Just about everyone agrees that Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov would have to have hired a disaster choreographer in order to make himself appear a worse example of responsible civic leadership, during the suffering of Musovites as a result of wildfires around Moscow recently. If he opened his dresser drawer tomorrow morning and found nothing there to wear except T-Shirts bearing the slogan, “I’m a Useless Insensitive Douchebag Who Should be Tarred and Feathered and Exiled to Detroit” (voted worst city in the world to live in by Lonely Planet) , he would have only himself to blame.
La Russophobe is a little late out of the gate on this one – Julia Ioffe already tore the pants right off of Mayor Luzhkov, better than a week ago. For those not familiar with the excellent series the Moscow Diaries, Mayor Luzhkov first asked (through intermediaries) what all the fuss was about. Was this, like, an emergency, seriously? Then he claimed (again, through intermediaries) to have been receiving treatment for a sports injury. Before the laughs could even subside on that one (except in Moscow; there wasn’t much laughing from that quarter) he was busted in the act of evacuating his precious honeybees to a less smoggy locale. No, I’m afraid I’m not kidding. He topped off this poo sundae with a petulant observation (through intermediaries- seeing a pattern here?) that he had over a year of vacation time accumulated, and could have stayed away lots longer.
So, there’s something to the suggestion that appointment of officials who should really be elected (Mayor Luzhkov has similar appointment status to a Governor) is not the best path to good governance. At least to the extent that the disinterred corpse of Vladimir Sukhomlinov would have a better chance of being elected mayor next time around if it was up to Muscovites, which it isn’t.
However, the La Russophobe article is – predictably – marred by hysterical Putin-Tourette’s disconnection. The headline (“Putin the Dictator, Failing at Every Turn”) is the extent of her contribution on this one; the remainder is a copy-and-paste from the Moscow Times. She doesn’t say what Putin has to do with Luzhkov’s breathtaking incompetence – I know his appointment is supposed to be an act of cronyism: the fact that this is an indulgence of every politician in every city in the world passes unremarked.
The original article is by “hero journalist” Yevgenia Albats. I’m curious here; why are so many columnists for the Moscow Times “hero journalists”? Is there some kind of course you can take for that? What do you have to do to get the title “hero journalist”? Criticize the government? Do you have to criticize the government and work for the Moscow Times? I’m just asking on behalf of the New York Times and the Washington Post, because they want to know if they can start calling all their reporters “hero journalists” for their (eventual) criticism of the Bush administration. Anyway, if the “hero journalist” accolade is just something La Russophobe made up, it’s getting cheapened through overuse.
Well, let’s get into the body of the complaint. This is where Albats begins to draw silly conclusions – based on what appears to be wishful thinking, or perhaps an idealized projection of how democracy works. Let’s see if I understand this:
“What would have happened if Luzhkov served in a country that had popular elections for governors? If Luzhkov knew that he would soon be facing re-election — his term expires in October 2011 — would he have allowed himself a vacation while Moscow was being ravaged by heat and toxic smog? Of course not.”
Let me know if my interpretation is way off base, but what Ms. Albats seems to be getting at here is that elected officials will perform more responsibly if they are aware they are accountable to the voters at the end of their terms.
Ummm….I’m going to have to say no. Examples? Coming up. Remember Mark Sanford? The Governor of South Carolina left his state without any explanation, not even to his wife – on Father’s Day weekend – and took off to Argentina to boink his girlfriend. Granted, his state didn’t burn up while he was gone, but anything from wildfires to a biblical rainfall of toads could have happened while the Governor was off on a nookie sabbatical, and his constituents didn’t even have a clue where he was. Did the thought of being chucked out by the voters at the next opportunity cause him to say to himself, wait a minute – this is wrong? Not so you’d notice.
Wait – there’s more. How about Rod Blagojevich? Impeached for abuse of power, he was caught in the act of trying to sell the Senate seat formerly held by President Obama to the highest bidder. Presumably, he planned to keep the money himself. The head of the inquiry told the House of Representatives that he had betrayed the public trust, that he was “a public servant who has chosen not to serve the public … who has betrayed his oath of office … who is not fit to govern.“
Not fit to govern. He must have known that getting caught was a possibility, and that if caught, he would be held accountable for his behavior. How much hesitation does this appear to have injected into his plans? I’d have to say, pretty close to zero. Was it a big risk? Evidently not; he was found guilty of one count of lying, and 23 additional charges vaporized in a mistrial. There’s a powerful incentive for politicians to lead responsibly.
Does the irresponsible behavior of elected officials in a democratic system, even though they know they will be held accountable by the voters, stop at the Governor level? Oh, my, no. While Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, President Bush continued his vacation for three days. The Vice-President was also on vacation. The Secretary of State went on a shoe-shopping spree at Ferragamo just a couple of days after the levees gave way and drove thousands of desperate people from their homes. Afterward, President Bush remarked in an interview, “I don’t think anybody anticipated the breach of the levees”. That’s what comes of not reading, I suppose: National Geographic predicted it with eerie prescience a year before it happened. They were way off on the death toll (50,000 predicted vs. 1,836 actual), and their forecast that it would be “the worst natural disaster in American history” is open to debate – the 1900 Galveston hurricane killed at least 6000 and perhaps as many as twice that number (no explanation was offered for the wide discrepancy) and is generally recognized as America’s worst natural disaster. However, Katrina caused $84 Billion in damages. If it wasn’t the worst, it was in the top five.
Were any of these individuals punished in any way for their incredible incompetence? Absolutely not. In the case of Governor Sanford, he sprinkled his confession with references to The Almighty, cried a little, and at least some of the electorate ended up feeling sorry for him. There’s a lesson for you, Mayor; keep a bible tucked under your arm, and a big slice of raw onion in your handkerchief.
If Ms. Albats is suggesting Governors in Russia should be elected rather than appointed just because that’s a better way to do things, she’s right. The people who live in the governed regions ought to be able to express their pleasure or displeasure with a vote. But it looks to me like she’s saying democratic election to office would have made Mayor Luzhkov less filled with a sense of entitlement, and more likely to keep the voters in mind during decision making – that’s what happens in democratic countries.
Is it? No, it’s not. The examples above are testament that being elected to office quite often results in weak and self-centered leaders who don’t give a rip about the people who voted them in. How did Ms. Albats close out her ringing indictment of those appointed to office? “A regime that cannot respond to its citizens’ basic needs has no legitimacy at all.”