than many of his world leader peers.) Conservative appreciation for Putin has, generally, tended to move away from the visuals and toward Putin's social conservatism.

In the Financial Times, Christopher Caldwell contrasted Putin quite favorably with leftists who "have lately shifted power from legislatures to executives and from voters to bureaucracies," and sided with Islamists on issues of censorship. In his syndicated column, Pat Buchanan wrote with admiration that "Putin says his mother had him secretly baptized as a baby and professes to be a Christian," and noted that most of the world—175 of 190 nations—sided with Putin over the "un-elected judges" who approved of gay marriage.

In his National Review column, Victor Davis Hanson has finally blended the two genres. Putin's problem with America, writes Hanson, is that our leadership is so weak and vacillating. In Iraq, for example, "he despised us for not quickly dealing with the insurgency and then for pulling out abruptly once we did." According to Hanson, the manliness plays out in other ways that should make us feel ashamed.

Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns — what Obama dismisses as “tough-guy schtick.” Perhaps. But Putin is almost saying, “You have ten times the wealth and military power that I have, but I can neutralize you by my demonic personality alone.” Barack Obama, in his increasingly metrosexual golf get-ups and his prissy poses on the nation’s tony golf courses, wants to stay cool while playing a leisure sport. It reminds us of Stafford Cripps being played by Stalin during World War II. “Make no mistake about it” and “Let me be perfectly clear” lose every time. Obama’s subordinates violate the law by going after the communications of a Fox reporter’s parents; Putin himself threatens to cut off the testicles of a rude journalist.

That last line might include a Freudian slip. Putin never "threatened to cut off the testicles" of a "rude journalist." Twelve years ago a journalist for Le Monde asked Putin (then in his first term) about the use of heavy weapons in operations in Chechnya. "If you want to become a complete Islamic radical and are ready to undergo circumcision," said Putin, "then I invite you to Moscow. We are a multidenominational country. We have specialists in this question as well. I will recommend that he carry out the operation in such a way that after it nothing else will grow." That's been interpreted as a mention of "castration," for some reason—but the journalist was hardly "rude" in the question that set it up.

 

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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