Russia

Gorby, Corporate Shill

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Mikhail Gorbachev, star of the Wim Wenders film Faraway, So Close, is moving from acting into modeling high-end luggage. The New York Times reports:

So many fashion ads feature celebrities now that it isn't even faintly jarring to flip through the August issue of Vogue and see Scarlett Johansson lying on her belly with a Louis Vuitton bag over her shoulder and 10 pages later find her flat on her back, her cascading blond hair spread to promote L'Oréal Superior Preference shade No. 10NB. That said, what is a reader to make of a Vuitton ad, coming in the big September books, that stars Mikhail S. Gorbachev, the last president of the Soviet Union? A decade ago, Mr. Gorbachev's appearance in a Pizza Hut commercial was generally greeted as a low point in his career.

Unelected leader of a totalitarian country for six years and pizza pitchman is considered a career "low point"? Nothing worse than selling out, I suppose.

While Gorbachev surely deserves credit for the twin reforms of perestroika and glasnost (though he is often greatly overpraised), he, of course, never lost his fondness for that particularly Russian brand of authoritarianism. When asked what he thought of Putin's Soviet nostalgia, Gorby wasn't prepared to criticize the former KGB man: "Sure thing, there are some shortcomings and negative trends. Democracy is a good thing, no doubt about. But the government should satisfy the basic needs of the citizens—that's a top priority. If authoritarianism is required to do the job, I'm ready to give my full support to this kind of authoritarianism."

As Jesse Walker recently pointed out, reason contributing editor Matt Welch wrote a terrific column on Gorbachev's authoritarian instincts:

Things at lunch were amicable until I asked the former Pizza Hut pitchman whether he thought there was anything factual behind the persistent reporting in the west that Russian President Vladimir Putin has been backsliding away from democracy. Gorbachev's smile disappeared, his eyes narrowed to lumps of burning coal, and for the next 10 minutes or so he barked out an angry lecture defending Putin and savaging the United States for working actively to humiliate Russia and make her experiments with democracy and capitalism fail. (For an illustrative list of Gorbachev's nationalist paranoia and Putin apologia, click here.)

All terrible, sure. But that corporate shill stuff…

NEXT: Is He Good for the Libertarians?

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  1. Mikhail Gorbachev, star of the Wim Wenders film Faraway, So Close,…

    Damnit. Wim Wenders movies always put me to sleep, so I don’t even know if that’s a joke or not. Was Gorbachev the angel with the misshapen halo?

  2. Unelected leader of a totalitarian country for six years and pizza pitchman is considered a career “low point”?

    Oh please, spare us the moralizing. If given the choice between these two jobs, which would you take? I think the vast majority of people would consider “Unelected leader of a totalitarian country” to be a great job regardless of their political orientation. Hence the need for libertarian vigilance I suppose.

  3. Ronald Reagan (most libertarian President of the 20th century) OWNED his commie ass.

  4. As with Reagan, Gorbachev’s willingness to abandon the Cold War and ratchet down the nuclear threat, despite decades of fervent struggle as a partisan in that Cold War, helps me overlook an awful lot of ideological shortcoming.

    Ohnoes, Gorbachev was the president of the USSR when it was unelected! That bastard, he should have been the elected president of the USSR. Only problem is, there was no elected president of the USSR.

    Trivia Question: which Soviet leader introduced population election of legislatures, ceding his own authority to appoint them instead?

  5. er, “popular election of legislators”

  6. I can’t wait to pick up the magazine to find out… Is Gorbachev lying on his belly or flat on his back?

  7. Nope, Gorby made the “Duma” a popularly-elected body, and allowed other parties to run.

    Approximately four and a half seconds before Yeltsin climbed on the tank, so most people forget that, but still…it’s a point against the “Czar Gorby” image some people are pushing.

  8. “If authoritarianism is required to do the job, I’m ready to give my full support to this kind of authoritarianism.”

    Is he talking about Saddam?

  9. I think the vast majority of people would consider “Unelected leader of a totalitarian country” to be a great job regardless of their political orientation.

    Even after they’ve seen that one episode of The Twilight Zone?

  10. What do you mean, unelected?

    Why, I heard that every Soviet leader got elected on his record.

    The record that everyone who voted against him got shot.

  11. Gorbachev is in the zippered pocket of Big Duffle.

  12. I thought Gorbachev ended the cold war on his own terms. Reagan was just a prop.

    At least that’s what I heard at a lecture.

  13. “Gorbachev’s a visionary? Yeah, he’s a visionary. Like Hirohito after Nagasaki.”

    — P.J. O’Rourke

  14. Judging by Putin’s apparent popularity, the people of Russia share Gorbachev’s view.

  15. It sounds like Putin has managed to position himself so that criticism of him, personally, is interpretted by Russians to be criticism of Russia.

    Czar Vladimir I. Talk about your executive privileges.

  16. Gorby never meant to allow the failure of the USSR or its system of government. It all got away from him and the fall occurred in spite of his efforts.

    Try asking some Lithuanians what they thought of him after he sent the Soviet troops in.

  17. Ah, Gorbachev, the man who made it respectable for people in the west, like russian-history expert joe, to issue apologia for totalitarians.

  18. John Lewis Gaddis’ The Cold War has some interesting stuff on how Gorbachev arrived at what he arrived at (but no further). One part of it was that George Schultz would show up and give him Powerpoint lectures on basic management stuff like you’d read in Tom Peters or Peter Drucker, and it made sense enough to Gorbachev that he couldn’t buy the idea of a command economy any more. However, it’s clear that he never went 180 and totally believed in western style democracy etc.– he just saw that ordering people to innovate and motivate themselves was a contradiction in terms. So basically the USSR was GM– it could see why Toyota was better, but not how to turn itself into Toyota.

  19. The Soviets could have gone down fighting. When was the last time an empire with the size and military prowess of the Soviet empire accepted such retrenchment without trying shoot their way out?

  20. That’s a nice little tantrum, thug, but it isn’t an argument, or even a rebuttal.

  21. eb,

    Of course Gorbachev didn’t try to bring down the Soviet Union. He tried to save the Soviet Union.

    The ways he did so were four-fold: he ended the war in Afghanistan; he worked with Reagan to end the Cold War and put our countries on a peaceful footing; he opened up the political system to allow for competetive elections and freer expression; and he opened up the economic system to the private economy.

    Not bad for a “totalitarian” who needs people to “apologize” for him.

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