Their Bloody Vladentine
Now that Tubby's gone, Putin is the dictator of rightwing hearts
You may be surprised to see, during this Ukraine crisis, American conservatives siding with Russia. I’m not talking in general about people who don’t think we should go to war against Russia on Ukraine’s behalf — I certainly don’t think we should. But when a conservative like, say, Tucker Carlson says he’s against going to war in this case, you’ll notice he takes care to let you know it’s not because he’s anti-war — which would be sissy — but rather because whenever someone opposes Putin, the conservative will always find Putin the moral superior.
In November 2019, for example, Carlson was saying the U.S. “should probably take the side of Russia if we have to choose between Russia and Ukraine,” and his best explanation for that was that “Putin, for all his faults, does not hate America as much as many of these people do.” By “these people” he meant liberals and reporters, who had made a stink about the well-documented ties between Trump and Russia, loyalty to Trump being, then as now, Carlson’s measure of true patriotism.
Carlson is still working that angle — “Why would we take Ukraine’s side and not Russia’s side?” he said November 10, 2021. And he’s not the only one. At the moment there are a number of conservatives on Twitter who, no lie, think Putin is morally superior to Justin Trudeau, the Canadian PM who, with no loss of life, cleared a blockade from the streets of his capital. (Putin, I remind you, is threatening to invade a sovereign nation and former Soviet satellite.)
Defense of Trump is a large part of it: These guys are deeply invested in claiming any documentary evidence of Trump’s Russian ties is a hoax, and perhaps also in punishing Ukraine for not helping Trump get dirt on Joe Biden. But I’ve been following conservatives for a long time and something I’ve noticed about them is, they have a soft spot (and sometimes a hard-on) for Vladimir Putin.
Think back to 2014, when Obama was president and Putin threatened Ukraine and seized Crimea. At that time, conservatives mocked Obama for what they took as his weakness in the face of the crisis. Now, you have to expect that from conservatives, who traditionally portray liberals as soft on defense. But the weird part this time was, as they attacked Obama, they also praised Putin, comparing him favorably to the American president.
“People are looking at Putin as one who wrestles bears and drills for oil. They look at our president as one who wears mom jeans,” said onetime Republican Vice-Presidential contender Sarah Palin. Fox News’ Ralph Peters sneered that “Vladimir Putin believes in Russia. He believes in Russia’s destiny, its mission," while Obama “does not believe in this country.” The Daily Caller literally ran a “Who would win in a fistfight: Putin or Obama?” poll.
“Bare-chested Putin gallops his horses, poses with his tigers, and shoots his guns,” swooned Victor Davis Hanson at National Review, while on the other hand “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.”
If you remember the days when foreign dictators were objects of America’s contempt rather than their applause, even if one didn’t like who was president at the time, that was a new one.
But it wasn’t just Putin’s rippling pecs and tough-guy poses that set their hearts aflutter. Don Feder, writing at American Thinker, anticipated a line of thought that has since been widely adopted by conservatives — that because America has gone soft with gays and socialism, Putin is now the true champion of Western values:
When Reagan was president, the expression pro-Western meant something. It meant pro-representative government, pro-human rights and pro-Western (Judeo-Christian) values.
Today, it means a willingness to accept same-sex “marriage,” abortion on demand, an anti-religion ethos – the agenda of the EU’s cultural commissars -- and the economic dictates of the Brussels bureaucracy.
Putin doesn’t want to see the EU — and, possibly, NATO — on his doorstep. Do you blame him?
In the Trump era, most of the brethren kept quiet about Putin and mainly devoted their Russia writings to claims that Trump was no puppet, no puppet, you’re the puppet (e.g. “Here’s How Clinton Campaign Cash Could Have Ended Up In The Hands Of Russian Operatives” — Daily Caller). When your hero is constantly ragging on NATO as a waste of money, you have to cool it on the Putinphilia.
But Big Vlad still had out-and-proud loyalists like Carlson, journeyman wingnut Selwyn Duke (“When hearing sentiments such as Putin’s, liberals would normally shout, ‘Racist!’ ‘Bigot!’ ‘Homophobe!’ ‘Hater!’”), and the religious maniac Rod Dreher. In a 2016 post called, I shit you not, “Putin, Our Tsar-Protector?” Dreher said he understood why “social and religious conservatives in the West would look favorably in some respects on Vladimir Putin… Finally, religious people may say, somebody stands up without apology to these people who are trying to crush us… what kind of masochists would disdain Putin because the people who hate them also hate him,” etc. And Dreher swooned when Putin threw blasphemers like Pussy Riot and a kid who played Pokemon Go in church in prison.
Since then Viktor Orban appears to have replaced Putin as the authoritarian strongman of Dreher’s dreams, but in recent weeks he has been a loyal defender of Big Vlad versus Ukraine and the godless Westerners who oppose him (all the while claiming he’s “praying” for peace). Even last night, as Putin was calling up the troops, Dreher pulled another yeah-Putin’s-a-warmonger-but-look-at-the-gays-in-the-West routine — oh, and this:
In the long run, after a Russian victory, I foresee a new front on the left-wing McCarthyism that progressives have been undertaking these past few years via wokeness. In his new piece, Glenn Greenwald talks about Trudeau’s repression in Canada, and about how liberals refuse to see themselves for what they are: despots…
In rightwing world liberals are The Real Despots and Putin is just a butch manly-man doing what he’s gotta do. As the question of American military intervention fades (and you know it will), a lot of them will suddenly reverse course, adopt the GI Joe pose, and denounce Biden for being so weak as to allow it. And once again their contempt for the Democratic president will contrast with their goo-goo eyes for the Russian dictator.