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Who's got a crush on Putin? The American right wing [Commentary]

It is rather curious, given the American conservative movement's long and dramatic history of anti-Communism and anti-Russian saber rattling, that many leading voices on the right are speaking about Russian President Vladimir Putin with varying degrees of admiration.

For some, it is just a matter of comparing Mr. Putin's toughness to President Barack Obama's alleged weakness. Without suggesting any love for Mr. Putin, Republicans in Congress have asserted that Russia's incursion into Ukraine would not have happened had Mr. Obama not been such a wimp in his dealings with Moscow.

This line has been pushed especially hard by the foreign policy Tweedledee and Tweedledum of the Senate GOP caucus, John McCain and Lindsey Graham. Florida Sen. Marco Rubio echoed that sentiment at the CPAC conference inWashington, D.C., on Thursday.

"We cannot ignore that the flawed foreign policy of the last few years has brought us to this stage, because we have a president who believed but by the sheer force of his personality he would be able to shape global events," Mr. Rubio said.

The GOP chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Mike Rogers, said Mr. Putin is playing chess while Obama is playing marbles.

Other conservatives have taken this critique a step or two further. On Fox News, ex-New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani declared that Mr. Putin has shown what leadership is by acting boldly and rapidly to assert his nation's interests in Crimea. Also on Fox, right-wing celebrity Sarah Palin suggested the Russian president is far manlier than the U.S. president.

"Obama, the perception of him and his 'potency' across the world is one of such weakness," Mr. Palin said. "Lookit: 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 and equivocates and bloviates."

In recent days, Rush Limbaugh has surprised himself (so he says) by finding admirable qualities in Mr. Putin that Mr. Obama lacks. He joins the ranks of numerous social conservatives, such as Pat Buchanan, who were already Mr. Putin fans due to his support for the Russian Orthodox Church and his opposition to gay rights.

In December, Mr. Buchanan wrote a column lauding Mr. Putin for his opposition to same-sex marriage. "While his stance as a defender of traditional values has drawn the mockery of Western media and cultural elites, Putin is not wrong in saying that he can speak for much of mankind," Buchanan wrote. "...He is seeking to redefine the 'Us vs. Them' world conflict of the future as one in which conservatives, traditionalists and nationalists of all continents and countries stand up against the cultural and ideological imperialism of what he sees as a decadent West."

All of this suggests two things. One is that conservatives despise Barack Obama as much as they ever detested any Soviet leader and so they give more slack to Russia's president than they do to their own. The other is that today's conservatives like their leaders to be testosterone-driven tough guys who dispense with niceties and nuance.

Oh, how happy they would be if they could find their own Vladimir Putin to run for president in 2016.

Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner David Horsey is a political commentator for the Los Angeles Times. Go to see more of his work.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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