Facebook Twitter

In our opinion: Putin is no George Washington

SHARE In our opinion: Putin is no George Washington

Russian President Vladimir Putin stands prior to a cabinet meeting in Moscow, Russia, Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020.

Associated Press

Part of the greatness of George Washington was his ability to voluntarily relinquish power for the good of his nation. 

This may have been the strongest way possible to elevate the love of country above the love of self — a most noble legacy. It set a powerful precedent for the limits of power in the United States, and for its orderly transfer to new leadership. His example was so strong that after Franklin Roosevelt ignored it by being elected to four terms, Congress and the states amended the Constitution to limit further presidents to two terms by law.

Washington’s example has been proven extraordinary by the many world leaders since who have relentlessly clung to power. That list is too long to enumerate. It appears as if Russia’s Vladimir Putin is trying hard to add his name to it. 

Putin’s current term as president of Russia is set to expire in 2024. He has alternated as prime minister and president since 1999, adhering to the Russian constitution’s prohibition of serving more than two consecutive terms as president. Now he is appointing a new prime minister — an ally who has played hockey with him — and he wants to make changes that would enhance the power of the nation’s parliament while elevating something called the advisory state council to the highest level of power. This, some observers believe, is in preparation for Putin becoming head of that council after leaving office.

Putin remains relatively popular in much of Russia, but people seem to be dissatisfied with deteriorating living conditions and corruption in high places. Despite movements toward a market-based economy, state-run institutions dominate the economy, as noted in the most recent edition of the Index of Economic Freedom, published by the Heritage Foundation.

For Putin, now 67, there are few other options for staying in power. If he waited out another president’s two six-year terms, he might be too old to begin a new administration.

It was said that England’s King George III was so skeptical of reports that George Washington would voluntarily step down after two terms that he said doing so would make Washington, “the greatest man in the world.”

But not only did Washington do so, he attended the inauguration of John Adams and let Adams and the new vice president, Thomas Jefferson, leave the room first — a highly symbolic gesture that did not escape notice.

We doubt King George III had truly studied the Declaration of Independence, which declared as “self-evident” truths the equality of all people, their endowment with God-given unalienable rights and the need for a government that derives power from the people.

He probably never read the Constitution, which limits the powers of government, lets citizens be armed and protects their freedom to exercise religion, to freely criticize anyone in power and to petition the government for a redress of grievances, among other things. 

America’s founding documents, and its remarkable first president, sent the clear message to future Americans that no one leader is indispensable or above reproach.

America’s founding documents, and its remarkable first president, sent the clear message to future Americans that no one leader is indispensable or above reproach.

That is a legacy too often taken for granted. The examples of other leaders worldwide provide plenty of reasons to ponder it.