IT'S NOT PARANOIA IF...

Time magazine's selection of Vladimir Putin as its Person of the Year is an interesting choice not just because it overlooked perhaps more obvious options, from good (Al Gore) to malevolent (Moqtada al-Sadr), but because of how Putin is presented in the lengthy feature. Specifically, Putin seems to recognize clearly the tendency of both the U.S. government and the U.S. press to treat world leaders who attempt to raise the power of their nations as uppity and strange, the better to dismiss their goals as overzealous and limit the impact of any challenge to American supremacy. The Time article dutifully notes these points, reporting that Putin "wants Russia to be partners but feels the U.S. treats Russia like the uninvited guest at a party." It's not as if U.S.-Russia relations are at the point where we should be best buddies, but his assessment on this seems fairly accurate.

Hoping, perhaps, to bridge some of this gap, Time reports, "Asked if he'd like to correct any American misconceptions about Russia, Putin leans forward and says, 'I don't believe these are misconceptions. I think this is a purposeful attempt by some to create an image of Russia based on which one could influence our internal and foreign policies. This is the reason why everybody is made to believe ... [Russians] are a bit savage still or they just climbed down from the trees...'" His view may represent some of his old KGB training, and one might be tempted to see this as an overstatement. But you're not paranoid if they're really after you. The very next sentence after this complaint about Americans unfairly portraying Russians as savage is: "The veins on his forehead seem ready to pop."

Putin is further described as "humorless," employing "Rambo-style" tactics, and "ruthless." Many of Putin's policies, of course, have been grossly anti-democratic, and it very well may be that he is, personally, something of a buzzkill. But it's a little jarring for the article to reply to his objections of being treated like a Bond villain by ... treating him like a Bond villain. The more important question than whether Putin is a jerk is whether his governance is improving or worsening Russia; it's impossible to get a good sense of the answer from the piece.

--A.J. Rossmiller

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