Friday, February 29, 2008

Some perspective on the upcoming Russian elections...

1788: George Washington Elected

His V.P.?

John Adams

1796: John Adams elected.

His V.P.?

Thomas Jefferson.

1800: Thomas Jefferson elected.

His Secretary of State?

James Madison.

1808: James Madison elected.

His Secretary of State (and, during the War of 1812, Secretary of War?)

James Monroe.

1816: James Monroe elected.

His Secretary of State?

John Quincy Adams

1820: James Monroe runs nearly unopposed.

1824: John Quincy Adams elected.

1828: Andrew Jackson finally breaks the cycle.

My point is this: A small group of guys ran this country from 1788-1828. 40 years. All of these men had been active in the Revolution and all but Jefferson (who was in France at the time) had been present at the Constitutional Convention. Now, technically we can't say that the U.S. was a single party state, because by 1800 there were at least two parties, the Federalist and the Democrats-Republicans but I think it is fair to say that power was concentrated between a few fairly like minded individuals. And they stayed in power at least partially by limiting enfranchisement It was only when the first truly post-Revolutionary generation came of age and when democratic (small D) reforms began sweeping state legislatures and enfranchising large numbers of white male voters that we started to get legitimately competitive elections from people that weren't present at creation.

40 years.

So consider this when you hear about Putin essentially hand picking his succesor.Will the elections on Sunday be free and fair?

Probably at least as free and fair as late 18th or early 19th century elections in the U.S.

Which is to say:


And that's okay. It doesn't mean that Putin is a new Ivan the terrible or that Russia is heading back towards a Soviet model. Mostly it means that Russia is still working through it's "Founding Brothers" phase with Putin and Medvedev playing the role of Jefferson/Madison to Gorby's Franklin and Yeltsin's Washington. Those ARE NOT good analogies in terms of behavior or ideology, I know, but those analogies allow one to conceptualize a rough time line. Gorby and Yeltsin were still "Soviet", because for most of their lives they had not been "Russian" just as the older Founding Fathers very much considered themselves to be British. Putin is sort of in the middle, spending part of his career as a "Soviet" and part as a "Russian." From the NYT:

Now, Mr. Medvedev, the presidential successor personally selected by Mr. Putin, is creating his own public identity according to a choreographed script. And here, in a mix of Soviet and Russian symbols, the man rising to Kremlin power avoided the stern themes that have often accompanied Mr. Putin’s appearances.

The upcoming transition of power will be part of a slow evolution away from Soviet and towards a Modern Russia. Evolution is a huge step in positive direction for a country that has often been more apt to change through revolution.

But he has made unanticipated moves. In a speech on Feb. 15, he said liberty was necessary for the state to have legitimacy among its citizens. And he has laid out domestic policy goals in what seems like a communiqué to Russia’s expanding consumer class.

His challenge, as I see it, it to bridge the gap between old school Sovs and the first post-Soviet generation (meaning they spent most of their adolescents as "Russian" rather than "Soviet") who should be about my age right about now.

But what about Putin trying to control Russia's media?

Well, it's wrong. But then again so were the Alien and Sedition Acts.

In short, the transition away from single party rule took decades in the world's oldest democracy, so I'd think it may take at least another decade or two in country that was ruled by a royal family until 1917.