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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Zhirinovsky Lure Should Give Pause

Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nomination as the presidential candidate from the outrageously misnamed Liberal Democratic Party came as no surprise; the irrepressible ultranationalist has been campaigning hard since his first unsuccessful attempt at the top post in 1991.


What is astounding is that a politician who has gone out of his way to offend almost everyone can still command the kind of support that Zhirinovsky does. Although diminished since its astounding success in 1993, the LDPR still received over 6 million votes in December.


Zhirinovsky has advocated loading his political opponents into cattle cars and sending them to Siberia; he has said that perhaps Stalin's purges were not such a bad idea after all; he accused the West of trying to kill the Russian president, and suggested that the solution to the present hostage crisis was to take 10,000 or so Chechens hostage and shoot them.


He has also threatened to napalm Chechnya, blow nuclear waste into the Baltics, take back Alaska and maybe California from the United States, and make Finland once again a Russian territory.


Yet many voters have stuck by the explosive Vlad throughout his most bizarre antics. In fact, the LDPR leader has made a virtue out of what most would classify as faults.


The infamous "orange juice" incident, in which Zhirinovsky flung a glass of the liquid at the governor of Nizhny Novgorod on live television, was used in the LDPR's parliamentary campaign. Also prominently featured were clips of Zhirinovsky in passionate embrace with an Italian porn star, or brawling with a female deputy in the Duma.


What is the appeal? Are so many Russians proud of Zhirinovsky's bull-in-a-china-shop approach to politics? Do they really believe in his simple solutions to complicated problems?


It is tempting, but misleading, to dismiss Zhirinovsky as a clown, who wields virtually no real political influence. On the contrary, over the past two years his brand of Russia-first rhetoric has shifted the entire political debate in his direction and his political machine is remarkably well organized.


In 1993, his upset victory was explained as a protest vote, the only alternative voters had to the reforms. But in December, protest voters had other candidates to choose from, and indeed many defected to the Communists. Russia has had two years to appreciate Zhirinovsky's unique qualities. In 1995, a vote for the LDPR was an informed decision for something, not a blind protest against.


Zhirinovsky is highly unlikely to win the presidency in June. Yet the thought that over 6 million Russians are angry and disaffected enough to support his abhorrent proposals ought to give us all pause.