Gorbachev, railing against capitalism, sounds a lot like Obama

(KAL/The Economist )
November 06, 2012|Marta H. Mossburg

Less than a week before the U.S. election, former president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev berated America and all but endorsed the sitting president and fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner at an event I attended in Houston.

Speaking last Thursday from a podium built by oil money and introduced by a socialite teetering in a French shoemaker's trademarked red-soled heels, he admonished those in the audience to scrap free enterprise for "sustainability."

Taking a theme from Barack Obama's campaign, Mr. Gorbachev said, "The goals of economic growth should not depend on super profits and overconsumption," to vigorous applause at the Wortham Center as the banners of major oil company arts patrons benignly welcomed visitors in the grand foyer.

The man renowned throughout the world for liberalizing the Soviet Union said we need to "reconsider the economic system" and adopt a model that "combines the free market with responsibility of government." To soften the blow, he suggested the process be "gradual" and emphasized repeatedly that the main goal of government policies should be to change values and priorities for the benefit of society as a whole. (That is exactly what Mr. Obama did by forcing religious organizations to provide contraception in employee health care plans regardless of their beliefs — in the name of women's rights.)

Our Cold War enemy no longer exists in its past state, but clearly its former leader clings tightly to ideas whose relevance should have crumbled with the Berlin Wall. Worse, he wants to force them on others.

As Mr. Gorbachev said, "We cannot just rely on patchwork solutions." He wants common answers, applied uniformly throughout the globe.

"In the past, one would say this is total utopia," he said, adding, "In an age of global interdependence … this is not utopia, it is something we need and can achieve."

Hopefully not. We are a country grounded in a rule of law, whose legitimacy derives from the governed, not the Green Cross International (Mr. Gorbachev's environmental group) or other international organizations.

Besides, this is the man who said of those murdered by the Chinese government in 1989 in Tiananmen Square, "Three thousands … So what? … That is what strategy and tactics are all about." (minutes from a Politburo meeting on Oct. 4, 1989).

He did not hide his inner thug at the Houston event, either. He condemned a Russian expatriate for leaving her place of birth and suggested she return home — to widespread applause. He also warned the U.S. and other countries not to get involved in Syria, saying "Under no circumstances should there be military intervention. We should learn the lessons of Iraq. … Rather than weapons, we need diplomacy."

Mr. Gorbachev claimed he spoke only as a private citizen, but his remarks on Syria echo those of Russian President Vladimir Putin, who has called Mr. Obama "an honest person who really wants to change much for the better." I hope Americans kept that in mind when they headed to the polls.

As for Mitt Romney, Mr. Gorbachev said he was "amazed" during the campaign to hear the Republican label Russia as America's biggest enemy. He said he hoped Mr. Romney had "misspoke."

While he never explicitly endorsed President Obama, Mr. Gorbachev enthusiastically noted, "America is on the verge of great change" — an implicit compliment of the bigger government path Mr. Obama is carving for the U.S. His persistent condemnation of free enterprise as the route to prosperity could also be seen as a defacto denunciation of Mr. Romney and running mate Paul Ryan.

The audience erupted in laughter and applause at many of his remarks, including, "America needs its own perestroika (government restructuring)."

Since Russia has a history of brutalizing its own people and supporting terrorist states and frequently makes working as a journalist in its borders a death sentence, I am not sure why people clapped and laughed.

But it should worry Americans that our elite would gleefully celebrate a man who wants to undermine what's left of the country's free-market system and ensure the U.S. can never be more than an "equal" among many. I'm talking about Mr. Gorbachev, not Mr. Obama. But sometimes during the talk it was hard to know how they were different.

Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is marta@martamossburg.com.

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