Published November 1, 1987
At the end of August, Senator Bill Bradley (D-New Jersey) gave a speech to a Chautauqua, New York, conference on U.S./Soviet relations, the conference being part of the President’s U.S./Soviet Exchange Initiative. Bradley’s remarks, excerpted below, were further reason to regret the senator’s apparent decision to absent himself from a direct role in the making of the president, 1988:
“Like you, I have watched what is happening in the Soviet Union. I have doubts and concerns but, above all, I have hope.
“So let’s candidly examine what we have in common as well as what divides us-let’s begin this process as the first step toward lasting peace.
“One thing we share is our love of the land. Now from Chernobyl to Love Canal we see its vulnerability to abuse and we recognize that its potential for giving us rebirth may be slipping away.
“We also share historical ties: We both endured the traumatic experience of revolutions and the satisfaction of nation-building. We were even allies in a war which we won, in large part, because of the heroic struggle of the Soviet people against the invasion of Hitler’s armies.
“And, finally, we share a yearning for freedom.
“Above all else, Americans cherish liberty. We fought a war to claim it from a colonial power. We value not just the freedom of the nation, but the liberty of each individual man and woman.
“These sentiments cannot be strange to the people of the Soviet Union. In our day, has not the most brilliant example of the inextinguishable thirst for human liberty come from the innermost heart of the Soviet Union-come in the Akhmatovas and Pasternaks and all those nameless ones who have in their matchless courage braved the winds of Kolyma, circulating handwritten manuscripts in defiance of the censor just as their ancestors evaded the censorship of Czar Nicholas the Flogger?
“Yet despite these bonds our institutions and standards of conduct differ profoundly.
“For example, Americans are mystified by Soviet denial of many basic freedoms of expression. We don’t understand why Rostropovich couldn’t conduct an orchestra or play his cello in his motherland. Why pianist Vladimir Feltsman has to emigrate to perform. Why Baryshnikov felt he had to leave in order for his artistry to grow. Why exile was the price the writer Vassily Aksyonov paid to publish his novels.
“America, as perhaps the world’s most open society, is also bewildered and threatened by Soviet preoccupation with secrets. If the Soviet Union wishes to be trusted by others, it must first show that it believes its own people can be trusted with the truth.
“Finally, we Americans are also deeply suspicious of a nation that keeps families divided.
“So how do we improve relations in the face of all the things that divide us?
“First we have to see each other clearly.
“American views of the Soviet Union swing between wishful thinking and hostile pessimism. We tend to think that the tensions between us result only from superficial misperceptions. Or we believe that the Soviet state is our implacable adversary-the incarnation of evil.
“These caricatures lead to errors in judgment. The one lulls us into a false sense of security which, after events such as Czechoslovakia or Afghanistan, degenerates into an angry sense of betrayal. The other obscures the significant opportunities that appear from time to time to settle grievances, reduce tensions, and advance mutual interests.
“Soviet misperceptions of the United States are at least as great and as dangerous.
“Soviets discredit our concern for human rights and individual liberties and see our foreign policy as the captive of rapacious capitalists; they attribute our defense policies to the ‘military-industrial complex’; they underestimate the extent to which speech is truly free in a democratic society; and they ignore throughout our history the pride with which we have enfranchised ever larger segments of the American people.
“Before Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary, all but the most optimistic Americans would have given low odds to significantly improved relations.
“Because of the General Secretary’s words and actions, Americans have begun to question their old views.
“Will the party and state bureaucracy, about which General Secretary Gorbachev has often complained, share more power with the Soviet people?
“Will workers have a bigger voice and trade unions a stronger role, even as ‘restructuring’ creates hardships for some workers who lose their jobs?
“Will Soviet citizens make their own choices about what to read, see, hear, buy and sell?
“Will Soviet authorities accept differences in politics, culture, and religion?
“Will freedom to travel no longer be confined to the privileged few?
“Will Soviet history, including the record of Stalin’s purges, Ukrainian famine and collectivization, be taught by people concerned with discovering the truth?
“Will fewer resources go to a military buildup at home and abroad?
“Will the General Secretary’s call for ‘democratization’ bring greater autonomy to minority nationalities who have lived under Russian dominance for centuries?
“Will the Soviet leadership let the people of Eastern Europe restructure their own systems and their relations with the outside world?
“Will Soviet youth be permitted to repudiate the war in Afghanistan with the same decisive vehemence that young Americans rejected Vietnam?
“We Americans must be flexible enough to allow for our own rethinking in order to seize new opportunities for a lasting peace.
“If reform continues in the Soviet Union, I believe we can cut United States and Soviet conventional forces in Central Europe and indeed nuclear weapons, by more than anyone has been prepared to talk about up to now.
“It is within our power to create a different future, for as Solzhenitsyn said, ‘History is us.'”
George Weigel is Distinguished Senior Fellow of the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and holds EPPC’s William E. Simon Chair in Catholic Studies.