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“Meathead” History: The Myth of Putin’s Revenge on America

On the hit television series “All in the Family” in the 1970s, Rob Reiner played an unemployed leftist student whose blue-collar father-in-law, Archie Bunker, regularly called him “Meathead,” implying that he was “dead from the neck up.” In September 2017 Reiner and his Committee to Investigate Russia released a controversial video, which features actor Morgan Freeman declaring that “We are at war” with Russia. The video and the Committee deserve the “meathead” epithet for their ignorant distortion of history and their revival of Cold War clichés.

In the video Freeman solemnly describes Russian President Vladimir Putin as a K.G.B. spy who was so disturbed by the U.S. victory in the Cold War and the collapse of his Communist motherland that ever since he has relentlessly plotted to get revenge on America and restore the Soviet empire. In reality, when K.G.B. and Communist Party hardliners launched a putsch to try to prevent the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Putin, then an aide to the reformist mayor of Leningrad, sided with the democratic reformers and organized the armed defense of the mayor’s offices against putschist forces. During the following years, as head of the committee on foreign relations for Leningrad (soon renamed Saint Petersburg), Putin earned a reputation among American business executives and other visitors to the city as honest, efficient, and reliable – not a xenophobic nationalist yearning for revenge.

To depict Putin as America’s eternal arch-enemy, Freeman and Reiner have to jump over Putin’s first years as President of Russia, when he was the first foreign leader to try to contact President George W. Bush after the 9/11 attacks and he ordered Russian military and security forces to provide extensive logistical and intelligence support for the U.S. war in Afghanistan. There is no room for recognition of the complexity of Putin’s relations with the United States in Reiner’s simplistic portrayal of Putin as the evil villain always seeking to thwart America’s leadership of “the free world.”

The demonization of Putin and Russia in Reiner’s video leads into its presentation of America as a spotless model of virtue. “For 241 years,” Freeman proclaims, “our democracy has been a shining example to the world of what we all can aspire to.” There is no room in this vision for any acknowledgment of centuries of slavery, the dispossession and extermination of Native Americans, the internment of Japanese Americans, and many other blemishes on America’s historical record. In “All in the Family” Reiner first appeared as a bearded, long-haired hippie who opposed the brutal U.S. war in Vietnam, yet now his views of America and Russia seem to be closer to those of the flag-waving, commie-hating Archie Bunker.

Charitable viewers might excuse some oversimplification in a two-minute video, yet the Committee to Investigate Russia’s website offers an equally erroneous capsule history of US/Russia Relations. “Over the course of two separate uprisings, Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik party took control of Russia,” it states. In fact, Lenin was in Switzerland when workers and soldiers rose up against the Tsarist autocracy in February 1917; the Bolsheviks had almost no role in that phase of the Russian Revolution. According to the website, Boris Yeltsin became president of Russia when Mikhail Gorbachev resigned on December 25, 1991; in reality, Yeltsin was elected to lead Russia in June 1991. Such glaring errors are potholes on the way to the Committee’s conclusion that ever since Yeltsin named Putin as his successor Putin has been engaged in “an unrelenting quest to re-establish a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe and Central Asia,” as well as to weaken America and its democratic allies.

The members of the Committee’s Advisory Board include David Frum, the neoconservative speechwriter who promoted the war against Iraq as a crusade against “evil,” and James Clapper, the former Director of National Intelligence who lied to Congress about whether U.S. intelligence agencies were eavesdropping on millions of American citizens. The composition of the Committee, together with the gross distortions in its flagship video, add to mounting evidence that many liberal media elites in America have lost their heads in their outrage about Russia’s alleged hacking of the election of 2016 and have thrown in their lot with the national security establishment that never stopped viewing Russia as an enemy when the Cold War ended almost thirty years ago.

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