Sunday, June 07, 2009

Another View of Our Failures

Although I am aware that WaPo op-eds are sometimes paid advertisements, it was interesting to see Mikhail Gorbachev's views on our country there this morning. Like many ex-politicians, Mr. Gorbachev can make a good living by touring with his opinions, and has developed a line that he claims has produced significant applause.

He is observing for his audiences that we need to have our own Perestroika, a shake-up of our systems deeper than the regular changes in personnel that our elections produce. In Russia, there were no elections that had real meaning until Perestroika, and engrained personnel inside their bureaucracy had allowed real stagnation that was stifling the economy. While several commenters and posters seem to think that we have the same problem, I think that they are misled by the misuse of position in our government that the maladministration just past perpetrated.

Our system requires good information, and that's been a major weakness. When a Newt Gingrich can buy his way onto the opinion pages of our major news organs, we are ill served in the system of acquiring information. In Russia, the acknowledged propaganda that the rulers instituted was known for what it was, and underground sources developed. That's what has been happening here, and it has brought about changes that promise to upset the evils that resulted.

To Mr. Gorbachev, the evils resulting have suggested the need for the government itself to be radically changed.

We started with glasnost -- giving people a chance to speak out about their worries without fear. I never agreed with my great countryman Alexander Solzhenitsyn when he said that "Gorbachev's glasnost ruined everything." Without glasnost, no changes would have occurred, and Solzhenitsyn would have ended his days in Vermont rather than in Russia.

At first, we labored under the illusion that revamping the existing system -- changes within the "socialist model" -- would suffice. But the pushback from the Communist Party and the government bureaucracy was too strong. Toward the end of 1986, it became clear to me and my supporters that nothing less than the replacement of the system's building blocks was needed.

We opted for free elections, political pluralism, freedom of religion and an economy with competition and private property. We sought to effect these changes in an evolutionary way and without bloodshed. We made mistakes. Important decisions were made too late, and we were unable to complete our perestroika.
In the West, the breakup of the Soviet Union was viewed as a total victory that proved that the West did not need to change. Western leaders were convinced that they were at the helm of the right system and of a well-functioning, almost perfect economic model. Scholars opined that history had ended. The "Washington Consensus," the dogma of free markets, deregulation and balanced budgets at any cost, was force-fed to the rest of the world.

But then came the economic crisis of 2008 and 2009, and it became clear that the new Western model was an illusion that benefited chiefly the very rich. Statistics show that the poor and the middle class saw little or no benefit from the economic growth of the past decades. (Emphasis added.)

The statement that economic growth passed workers by is indeed true. The diagnosis which would pitch out the baby with the bathwater oversimplifies, to my mind. While Gorbachev, and some of those alienated by the slow progress of change, consider that the entire system is faulty, I see the problem as one posed by the operation of ideology that has placed enemies of our government in positions of power.

With an enemy of the environment running EPA, an enemy of justice managing DOJ, an enemy of labor manipulating the Labor Department, and so on throughout the executive branch, there is no functioning system. The system has been perverted by its enemies, though, rather than by its own weaknesses.

Furthermore, the staff accumulated by these enemies of the state have been operating against the public interest for more than eight years. There are some agencies that need realigning, and one that the administration of President Obama has suggested is an agency for consumer protection of financial institution operations.

I believe that a slowly, methodically, shifting of the government we have into hands that want to and are capable of its operation in the interests of the public is the answer. After all, in Russia, perestroika brought about a system for promoting the public interest, instituting a public voice that hadn't had any place in Russia's government before. Ours was originated with that in mind, and only has been diverted from its purposes by those who wanted to siphon the benefits off to themselves, away from the greater good.

Former President Gorbachev is seeing an effect, and it is a bad one. Behind it, though, is a cause, and he is deluded by the gross misinformation our media has been spreading.

Our government has been subverted, but it can be fixed. An election works more effectively than massive shifts in structure, when it puts public service back into the scheme of things. The main change of perestroika was to give the public a voice.

Cold War victims took late President Khrushchev's promise that he would 'bury us' so seriously that they dug the hole themselves. By empowering those who twisted our freedoms to the purposes of combating our own citizens, we have weakened the best form of government ever brought into being. Rather than scrapping it, we need to put our value system back into it. Freedom from repression, not freedom from protection, is its proper function.

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