At first blush, it wouldn't seem that Russian President Vladimir Putin and Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott have much in common. The former is an ex-KGB agent who, through a bizarre combination of dictatorial repression and sheer animal magnetism, has cemented his status as Russia's de facto leader for life. The latter is Texas' duly elected Attorney General who seldom, if ever, is photographed shirtless.
Those are superficial differences, and the Washington Post thinks the men have more in common than either would probably like to admit. In an editorial today, the paper takes on Abbott's recent bombast directed at the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a respected international body that dispatches election observers to monitor elections.
Abbott was not about to let European intruders tread on Texas soil, at least not within 100 feet of a polling place. He threatened to arrest any election monitors who did so, then sent a strongly worded letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to underline the point. Such threats were necessary, Abbott argued, to protect the integrity of the state's election from outside meddling. Never mind that the state's recent voter ID law does exactly that.
Turns out, Putin's administration took a remarkably similar stance against observers from the OCSE. The country's election czar referred to them as spies, while another post-Soviet autocrat, Kazakhstan's Nursultan Nazarbayev, threatened to bar them altogether.
The Post is a bit perplexed by Abbott's "bizarre" chest-thumping, concluding that he is pandering to the "paranoiacs in the Republican Party who have bought into the theory that OSCE election monitors are determined to subvert voter ID laws."
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Such grandstanding, the paper argues, comes at a cost. Abbott's threats against a well-respected international body dedicated to ensuring free and fair elections, and their subsequent endorsement by Governor Rick Perry, represent "a propaganda gift to dictators everywhere."
More to the point, Mr. Abbott has no business interfering with international election monitors from a group in which the United States is one of 56 member states. According to the State Department, visiting international election officials are accorded diplomatic immunity. "In general we give them protected status, as we expect of our people when we participate in OSCE delegations," department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.
One reason that the United States remains so widely admired is its habit of democratic transparency. That transparency represents an admonition, and a threat, to autocracies and dictatorships. Most states get that and welcome international election monitors. Texas should get a clue.
No doubt the Post's editorial is already prompting Abbott to do some soul-searching. Perhaps tomorrow will reveal a kinder, gentler Greg Abbott no longer bent on pandering to right-wing conspiracy theorists.
Or he'll sue them. One of the two.