This is the Final installment in this three part series, to read the first two pieces click the following links:
For those who have been following this series, there is little doubt that Putin’s policies closely resemble Huey Long’s policies in seizing both the means to power and the reins of power. The American and Russians differ in their approach to the third element a political machine needs to address – media. Both Long and Putin became leaders during the emergence of a new means of communication. For Long it was radio, a way to deliver an unfiltered message directly to his constituents in their living rooms. Long, ever the opportunist, used radio with great enthusiasm allowing him to circumvent his opponents control of the state newspapers. Eventually he gained enough power to establish his own and levy a tax against those that opposed him.
Putin’s new media is the Internet and social networking. Putin has been slow to embrace this form of media relying on the more traditional television, and print, of which the government retains a near monopoly. The reason for Putin’s sluggishness to embrace new media has to do mostly with the nature of the media itself. Radio requires government consent to operate, and its content is easy to control but the Internet is a different fish entirely. The Internet provides a means for ordinary citizens to communicate and share information. Revealing things that governments would rather keep secret. The YouTube clip of a Russian election official filling out dozens of ballots is one example of how the Internet has been detrimental to Putin’s regime. Ultimately though, this uncontrolled media is only a minor deterrent to Putin’s regime or any regime. Being an uncontrolled, user driven, media the authenticity of the internet’s content is always in doubt and anti-Putin rhetoric vented online can always be countered with state sponsored rebuttals on ‘trustworthy’ mainstream media.
To concluded Vladimir Putin and Huey Long have little in common in personality or background, but both are great Machiavellian politicians who each gained great power. Both used similar methods to retain power, while remaining within the letter of the law. Putin became Prime minister in 2008 and Long stepped down as Governor in 1932 to become a US Senator. Of course neither really gave up control or even bothered to pretend that they had. In the end however, Vladimir Putin’s opportunities and means to seize the reins and means of power were far greater than Longs and he used these opportunities admirably. Putin inherited a country with a massive corrupt bureaucracy and a secret police whose ins and outs he was privy to. Furthermore, Russia as a new-minted democracy lacked the tradition to democratic principle Long had to constantly contend with. While Long established a centralized political machine that rapidly collapsed after his death, Putin has built a hybrid system with himself at the top. The factions that make contemporary Russian civil society, United Russia, the Opposition, the media, the bureaucracy, the police, state run industries and the armed forces, all have a significant percentage of leaders who owe their position to Putin. So while they may bicker among themselves there is no doubt who runs the country and no one has the strength or inclination to oppose him. Only the Russian people through social media and street actions have dared stand up to Putin. How the system Putin has built will endure is hard to say, if he is able to make corruption less virulent, or at least impact everyday citizens less than the power structure Putin has built will outlast him. If he remains focused solely controlling contemporary civil society and less focused on the people’s welfare who can say? What ever the case, Huey Long, an American, and Vladimir Putin, a Russian, have one thing uniquely in common though they are products of different cultures and times. Each is an uncrowned king.
4N Policy Now is a non- partisan, non-biased organization. All of the views expressed in the content published on this site are the sole opinions of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of 4N Policy Now.