It is right for George Bush and Mikhail Gorbachev to have another summit. They are good for each other.
Bush's syntax and language markedly improved in the presence of his garrulous guest. At their joint Sunday news conference, Bush made a coherent, even articulate, defense of his views. And his solicitude and reasonableness seemed to transform Gorbachev.
Gorbachev started out suspicious, even a shade churlish, in Canada, and was only partly mollified by the ceremonious, totally respectful welcome he was given on the South Lawn. He knew that some considered him to be as anachronistic as the colonial fife and drum corps that slow-marched by the podium. Gorbachev knows his host has problems, too, but instead of wading into the dust of the arena to rassle with them, as Gorbachev does, Bush ignores them.
On Day II, Gorbachev made an odd appearance at a luminaries' luncheon at the Soviet Embassy, where he made a rambling speech about his need for time and understanding. The next day, his nerve completely restored, and dark eyes snapping, he told off a delegation from Capitol Hill. On Saturday, at Camp David, Bush spoke of happy trails that Gorbachev might explore. Sunday, at a news conference flowing with rapport, Bush's "Don't worry, be happy" philosophy seemed to prevail, even though they got nowhere on Germany and Lithuania, their first two items on the post-Cold War agenda.
Gorbachev is good for Bush because he practices glasnost so forcefully. His first afternoon, he started a dialogue with waiting reporters about a possible breakthrough (which later fell through). He gave the impression he would sit down on the curbstone of the city with anyone who passed and argue the merits of perestroika -- in the innocent hope that his pitch might travel back across the ocean and convince hungry Ivans and Natashas that "not by bread alone."
The street crowds were essential players in the Gorbachev drama. He is, of course, a celebrity, but there was more to showing enthusiasm for him than mere vulgar star-touching at his many walkabouts. They may be giving history a shove. He publishes his problems and his weaknesses to the point that every schoolchild knows that this could well be his "last summit."
The crowd scenes, which played on Moscow home screens, showed Russians that someone they jeered is an idol in the West. Seeing him plunge down capitalist streets to shouts of "We love ya, Gorby," the Russians might think their president is worthy of a second look.
Minnesota, an enclave of upper Midwest stolidity, went mad at the sight of him. If Moscow was watching and is moved by the sight of Uncle Sam on stilts waving a Soviet flag, Gorby's future may be brighter -- although the consensus is that Bush, who doesn't need it, will get the greater boost in the polls.
What makes him such a compelling personality is the fact that he is bolder and more visionary than any politician on Earth. "We didn't just change the paint on the walls," he told the members of Congress, "we took down the walls, and of course it is a mess to do the whole house all over again."
While he is arbitrary and long-winded, he is also vulnerable. From eyewitness accounts of the lengthy embassy sessions, he acted like a drowning man who is at the same time assured, almost serene, because he knows he is doing the right thing. A basket case with dignity, in short.
If he makes it to the next summit, he may ask for a moratorium on unsolicited advice. He got quite a bit this time. Hardly had his Ilyushin set down at Andrews Air Force Base when Secretary of State James A. Baker III was lecturing him.
"Of course," Baker said, "we want to see continued movement toward democracy and openness in the Soviet Union."
The congressmen also took it upon themselves to instruct him in his duties. If he is to have most favored nation trade status, he must pass the emigration bill.
"I would like to ask you to treat our sovereignty respectfully," he said. "When we hear there is a debate in Congress about . . . what we should do, well, this is resented in our society."
You have only to think what the reaction would be if Air Force One landed in Moscow and Bush got out and immediately began to be hectored by Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze about the budget deficit -- and oh, yes, about U.S. treatment of native Americans and the homeless.
We have been lecturing the Soviets for 70 years about mending their ways. Now that someone is, at great peril, doing that very thing, we can't kick the heckling reflex. Before he comes again, Gorbachev probably hopes that people in high places will notice that he's hanging on by his fingernails and needs more help than advice.