WASHINGTON — The front-runner sees no reason to debate. He has also turned down free radio and television time. He says you have to prove yourself by deeds, not commercials. He says he won't be marketed like Tampax or Snickers. He's also not big on town meetings or working the crowd.
Where is it that all of the hoopla has been drained out of campaigning? It's Russia, heading for its third free presidential election on March 26. Vladimir Putin, never elected to anything, was named acting president in a deal with Boris Yeltsin on New Year's Eve and is now apparently coasting to election against a field of 11 candidates.
Dmitri Olshansky, analyst of the Russian Academy of Sciences, held a news conference in Moscow the other day to deplore the apathy. He said the Russian media have carried more coverage of the American primaries than of Russia's election.
The kind of inevitability that Gov. George W. Bush yearns for, Mr. Putin has. His war in Chechnya is as popular as it is savage. He has reduced superpower America to mumbled admonitions to take it easy along with President Clinton's assurance that Putin is someone we "can do business with." Secretary of State Madeleine Albright found it necessary to write a newspaper article to deny being soft on Chechnya.
Putin, who is all over controlled Russian television, doesn't have to give interviews at home, but he did give one to David Frost of the BBC and made a little news by saying that he didn't rule out the possibility of joining NATO. Maybe too much news for nationalist Russians, because pretty soon Foreign Minster Igor Ivanov explained that the president was just being hypothetical.
Putin has now issued a book-length series of interviews telling of the glory days in the KGB in East Germany, spying on NATO.
Putin is bringing more fellow alumni of the KGB into government. There's talk in Moscow of extending the presidential term from four to seven years, eliminating proportional representation in the Duma (the lower house of parliament), which would eliminate several opposition parties. There's also talk of reining in regional autonomy by appointing governors from Moscow.
Stanford scholar Michael McFaul says it isn't that Putin wants to bring back dictatorship, but that he's simply indifferent to democratic principles and practices.
Maybe America pays a price for campaign disorder.
Russia pays a price for trying to create order.
(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society