What the Presidential Candidates Say - and Don't Say

Both Russia and the United States have been undergoing presidential electoral campaigns of quite different forms. Will there be any significant change in the governance of the two countries? The question is worth contemplating.

The new Russian president, 42-year-old Dimitry Medvedev, has already been elected in a landslide. He is almost alone in Vladimir Putin’s inner circle with no history in the KGB (or, as it is known today, the FSB). Medvedev is a lawyer by training, but most recently headed the immense Gazprom company. He is reputedly far more liberal than Putin, who picked him as his successor. Almost everyone expects him to do the bidding of his mentor, who is becoming his subordinate, the prime minister. (Medvedev could resign very soon, enabling Putin legally to run again for the presidency.)

Despite being considered a cipher, Medvedev’s campaign speeches indicated a relatively democratic outlook. For example, he said: “Russia is a country of legal nihilism. No European country can boast such a universal disregard for the rule of law.” He also stated that: “Freedom is inseparable from the actual recognition by the people of the power of law. The supremacy of the law should become one of our basic values.” And further: “One of the key elements of our work in the next four years will be ensuring the independence of our legal system from the executive and legislative branches of power.” (That will be progress.)

Turning to the United States, the most forward-looking candidate is Barack Obama. While he gives inspirational speeches, he is often accused of providing few specific details. True, but he spells out his commitments on his web site, www.barackobama.com. (Click on “issues” at the top of the page.) Thus you may be surprised to discover that he intends to reduce carbon emissions by 80 percent by 2050 and will invest heavily in clean energy. Obama is the only candidate who opposed the Iraq War (Hillary Clinton voted for it and John McCain still supports fighting it).

Unlike the other presidential candidates, Obama remarkably promises to work toward the complete elimination of nuclear weapons. A section titled “Toward a Nuclear Free World” pledges: “Obama will set a goal of a world without nuclear weapons, and pursue it. Obama will always maintain a strong deterrent as long as nuclear weapons exist. But he will take several steps down the long road toward eliminating nuclear weapons. He will stop the development of new nuclear weapons; work with Russia to take U.S. and Russian ballistic missiles off hair trigger alert; seek dramatic reductions in U.S. and Russian stockpiles of nuclear weapons and material; and set a goal to expand the U.S.Russian ban on intermediate range missiles so that the agreement is global.”

Don’t hold your breath, but a year from now, there may be two leaders in the world who will sit down together and sensibly address the dangers that face our planet. There’s hope!