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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

CONFESSIONS OF A RUSSOPHILE: Bad, Bad Presidents! Shoo!




"I wish we had your problems," sighed Marina, an energetic, normally cheerful, middle-age Muscovite who, like the rest of her compatriots, is getting ground down by The Crisis. She had finally switched topics from the price of cooking oil to the outlandish morals of Americans.


"It has to be her fault," continued Marina, adamant in her condemnation of Monica Lewinsky. "It is always the woman's fault. He was just reacting like any normal muzhik."


"But she was only a 21-year-old kid," I protested. "And he was the head of the most powerful nation on Earth."


"All the more reason to stay away from him," Marina said darkly. "You don't get that high without some pretty big appetites."


I am constantly amazed by the low level of Russian expectations when it comes to issues like men and politicians. Whether they be crooks, sadists, or randy old goats, they are like a force of nature f destructive, perhaps, but ultimately blameless. It is up to the rest of us to protect ourselves against them.


The two former superpower rivals have come to a sorry pass f one in tragedy, the other in farce.


Russia's total economic collapse certainly outweighs America's complete failure of sense and taste on the world misery scale. But a steady diet of the Bill and Boris Follies could make one long for the Cuban Missile Crisis, or some other high drama of the Cold-War years.


Remember the old joke? An American says to a Soviet: "We have freedom of speech in my country. I can go stand out in front of the White House and yell: President Nixon (or Kennedy, Johnson, Carter, or Reagan) is an idiot!" The Soviet answers: "It's the same with us. I, too, can go out in front of the Kremlin and yell: 'President Nixon is an idiot." Ha ha. Or did you hear the one about the Russian who was sent to the gulag for saying that Brezhnev was a vegetable? The charge: revealing a state secret.


Well, the secret is out and freedom of speech is in full swing. Take a snippet from Saturday's Moskovsky Komsomolets: "Is his nose hot or cold? Is he frisky or moping around? We are more and more beginning to think of our president as an amusing pet. Has he chewed the wallpaper? Eaten our slippers? What a bad boy!"


I would almost rather have Kenneth Starr on my trail.


The Russian press is having a good time with our twin woes. With a bit of wistfulness, I think, they are trying to tie them together.


The same good old Moskovsky Komsomolets coyly arched its collective eyebrow when commenting on Yeltsin's curious reluctance to let the television cameras depart while he was meeting with his new deputy prime minister for social issues (and the only woman in the Cabinet), Valentina Matviyenko: "Perhaps foggy visions of [U.S. President Bill] Clinton's cigar or Monica's bust were dancing in [President Boris] Yeltsin's brain. He even said that it's not right for the president to be alone with a girl." Matviyenko is 49.


As the Russians say, constantly: "It would be funny if it weren't so sad."


So now the heads of state of two of the most important countries on earth are facing simultaneous impeachment. Clinton comes under the axe for lying about his sordid, embarrassing liaison with a troubled young girl, and for annoying a powerful special prosecutor; Yeltsin is being attacked for killing hundreds of thousands of his fellow countrymen with his brutal, botched war in Chechnya, for calling out tanks to rout his recalcitrant parliament, and for dissolving an empire with a stroke of the pen (and, reportedly, in a drunken stupor). What bad boys.


It's too much to hope for, I know, but wouldn't it be nice if Friend Bill called Friend Borya and they decided to quit on the same day? The United States would get the aggressively uncharismatic Al Gore and Russia would get f ah, there's the rub. Three months of political chaos on top of the already catastrophic economic situation, presidential elections that have to be funded from already hollow state coffers, and the rise of stone-faced, gravel-voiced, Pinochet-worshipping Alexander Lebed or the strong-armed, nationalist, thuggish Moscow mayor, Yury Luzhkov.


I guess I have lived here too long. I am not excusing Clinton, but I would have to agree with Marina: Russia could use a dose of the United States' more diverting scandals right now.


There are a few ministerial portfolios open. Perhaps Lewinsky is looking for a job?