A Russian Role Model for America’s Politicians

Americans are becoming familiar with the story of how “Russia’s Scandalous ‘It Girl’ Remakes Herself as an Unlikely Face of Protest.” Kseniya Sobchak (KSAIN-ya sub-CHACK), writes the Times, “The pampered “it girl” of Putin’s Russia, author of “Philosophy in the Boudoir” and “How to Marry a Millionaire,” who once posed topless in Playboy, has restyled herself as a leader of the opposition to Prime Minster/President Vladimir Putin. That’s as remarkable a change as Mitt Romney’s restyling from a socially liberal Mormon to a conservative protestant fundamentalist. Think about it:

It is difficult to imagine a more unlikely standard-bearer than Ms. Sobchak, 30, the ubiquitous blond party girl known as Russia’s Paris Hilton. Most people here know her through her raunchy career in reality television, or the scandalous liaisons and broken engagements that make up the basic molecular structure of Russia’s tabloid culture.

Do you see what I’m getting at? This is a young woman who has made a serious about-face in her life, one we can’t imagine the actual Paris Hilton making, and one that nobody but nobody believes Mitt Romney has made (dare I mention Sarah Palin in this context?). Ms. Sobchak is showing the world that you can change your stars, or at least the stars you set yourself to follow.

Nor is she letting her past be an impediment. Look at how Ms. Sobchak has handled questions about her previous party-girl existence:

“I am sincere in what I am saying now, and I was absolutely sincere then,” Ms. Sobchak said this month, when a Ukrainian television talk show host, Oleksandr Tkachenko, asked if she was the same person. “Yes, I also was that vulgar fool with pink bows in bright white hair emitting the most unbelievable rubbish. This is also a part of my life, the merry and carefree one.

“And in fact I lived a number of years as this enfant terrible. Yes, I was that person.”

Forget for a moment that most Republicans probably don’t know what an enfant terrible is (it means ‘terrible child’) much less use it in a sentence. I’m not trying to compare levels of intellect here. She didn’t, like Mitt Romney, simply pretend the past never happened, didn’t insist that she had always been the Kseniya Sobchak we are seeing today. Instead, she admitted to a change taking place within her:

She added: “I began to change. A situation has taken shape in such a way that a larger number of people saw these changes. But it was the path from my 20th birthday to my 30th.”

She goes on to explain the circumstances that led her to become the face of the opposition to the man who saved her father’s life, whom some say is her godfather. It has taken courage to face her detractors among the opposition, who see her tainted by her family’s association with Putin, to expose herself to attacks from Putin’s own party, who see her actions and her words as a betrayal. We don’t see – or even expect – much in the way of courage from our politicians.

This is not something you will hear in American politics, where change is anathema, a betrayal, a violation of trust, a sure sign that a politician is not to be trusted. I have for a long time wished an American politician would respond as Ms. Sobchak responded, but I do not think we will ever see it happen. In America, if you change your mind, you doom your political aspirations. Change is seen as weakness. An American politician must be wedded to an ideology.

What is wrong with admitting you once acted a certain way, or thought a certain way, and then saying that you came to see things a different way? I would respect that: “I changed my mind, and here is why…” Instead they say it and do it and then pretend it didn’t happen, even though we have video footage of it, audio recording of it, documentation of it…

I’m sorry, but it ain’t an urban legend and it ain’t liberal mythmaking or conspiracy theorizing. It’s documented. Just admit it, own it, explain it, apologize for it if necessary, and move on. But Miss Sobchak is owning her past,and in owning it making of it not a weakness but a strength.

And you have to admire Ms. Sobchak’s courage in explaining why she has put herself in harm’s way (and I don’t mean to words  only; this is Russia we are talking about, though police actions against our own opposition are narrowing that divide…):

“If you see a boy being beaten in a dark alley, you will not pass by, you will stop and try to defend him, though you realize that you may be beaten too,” she said. “A person doesn’t want to feel like scum, and this is what happened to me. I realized I could not participate in this unfair monkey business anymore. And I quit.”

American politicians could take lessons from Ms. Sobchak in not only basic honesty but human decency. Any Republican you care to name would leave that beaten boy in the alley, muttering about personal responsibility or that its his own fault he doesn’t have insurance or lives too far from a hospital to crawl to it on his own power. Why, he shouldn’t have been in that dark alley in the first place!

Ms. Sobchack told a crowd of 80,000 demonstrators, “We know who we are against. We need to show what we are for.”

That’s something more liberals should be saying. We too could learn a thing or two from Ms. Sobchak. Of course, for her troubles, Ms. Sobchak has, like Sandra Fluke, been called a “cheap prostitute” but even if she had been a cheap prostitute it does not mean a cheap prostitute cannot have a brain, or use it, or learn from experience or become something else. It does not mean a prostitute cannot be a more genuine human being than a Republican politician, and a better citizen by far.

Republicans go through life trying to find excuses to avoid the responsibility of shared humanity and citizenship. Ms. Sobchak, like many other women both here and in Russia, demonstrates the ability to not only embrace that shared humanity, but by doing so to become a better human being, and a better citizen. If it’s a choice between a “cheap prostitute”, with Ms. Sobchak or Ms. Fluke as the exemplar of cheap prostitutes, I’ll take a cheap prostitute over a Republican politician any day of the week and twice on Sunday.

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9 Replies to “A Russian Role Model for America’s Politicians”

  1. As far as the occupy movement and the police, this IS Russia

    This lady sounds quite remarkable as a person to be able to admit this is what I was, and this is what I am. We all go through basic cha nges in out lives as we change age, and the smart people admit and remember who they were and are

  2. I agree that it takes a real “human being” to change from a destructive element (their selves or society) and, that this woman has street creds for doing the right thing by consciously changing her course in life, but…

    Hold on there, partner…I hate to bust the bubble but, the ones who do all the admitting they’ve changed in THIS country are the the one and only “born again Chris’tins”!

    They just love, no, make that, cant wait to get that mic in their hands and holler and cry and recount all their sins in an exaggerated,”I’ll-keep-mahy-pants-up” exhausting fashion…they aren’t remembering who they are but putting a fresh coat of paint over the dog shit to make it look pretty so you can’t step on it! And then, they go into politics!

  3. Changing one’s mind is seen as weakness, and apologizing for error is seen as worse than weakness.

    Both take great strength and self-awareness, and I admire this woman for what she’s done.

    A person who cannot admit to error and apologize to the person/persons wronged, or to having changed their mind – THEY are the weak ones.

  4. Ah, but they aren’t taking responsibility for the harm their “sins” caused other people. It’s all about them and God, and forget anyone else.

    In other words, a “Holier than thou” moment.

    I also don’t believe for a second that they’ve actually tried to change or make amends for their sins – they just want a clean slate so they can start over again – doing the same old shit.

  5. The collapse of the Iron Curtain was, in general, a good thing; the collapse of the Soviet Union was not. By removing the chief obstacle to global corporatism, it opened the way for a world-wide tyranny that is crueller still than Soviet-style Communism, because there is not even the pretense of egalitarianism or social responsibility to soften it. What it seeks to impose is “a boot stamping on a face-forever”; I heard, several years back, some snobbish little economics wonk say that a couple billion of the planet’s inhabitants would just have to accept that there would be no more food for them… ever.

    There is no balance of power to check the abuse of power; “Communist” China is a slave-labor market for Western manufacture; we meet the enemy and he is us – our own co- nationals out to do to us (and everyone) things that make a hypothetical Soviet conquest pale. The freedom of thought and speech that once made the economic insecurity of life in a “free” society are under constant attack, and egalitarianism is called “class warfare” by the very class waging the war.

    In this, individual courage in the face of oppression and concerted action by the intended victims are the only hope. This young lady, so long the spoiled pet of a corrupted order, has placed herself on the line. Each, in our way, must do no less.

  6. …like I said, it’s just a fresh coat of paint over a pile of smelly pooh; they’re proud of it so why should they have to do something conscientious as in, do the responsible thing and clean up their pile of pooh??

    The woman in the story actually made a “conscious” effort to clear up her mess and admit to her entire country that she was “wrong” without the “sky-god” approach.

  7. Well said…

    “The collapse of the Iron Curtain was, in general, a good thing; the collapse of the Soviet Union was not…”

    In the words of Arkady Renko, “Moscow wants to be the only pig in the trough. The rest of us can starve as far as Moscow is concerned…”

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