Preaching Democracy and Practicing Oligarchy

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Vladimir Putin wasn’t the only one with tears in his eyes as he exulted in his presidential election victory and shouted “Glory to Russia!” The entire American punditocracy, to say nothing of the Brits, responded as one with accusations the election had been fixed, confidently predicting a “crackdown” on “dissent” as the Russian leader resumed the office he had never really left.

Yet there is very little to these claims of fraud. Of course, in every election ever held anywhere there have been “irregularities,” such as are commonplace in our very own Chicago. There is some evidence the Russian parliamentary elections were somewhat less than honest — the 99 percent pro-Putin vote in Chechnya, of all places, was particularly suspect — although no one has gone so far as to say Putin’s United Russia party actually lost.

The reality is that Putin is immensely popular in Russia, a fact the English-speaking media only admits with great reluctance. The “dissidents,” who are fawned over by Western journalists, are viewed by Russia’s vast-albeit-silent majority as a tiny faction of professional discontents with dubious motives. Putin has characterized them as professionals in the pay of Washington and London, a charge given credence by some hilarious video of a British diplomat and Russian “democracy activists” who wound up between a rock and a hard place.

Even before the OSCE report on the presidential poll was issued, the chief of the mission, one Tonio Picula, averred:

“The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia. There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”

Senor Picula may be unfamiliar with the details of American electoral history, but was the outcome of every US presidential election from 1936-44 ever in any doubt? “No real competition?” Has Picula looked at the Republican presidential field lately? “Abuse of government resources”? Oh please, spare us the sanctimony: what incumbent hasn’t utilized the power and prestige of incumbency to win reelection? Western politicians hand out goodies to their supporters, and then bus them to the polls on election day: why should we expect a Russian election to be any different? We’re told pro-Putin voters were bussed from polling station to polling station, engaging in “carousel voting,” and yet the Russian election seems relatively clean compared to how the process was conducted in the Iowa and Maine GOP primaries.

This charge of a lack of competition is ironic, given the system we have here in the United States, which effectively ensconces two state-supported and state-subsidized parties, giving them a monopoly on the political process at the state and federal levels. These two parties are, in legal terms, effectively extensions of the state, and they have managed to not only preserve but reinforce their privileged status. If only the OSCE and the “human rights” crowd turned their attention Westward, say to California, where an “top-two” system has effectively banned third parties from the ballot.

What this means is that in San Francisco, for example, where the Democratic party regularly racks up majorities totaling nearly 90 percent of the vote, all the candidates for, say, Congress, regardless of party, will run in the same “primary.” The top two vote-getters will run in the general election — again, regardless of party. In the Bay Area, where the GOP regularly polls around ten percent, it is highly unlikely a Republican candidate will make it to the ballot in the general: it will be Nancy versus some Democrat to her left.

That’s “democracy,” California-style. As for the rest of the country, the situation for “third” parties is nearly as bad, with increasingly restrictive ballot access laws making it impossible to present “dissident” views to the electorate. Yet we don’t hear Human Rights Watch and all the other international do-gooders in the regime-change camp howling about a “crackdown” in the US against “dissidents.” Why is that?

As I write, the results of “Super Tuesday” aren’t in, and yet one wonders how much it really matters. A veritable avalanche of special interest money decided the “election” in advance, and the “winner” will go on to challenge an incumbent who will have a billion in hard and “soft” money from the many who seek favors from the most powerful man on the planet.

Western critics complain the Russian media is a pro-Putin monolith, yet these are privately-owned television and print outlets controlled by corporate interests friendly to the regime. How is that different from our own system, where corporate interests line up behind the two state-sanctioned parties: with George Soros, Goldman Sachs, and GE supporting the Obama-ites, and the Koch brothers, for example, or Rupert Murdoch funding the opposition?

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Justin Raimondo [send him mail] is editorial director of Antiwar.com and is the author of An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard and Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement.

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