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Putin, Netanyahu in top 10 most admired in U.S. Why?

19 Comments

When Gallup issued its annual poll of the men Americans most admired in 2014, it featured two improbable names at No. 10: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. All things considered, 2014 wasn't a terribly good year for either.

Both found themselves embroiled in conflict and controversy. Both faced international opprobrium. And both exhibited a pugnacity that, diplomatically at least, was hardly considered admirable.

So how did Putin and Netanyahu wind up with enough admirers in this country to place them on the list? The simple answer may be that they exude certitude in an age that reveres it, and views it as strength.

This is the opposite of what we are taught in sophisticated college humanities courses - that certainty is the dominion of fools and knaves. There is no absolute truth, scholars insist, and even if there were, no one could claim a monopoly on it. We are taught to believe in ambiguity, accommodation and a certain kind of intellectual modesty - that just because we may feel something doesn't make it true or right. This sort of modesty is regularly cited as one hallmark of great thinkers and great people. They understand their limitations.

But in the real world, people do not necessarily find intellectual modesty admirable. What the hurly-burly of life seems to teach is that the one thing we can admire is a person's sense of certitude - honoring deep conviction and an unwillingness to countenance doubt.

Putin and Netanyahu are, of course, very different, beginning with the fact that the first is a strongman who can impose his certitude on others while the second is not. But if they have one thing in common, this is it: Neither seems torn by internal struggle. Each projects absolute confidence in his own beliefs and visions.

It isn't hard to understand why Americans might confuse certainty with strength, which is indeed admirable. Self-confidence is practically a secular religion in America, with everyone from Tony Robbins to Oprah Winfrey as the prefects. In the world of U.S. self-help, we hear endlessly that confidence and self-assurance are the magic elixirs to a productive and satisfying life. You can do anything if only you believe in yourself. You can invade Ukraine, for example, or resist international pressure to find some accommodation with the Palestinians.

In political terms, Putin and Netanyahu share a similar bravado - which is movie bravado. The kind that Americans found so appealing in John Wayne or Arnold Schwarzenegger, neither of whose characters ever had a doubt cross their mind.

It isn't necessarily that we believe in what Putin or Netanyahu are doing. Certainly, few Americans, quite likely even those who say they admire Putin, endorsed his annexation of Crimea. Their admiration must be for the chutzpah of it - for the willingness to act in a world so often paralyzed by inaction. It's a vicarious thrill, even when the action is questionable. In a way, the admirers could be saying: "He's wrong, but he's strong."

But if certainty has always had a powerful appeal, and if that appeal had been fortified by the self-help movement, it may now draw its greatest strength from the fact that a world of conflict, brinkmanship, inefficiency and moral vacancy - a world like ours - has had to devise a psychological antidote to the mess around us. That antidote is certainty, and we now live within a culture of certainty: We believe what we believe and no one can shake us from that. It is our anchor.

This isn't only true of a Putin or a Netanyahu. One has only to watch cable news or listen to talk radio, both of which are beholden to certainty, to see that it has a bridgehead in the media, and one has only to read any string of comments on the Internet to see how certainty has been democratized.

Doubt is obsolete - an anachronism. No one seems to doubt his opinions anymore. The irony is that a culture of certainty contributes to the sense of paralysis because certainty not only precludes compromise; it turns anyone who disagrees into an enemy and every disagreement into Armageddon. Putin and Netanyahu, two of the most self-satisfied leaders in the world, also appear to be two of the most paranoid. Which leads to another irony. Certainty engenders conflict. It doesn't resolve it.

But this sort of tough-talking swagger isn't about political efficacy. It is about the aesthetics of leadership and about the charge we get out of seeing people try to make a video game out of reality. Putin and Netanyahu look and talk like tough guys. They cultivate the image, and though this gives a lot of people the willies, it evidently gives some people a sense of reassurance. There is some certainty in the world after all.

When everything seems to be going to hell in a hand basket, Putin and Netanyahu are there to tell us that they have the answers - and that John Wayne is alive and well in Moscow and Jerusalem.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2022 GPlusMedia Inc.

19 Comments
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Because some Americans are idiots, that is why.

-2 ( +3 / -5 )

Americans like a strongman.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Sophisticated college humanities courses, the arrogance and elitism is pouring out of that statement. And somehow teaching certainly is for fools and knaves and implying Putin and netanyahu are somehow buffoons because they are certain? What a load of garbage. No wonder terrorism and slavery are rampant. I am certain both are wrong But apparently the progressive sophisticated elites of the world can't take it. Putin is an aggressive But he is leading his cohorts and masterfully using the Very game of international diplomacy and law to win. I may think he is a dangerous thug But the way he is playing the west, brilliant. Netanyahu is a defender. Unlike Putin, Netanyahu is defending his country from invasion and terrorism. He knows his position is right and like Putin, he is not afraid to tell the west, un and the Muslim world, to take a hike.

These two are doing What everyone thinks a leader should Do, be decisive, politically benefit the country, defend it and not be fear liberal progressive Marxist, leftist, democrats.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

No wonder terrorism and slavery are rampant.

But you're in favour of both, remember? You're agianst unions and social justice, so you said....

0 ( +0 / -0 )

@Reckless

How can you say in the same post:

1) I don't know Russian history

2) If everyone knew Russian history, they'd understand Putin's actions.

You really don't see a lack of logic?

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@Reckless If you are saying Russia's dictatorship is reasonable, you are effectively saying Russians are too stupid for democracy. I have a higher opinion of them than you do, apparently.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Netanyahu is making sure we survive and never anihalated ever again.

Putin...looks handsome on a horse with no shirt on.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Gee, perhaps because we've missed strong decisive leadership these past six years?

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

"Putin may be what Russia needs right now"

The country needs a leader that has already trashed the economy? Talk about masochism.

Lots of US neo-cons, living in their reality-distortion bubble, exhibit Putin envy.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

USN - of course it is a reaction. "wrong but strong" vs. "right but weak". When it comes to guiding a country down a path, I'll take the latter, thank you.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Putin, Netanyahu in top 10 most admired in U.S. Why?

Because Americans admire tough guys, no matter how bad they are?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Netanyahu and Putin are Mensch and thus get respect. In the USA, our leader (from behind) barely makes the grade of nebbish. Hoping for better after November of 2016.

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

@Reckless That is because you have no sympathy for the countries around Russia that suffer from daddy Putin's abuse.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Putin and Netanyahu look and talk like tough guys.

They are actually tough. Nice guys do not survive long as heads of states, especially not in places like Russia and/or Israel (very different places, yes, but both with harsh realities).

0 ( +1 / -1 )

America admires leadership which is presently not available in USA.

Buck stops at top in Israel, Russia and USA

0 ( +0 / -0 )

"Putin...looks handsome on a horse with no shirt on."

Have to admit this much is true. lol

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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