Lawyers play a special part in any society. - President Dmitry Medvedev
Russia inaugurated 42-year old Dimitry Medvedev as President of the Russian Federation today. One of his first acts was to install former President Vladimir Putin as Prime Minister. And, if one learns from history, this could be a brilliant political move.
Mr. Medvedev is a law professor. He holds a Ph.D from Leningrad State University. He taught at St. Petersburg State University for nine years from 1990 to 1999. He is also a businessman. He has been Chairman of the Board of Directors for Gazprom, the world's largest gas company, since 2002. I had a chance to look at some of his prior speeches and, at least publicly, he recognizes that environmental and business law in Russia must evolve to encourage greater trade and protect business interests.
Mr. Medvedev's relationship with past president Vladimir Putin is not unlike the American law professor president William Howard Taft's relationship with a past president. In fact, if Mr. Medvedev is a student of history, the move to make Mr. Putin Prime Minister is a stroke of genius.
President Taft had a mentor – Theodore Roosevelt. Roosevelt served for nearly two terms and could have easily ran successfully in 1908 for another term. Instead, Roosevelt hand-picked a successor – William Howard Taft. Taft did not keep Roosevelt close or clearly define what role the now ex-president would play in his party or in government. Roosevelt left and went on safari. Taft set about reforming big business without the rhetoric of Roosevelt. He expanded the Interstate Commerce Commission, created judicial reforms, oversaw and supported two constitutional amendments, encouraged "dollar diplomacy" as opposed to the "Big Stick,"and created what could be considered today's modern business world.
But Roosevelt came back. He was upset with some of the reforms – some too progressive and some contrary to his administration's policies. He was vocal and a problem for the Taft administration. Taft and allies ousted Roosevelt from the. But they miscalculated the populist support for Roosevelt. Roosevelt started his own party and in the 1912 elections came in second. Making Taft the only U.S. president to finish third in a re-election campaign (he picked up Utah and Vermont). Taft went back to being a law professor.
Sometimes mentors want to hold on. This is as true today as it was one hundred years ago. Having a mentor close by, in an active role, rather than outside and criticizing may prove to be a smart move by Professor Medvedev.