I remember when Rocky IV debuted in November 1985. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, and most people had no idea how close we were to the conclusion of the Cold War. Rocky Balboa, after watching his friend Apollo Creed get killed in the ring against a juiced up Russian boxer, made the trip to Russia to fight Ivan Drago. Not for money and not for a championship, but instead for a personal debt.
The main story for the audience, however, revolved around the blatant pandering to a Cold War era audience. Rocky was going to beat the Commie bastard on his turf, and we were all invited to watch. Stallone rubbed it in by having the Russian crowd turn against Drago and become pro-Rocky towards the end of the fight.
The memory surfaced when New York Times reporter Nick Confessore asked the following on Twitter:
Raise your hand if you're a late Cold War kid continually re-surprised by some American conservatives' new affinity for an ex-KGB strongman.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) May 26, 2017
I happen to agree with that sentiment. The only surprising part of this is finding out Nick is less than five years younger than me. I had him pegged in his mid-30’s. He expanded on what he meant:
In that narrow sense, I have actual culture shock over and over again when I see conservatives defending Russia. Used to be far left.
— Nick Confessore (@nickconfessore) May 27, 2017
From that perspective, it is odd to see this strange respect some conservatives now have for someone like Vladimir Putin. As Nick says, Putin isn’t just the average Russian. He’s ex-KGB. The KGB was a ruthless spy agency and state-security for the former Soviet Union. Growing up in the 1980’s, the pop culture references, particularly in movies and television, was often front and center.
Films such as WarGames, Red Dawn, The Falcon and The Snowman, Firefox, and Rocky IV played into the Russian threat. The TV movie The Day After gave people a glimpse of the aftermath of nuclear war. The destruction, death, and effects of a nuclear winter were a stark and frightening reminder of the threat we faced.
As Nick points out, it was the far left who attempted to paint a flattering portrait of the Soviet Union even at the height of the Cold War. They said conservatives overhyped the Soviet threat and accused President Ronald Reagan of conducting a military buildup based on lies about the same threat. People who now occupy elected offices, such as New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, offered tacit support to the Soviets via his open support of the communist Sandinista thugs in Nicaragua.
Fast forward to 2012, and it was once again the left who downplayed Russia’s influence. Everyone remembers President Obama mocking Mitt Romney for saying Russia is our greatest geopolitical foe. In one of their debates, President Obama said to Romney, “The 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back because the Cold War’s been over for 20 years.” Two years later, President Obama looked silly as he referred to Russia as a “regional threat.” Trying again to downplay their influence in the world. It was as if President Obama was willing to antagonize Russia and risk national security, rather than admit he was wrong.
Three years later and we’ve entered a bizarro world where Democrats are invoking memories of the 1980’s, while some conservatives shrug and play down Russia’s influence — if only to echo the sentiments of President Trump, who for reasons we can only guess, wants a cordial if not friendly relationship with Russia.
But to what end and to what risk to our national security? They are important questions and those on the right who hold the same affinity for Vladimir Putin as Donald Trump does should be prepared to give answers.