Washington Post deputy editorial page editor Jackson Diehl wonders in an op-ed today why Barack Obama isn’t rallying more enthusiastically behind Mikhail Khodorkovsky, otherwise known as Russia’s “latest moral champion.” Is it “because he is an entrepreneur and not a poet” and everyone knows how Obama loathes commerce? Or is it, he wonders, simply because Obama is scared of Vladimir Putin and his big scary black lab?
Whatever the case, official US policy toward Khodorkovsky does not seem to have changed much in the five years since Diehl’s boss Fred Hiatt wondered why George W. Bush wasn’t speaking out in defense of the jailed “tycoon.”
Another thing that has not changed since then is that neither column invokes the term “oligarch”—the most widely invoked descriptor for Khodorkovsky, even by his most slobbering of new fanboys Joe Nocera—to describe the former occupation of their courageous hero. Is this some sort of style rule at the Post? Did Hiatt and Diehl fail to receive the message of last weekend’s Times magazine cover story that oligarchs are totally okay right now?
The “O” word is hardly the only rather bizarre omission from Diehl’s op-ed: there’s also the part where he accuses Obama of having “spoken publicly about Khodorkovsky just once” despite a Senate resolution declaring him to be a political prisoner, while failing to point out that Obama himself was one of the initial three sponsors of the first Senate resolution bemoaning Khodorkovsky’s fate way back in 2005. Diehl compares Obama’s reticence on the case unfavorably to the unabashed Soviet dissident adoration of Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter, without once mentioning George W. Bush’s actual, literal silence on Khodorkovsky, despite the oligarch’s tireless campaign to ingratiate himself with his administration—MK met with Dick Cheney, Condi Rice and Bush Sr. and put Henry Kissinger on the board of his foundation, among other things—in the months before his imprisonment.
Back in 2007 Ken Silverstein explored Diehl’s contradictory and lazyminded record of Iraq warmongering a Harper’s post quoting a Post staffer as having dubbed him a “young David Broder” who was “relentless in his pursuit of the conventional wisdom.” So perhaps as his elder pundit’s “wisdom” has gone from conventionally calamitous to stunningly, derangedly so, Diehl has felt pressured to pick up the slack. Exporting the ideology of mindless wealth worship perfected by his more domestically-directed colleague Chuck Lane to new markets was an obvious route.
But guys like Khodorkovsky were not dubbed “oligarchs” because of their “entrepreneurship”; they earned that designation because they reaped the preponderance of their billions in a three-year window of in ways that were flagrantly and epically criminal but since all the billionaires were doing it (and billionaires tend to make their own laws anyway) most of them got off with a sort of uneasy amnesty. Khodorkovsky was an exception for a variety of reasons, this is a pretty good summary, but at the end of the day Putin seems to draw his authority directly from his ability to make them pay taxes and, as last week’s wide-eyed Times magazine piece on New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov observed, keep them on their toes:
The oligarchs of Russia aren’t exactly paper tigers, but those who aren’t in jail or exile understand the precariousness of their position, the importance of keeping the favor of the Kremlin. Last February, Prokhorov was publicly criticized by Putin for neglecting to fulfill promised investments in an electricity-generating project in southern Russia. Prokhorov initially had the temerity to say the prime minister was misinformed, but then, on further review, conceded that yes, the prime minister, whom he first met in 1994 at a bank opening in St. Petersburg, where Putin was the deputy mayor, was correct. When Prokhorov was angling for the Nets, he got the Russian president, Dmitry Medvedev to mention his plans to President Barack Obama, as if U.S. politicians perforce had some say in how billionaires deployed their capital.
LOL folks, imagine that: a leader with some modicum of authority over the way billionaires spend their money…when for going on thirteen years now no elected official in America has managed to figure out a way to control the way they spend ours?!
But what if Obama did something about that last part, against all the sloppy conventional wisdom its serially-discredited promulgators keep chucking into the Post op-ed section? It’s hard to think it would make it any harder to advance the cause of democracy before the likes of foes from Vladimir Putin to John Boehner all the way to all the tireless David Broder disciples across town at the Washington Post.