By Marta Mossburg
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev told a crowd in Houston last Thursday that “America is on the verge of great change.”
He said that not knowing who would win the presidential election, although he all but formally endorsed President Barack Obama. He didn’t have to. It’s obvious. To sit in the crowd as I did and hear the thunderous applause after each new proclamation on the evils of individual freedom and the free market was to know that America has already changed markedly in his lifetime. The fact that he said these things in booming Texas, bastion of American conservatism, in an auditorium built by oil giants, made it even more profound.
What sweet irony for the 81-year-old-man who saw his empire disintegrate and communism declared part of the “ash heap of history.”
History does not often move so swiftly. It took 250 years for Americans to end slavery and much longer for blacks to achieve equal rights. Going way back, the Israelites waited 430 years for God to lead them out of slavery in Egypt.
Maybe that is why so many people are stunned that Mitt Romney lost the presidential election. They thought they still lived in Ronald Reagan’s “morning in America”— the one built on individualism and on what are now quaintly called “traditional values.” It’s the one that many of us over 35 still recognize as the America.
As one Mitt Romney supporter said according to The Washington Examiner following the news Obama had won a second term, “It makes me wonder who my fellow citizens are. … I’ve got to be honest, I feel like I’ve lost touch with what the identity of America is right now.”
She is not alone. CNBC host Larry Kudlow mistakenly called the race for Romney based on the fact that he was the optimist in the race, and optimists almost always win in U.S. politics.
He wrote in National Review earlier this week, “In his closing argument in The Wall Street Journal this weekend, Obama went on several times about raising taxes on individuals and businesses. This is pessimism. You know why? Because optimists believe in the ingenuity, entrepreneurship and spirit of gifted individuals who are free to use their God-given talents to make our economy and society the best it can be. Not government. That’s the pessimistic view. But individual initiative — the optimistic view.”
Kudlow is right in his assessment of previous elections and on his view of Romney. But he failed to recognize the depth of the value shift taking place in the country.
According to the election results, just shy of half the American people still believe in the old America. A new one, however, is dominant. And no one should be surprised, because those who laugh and clap in condemnation at the country’s founding principles didn’t start doing that yesterday.
Gorbachev understands this, and that is why he could be so confident in proclaiming imminent change in the U.S. He can see that we are at a tipping point in our history, with almost half of Americans paying no federal income tax, 47 million on food stamps and a public education system better at indoctrinating than teaching based on national and international test results.
He would like to end a system that allows certain countries and individuals an outsize portion of natural resources and regulate economic activity internationally for the “benefit of society as a whole.”
He does not see that goal as far-fetched. “In the past one would say this is total utopia,” he said. “In an age of global interdependence … this is not utopia, it is something we need and can achieve.”
People are working all over the country in conservative movements to bring governance back to the people and ensure Gorbachev can never achieve his vision here. With Obama’s election, it is at least clarifying to know that appealing to our better angels is a failing political tactic. The hard part is not losing faith that the pessimists will eventually lose.
Marta H. Mossburg writes frequently about national affairs and about politics in Maryland, where she lives. Read her work at www.martamossburg.com. Write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.