So on my trip to Moscow this summer I gave Gorbachev "this letter that I'd written all those years ago to some mythical fellow named Ivan. And I said what a wonderful thing it would be if both our countries were able to spend a little bit of this money that we've been spending building 60,000 nuclear warheads {to} feed the hungry and clothe the naked, and you and us both together make a gift to mankind. And he took the letter and looked at it. And in this country, Bob, where the dialectical theory is one of atheism, Mikhail Gorbachev said, 'Thank God.' "

So testified Speaker Jim Wright to worshippers at Rev. Robert ("The Be Happy Attitudes") Schuller's Crystal Cathedral last Sunday. We already know that Gorbachev is a liberal in disguise and lover of peace. Now it turns out that he is a closet Christian too. Praise the Lord. Bring on the summit.

Americans are getting dizzy over Gorbachev. Before Wright there was Jimmy Carter, who last July called Gorbachev the "most humanitarian" of the world's leaders. But Gorbo season officially opened Monday night with his interview on NBC, the Soviet Communist Party's favorite network.

The way the Soviets awarded the interview was a scandal. CBS says it was disqualified because of tough reporting on Afghanistan and tough questions on human rights. ABC likely lost favor because of its mild (and moronic) "Amerika" series. If so, that means NBC was rewarded for perceived innocuousness. This complaint might just be sour grapes from NBC's rivals. But what criterion would Gorbachev have for preferring one network over another except how delicately it treats the Soviet regime? Better Nielsens? Next time, the networks should not let Gorbachev play them off against each other in a docility competition. How? By agreeing in advance to refuse exclusivity and to accept only a single pooled interview.

Nevertheless, whatever the circumstance, the interview was revealing. It is very hard for any American to believe that one can be reasonable and communist at the same time. And if there must be reasonable communists (in Italy, for example), they cannot possibly be pro-Soviet. Which is why it comes as such a surprise that moderate, modern Gorbachev turns out to be a communist and pro-Soviet at that.

The fundamental misconception about Gorbachev is that he has somehow broken the ideological mold. But if you listen to his words rather than look at his suit, you'll find that his values are not different from, say, Andropov's or Brezhnev's. It is not his ideology that is new, but the degree of experimentation that he is willing to tolerate in order to carry out that ideology. For example:

Would you permit in your country other parties beside the Communist Party, asked Brokaw? The Communist Party has given the people so much, said Gorbachev. "I see no need for any other party." The answer is, of course, Soviet boilerplate. What was impressive, therefore, was the evident feeling with which Gorbachev delivered it. He really believes it, as he does the claim that "we eliminated the exploitation of man by man." It is hard for a nonbeliever to use the phrase with a straight face, let alone claim it as an achievement. Gorbachev is not a liberal in a hurry. He is a communist in a hurry.

Why the Berlin Wall? "Through West Berlin, a lot was done which caused great harm, both political and economic, to that country {East Germany}." Yes, it gave East Germans a vision of freedom to which 16,000 a month flocked. East Germany was being sucked dry. That's why the wall went up.

Why don't you permit free emigration? The answer that cannot be spoken is that everyone will leave and there will be no one to turn out the lights. Hence an aggressive defense of the superiority of Soviet "social and economic rights" to Western-style rights. Hence the whopper -- "for 50-odd years we have had no unemployed" -- which, even if it were true, would mean little in a system where unemployment is a crime (parasitism) punishable with jail.

But I am being literal. On the whole, meaning on the tube, Gorbachev won. He won the way Kennedy won the 1960 debate. Those who saw the debate on TV thought Kennedy won. Those who listened on radio thought Nixon did. Gorbachev's words, in transcript, are damning. But TV is not about transcripts.

It is about appearances. No horns, no threats, no shoes on the table. Gorbachev was cordial, quick to smile, human. A communist with a human face. Unfortunately, that is not the brand of communism he practices.

Next week, however, it will be impolite to point that out. Hence a summit suggestion: no more summits at home. Summitry is one sport where the home-team advantage is reversed. First, because elementary civility requires deference to a house guest. That doesn't mean inviting the visiting dictator to stand where Churchill stood and address a joint session of Congress. It does mean refraining from rough questions, rhetorical rebukes and other means of gaining advantage in summit public relations.

Second, because a U.S. visit turns a summit into a one-man show. Reagan in the Rose Garden is old hat. Gorbachev in the Rose Garden or before whatever American tableau they stand him is good theater and better television. The story is not the summit but the visit of a Soviet leader. The nature of the event dictates a week's saturation coverage, the residue of which will serve Gorbachev politically for a very long time.

So in the interest of keeping our equilibrium and our wallets, no more home-town summits. Summits, by all means. But in neutral places, preferably far away and with nasty climates.