With the news about Vladimir Putin running for president (ending, as the international press called it, "months of uncertainty" -- poppycock! I was always certain!) Russia now officially joins the US in gearing up for a presidential election in 2012. The difference between the two political processes brings out the contrast between my native country and my sometimes-if-they-give-me-a-180-day-visa adopted country. And while I love getting caught up in the hoop-la and intricate minute-by-minute politico.com approach of the American model, the minimalist/clutter-buster in me finds much to admire in the streamlined approach of the 35-minute Russian electoral cycle, where they waste no time on extraneous stuff like:
1. Candidate-branded bumper stickers, lawn signs, baseball hats etc. Branded items are for winners only, and since the electoral cycle is so very short, and, of course, no one in Russia actually has a lawn (that the public can see anyway), what’s the point?
2. Philadelphia Cheese Steaks: Ever since Boris Yeltsin’s ill-advised boozy boogie on the tarmac became the primary perestroika image, Russia’s leaders have avoided anything overtly physically sloppy or messy. Food consumed on national television is limited to the traditional bread dipped in salt, which is much easier on the tie and shirt collection.
3. A hit television series, lasting the through two presidential terms, which details the inner workings of a fictitious Presidential Administration, in which the actor playing the fictitious president enjoys an actual political approval rating significantly higher than that of the real sitting president. Puh-leeze. There is enough confusion over who is really running the country, without putting Martin Sheen into the mix.
4. C-SPAN: “God is too high, and the Tsar too far away,” runs an old peasant saying, and that’s the way the current Kremlin crowd intends to keep it. No need for raw uncut sausage factory detail, the sitting Russian government is hard at work, a message that is reinforced each night on the news. The scene: ornate inner Kremlin office. Minister X perches uncomfortably across from glossy reproduction Baroque desk from either the Prime Minister or the President (because, as we know, they are interchangeable,) torso bent over arms stacked one on top of each other, hands touching opposite elbows, listing slightly from side to side in the classic “Russian bureaucrat slump.” He mumbles his set piece, which includes at least one set of statistics, peeking out from under his bushy eyebrows nervously at the boss, who learns back in the contemplative, but slightly condescending manner of a headmaster who has had to call this particularly errant 7th grader in just once too often, finally nodding and saying “Yes, that’s right.” Flashbulbs pop. “Dancing on Ice” follows after the break.
5. Jon Stewart and Tina Fey.
7. The long-drawn out Primary process. Are we on ludes, or is the football season just too short?
8. The wife of a national candidate showing off her bare upper arms. Russian political wives and children keep subterranean profiles, in a tradition going back to the Tsarevich Alexei and hemophilia thing. Russia’s first ladies only ever really come out in public during State Visits to meet The Queen (and can you blame them?) However, whoever is advising them on what they should wear to that particular social event needs to be shot. J. Crew catalog – over here, please!
9. The clergy having an opinion. And expressing it. Uphill work for Russia, since the clergy only speak Old Church Slavonic, a 13th Century dialect which no one but them understands. Picture Jeremiah Wright and Billy Graham communicating in Demotic Greek. (So likely.)
10. Sexual scandals. Russians are genuinely baffled by the Anglo-American prevalence to sexual scandals like the Monica Lewinsky “episode” toppling the political careers of powerful men. What is wrong with us? HRH (my “handsome Russian husband”) could not make head or tail of the Senator Larry Craig foot tapping scandal, no matter how many times Velvet and I explained it to him. The data went in, but his brain refused to fuse it together. He couldn’t link “gay” with “senator;” or “senator” and “at” with “public airport bathroom.” “Public airport bathroom” and “gay overtures” didn’t make sense as a pair, and he kept going back to “senator” and “public airport” as a dubious match, and was finally defeated by “gay senator” and “reinstatement.” Total data scramble. Tech support please.
A much edited version of this piece appeared this month in Russia Beyond The Headlines.
Hey there readers! Can you think of any other differences between Russian and American political campaigns? What's political campaigning like where you live?