One of the most memorable stories from the past year was the bizarre, faintly comical saga of Anna Chapman’s sleeper cell. She was part of a rather inept Russian spy ring, nabbed by the authorities and deported to Russia in a spy swap. Her red-headed hotness turned her into a flash in the pan of tabloid celebrity. She’s the kind of character who would have died in some colorful manner after one roll in the hay with Sean Connery or Daniel Craig, but hung around for the whole movie with Roger Moore.
What’s our fiery KGB temptress up to these days? She’s joined the youth wing of Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party. This might seem odd, since she’s 28 years old, but remember that in America, 26-year-olds can now remain on their parent’s health insurance. 28 is the new 14, from Washington to Moscow.
The youth wing of Putin’s party is called the Young Guards, which is nice and creepy. So is the dialogue she was given at her debut meeting, as related by the Associated Press: “Let’s dream about the boldest things. Let’s start changing the country by changing ourselves first. There would be less negativity in society if each of us woke up with a smile. If each of us greets each day with joy, then you can create something new and useful. Vladimir Putin will require you to work. He’s going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation. Vladimir will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved and uninformed.”
Whoops, sorry about that. I had a couple of browser windows open at the same time, and got the text of two different speeches mixed up. Everything from “Vladimir Putin will require you to work” onward was actually Michelle Obama talking about her husband on the campaign trail in 2008. Admit it: if I had presented every one of Chapman’s statements as lines from an Obama speech, you wouldn’t have doubted it for a moment. “Let’s dream about the boldest things…” I could swear he actually did say that once.
The similarities between Young Guards boilerplate and Obama rhetoric are not surprising. In both cases, the acolytes of a massive and powerful State seek to transform the population to meet their needs. Collectivist and totalitarian rhetoric is always transformative in nature. The State forever promises to elevate its people through the magic of shared dreams, because it needs people who are willing to pay any price for a taste of that magic.
Implicit in all this talk of “transformation” is the notion that something has been wrong with us all along. In making that confession to a maternal State, we grant it conceptual supremacy. If its bold plans don’t work out as promised, it was probably our fault for being so inadequate… but we can take comfort from knowing our loving government will forgive us, and grant us another opportunity for redemption in the future.
Note also how the journey towards submission to the State is always presented as a thrilling adventure: “dreaming about the boldest things,” “the audacity of hope,” and so forth. If you expect big things, you will naturally want Big Government along as the sidekick on your quest. A small and weak government would be dull and uninteresting. Big initiatives with fantastic long-range goals are exciting.
Americans of the Tea Party era have no patience for the government telling them when to smile. The conservative movement is sometimes depicted as dour or cynical, but it’s actually just skeptical. We’re out of patience with attempts to change us. We want to transform the State instead. It’s probably a good thing Anna Chapman ended up back in Russia. She’s still easy on the eyes, but her Youth Guard rhetoric sounds so 2008 to American ears.