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The Eighties Club
The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s
Ronald Reagan's Address at Moscow State University: A Rhetoric of Conciliation and Subversion
B Wayne Howell, The Southern Communication Journal, 68/2, Winter 2003
[This is an abridgement; to order a reprint of the entire article, or the entire issue, contact the publishing journal.]
On May 31, 1988 President Ronald Reagan addressed the students and faculty at Moscow State University (MSU). Although previous presidents desired such an opportunity, no other U.S. president except Richard M. Nixon had stood east of the Berlin Wall and spoken directly to the citizens of the Soviet Union. That Reagan would have such an opportunity was highly unlikely. Reagan appeared to be an implacable foe of the Soviet Union, previously calling it an "evil empire," describing it as "the focus of evil in the modern world," and accusing the Soviet "regime" of being "barbaric."
The Soviets, for their part, had previously characterized Reagan and his administration as "warmongers," and the Soviet Union had utilized its official propaganda machine to attack Reagan in both word and caricature in Pravda. Soviet newspaper editors accused Reagan of leading "a 'psychological war' and an anti-Soviet 'crusade'." Reagan was caricatured in Pravda more than any other U.S. president. In fact, only Adolph Hitler had appeared more often in that newspaper's editorial cartoons. Hence, it was improbable that the virulently anti-communist Reagan would ever receive an invitation to speak-much less to speak uncensored-inside Moscow. However, following three summit meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev and the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, East-West relations experienced a "qualitative change for the better."
Reagan openly sought an opportunity to speak freely to the Soviet citizens since 1982. Once granted, that opportunity presented Reagan with a unique challenge. He would have to find, as he had on previous occasions, "a middle ground between the political realities of the nuclear age and the demands of his most conservative constituency and advisers." Reagan would also have to find a middle ground between his own anti-communism and the need to avoid alienating his Soviet audience. To be sure, Reagan desired the collapse of communism in the U.S.S.R. He regarded the Soviet "experiment" as "a monstrous aberration," and he viewed the Cold War struggle between the West and the East as a battle between "right and wrong and good and evil." Early in his presidency, Reagan predicted to the world that "the march of freedom and democracy . . . [will] leave Marxism-Leninism on the ash heap of history as it has left other tyrannies which stifle the freedom and muzzle the self-expression of the people." This was Reagan's vision throughout his administration. Though Reagan may have changed his thinking on the need for U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit meetings, as well as his rhetoric toward the Soviet Union, he changed neither his views of communism nor his desire to see Marxism-Leninism end up on "the ash heap of history."
Reagan's speech at Moscow State University merits examination because of the rhetorical complexities posed by such a momentous opportunity, the disparate objectives Reagan sought, and the form and function of Reagan's response. Reagan pursued seemingly disparate diplomatic objectives-conciliation and subversion. Through his MSU speech, Reagan crafted a rhetorical posture from which he accomplished these two objectives. First, he depicted himself and the United States as friends of the Soviet people and supporters of Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. Second, he continued to advance his ideological hostility toward communism. With his rhetorical strategies in the MSU address, Reagan desired to reduce international tensions and intercultural misunderstandings and, at the same time, to increase pressure for greater changes in the political and economic systems of the Soviet Union.
Reagan utilized four rhetorical strategies. First, he provided a justification for his audience to reject Marxist-Leninist philosophies. Second, he offered an alternative to communism and socialism. Third, he projected a positive image of himself and the motives of the United States. Finally, Reagan democratized the diplomatic process by engaging the people of the Soviet Union directly and encouraging them to more directly engage their government in a dialogue for change.
In the case of the address at MSU, Reagan's diplomatic rhetoric resembled his domestic rhetoric: He positioned himself as a friend of the people and a foe of government. The difference between Reagan's domestic and diplomatic rhetoric was that in the United States, Reagan considered big government to be "the problem" oppressing the people. In the Soviet Union, he considered communism with its imposition of Marxist-Leninist doctrines to be morally bad government and, thus, the oppressor of the people. However, Reagan's rhetoric was not designed to subvert Gorbachev's reforms....Reagan designed a rhetorical subterfuge against that which Gorbachev was attempting to reform: the Soviet Union's practice of communism and socialism....
PREPARING FOR MOSCOW
The primary opportunity Reagan faced on his trip to Moscow was to take full advantage of glasnost, the new openness in the Soviet Union. Reagan wanted to promote progress and change in the Soviet Union, progress that was consistent with his 1983 National Security Decision Directive-75 (NSDD-75), which held that the goal of the United States was: "To promote . . . the process of change in the Soviet Union toward a more pluralistic political and economic system in which the power of the privileged ruling elite is gradually reduced" and to promote "the superiority of U.S. and Western values of individual dignity and freedom, a free press, free trade unions, free enterprise, and political democracy over the repressive features of Soviet Communism." In preparation for the Moscow summit, Reagan issued NSDD-305 in which he stressed the need for progress. "My specific objectives in the Soviet portion of my trip include: to stress the importance of progress in Soviet human rights performance . . . to make maximum practical progress toward an agreement for a fifty-percent reduction in U.S. and Soviet strategic nuclear forces . . . to follow through on progress made on the regional agenda . . . to consolidate progress and move forward on bilateral issues . . . to press for progress on all other matters of interest on our four-part agenda." According to Gilder, a Reagan speechwriter and the primary author of the MSU address, Reagan was committed to pressing for greater changes because it was clear that Gorbachev was "collapsing on one front after another." Reagan wanted to use the opportunities of the Moscow summit "to talk about freedom in as compelling a way as possible, and push them [the Soviet leadership] just farther along . . . to the point where they [could not] turn back."
While in Moscow Reagan needed to seize the opportunity to promote his agenda for greater freedoms directly to the Soviet people. Reagan desired a better life for the Soviet people, but this was not the image of Reagan the Soviet press projected to its citizens. Therefore, while he was in the Soviet Union, Reagan needed to present a different, more positive image of himself and the United States if the Soviet people were to accept that the U.S. truly desired peace and friendship with the U.S.S.R. and a thriving Soviet economy.
Targeting Soviet Youth
....Based on Reagan's previous vituperative characterizations of the Soviet Union and given the perception of the U.S. President created by Soviet media within the U.S.S.R., Reagan anticipated a hostile audience. However, if there were those who were skeptical of Pravda and the official Soviet media characterizations of Reagan, these Soviet citizens would have comprised a potentially friendly audience (e.g., Eastern Orthodox priests, Soviet dissidents, and refuseniks) or a neutral audience (those who were not as involved in Communist Party politics or political affairs and were frustrated with economic conditions in the Soviet Union). Gilder noted that although these multiple audiences were taken into consideration in constructing the MSU address, Reagan's primary audience was the students....
Reagan was highly motivated by this opportunity. According to some of his aides, Reagan considered "himself as a missionary, spreading the gospel of Western-style democracy." However, if Reagan was to effectively take advantage of this historic occasion, he needed to rhetorically temper his missionary zeal.
As the Moscow summit approached, little progress had been made regarding strategic nuclear weapons discussions in Geneva. Though arms control agreements would be a major topic under discussion at the Moscow summit, new accords were not expected. Whelan (1990) noted, "Since differences in arms control . . . were not likely to be narrowed, [Reagan's] priority interest was placed on advancing the idea of human rights and expanding human contacts as a necessary corollary.". That being the case, priority was placed on Reagan's public appearances and public statements. Reagan instructed in NSDD-305, "My visit to the Soviet Union should not be seen as a dialogue only with the Soviet government, but also as a way of communicating with the Soviet people,", especially young people....
The Summit Preparation Group also placed special emphasis on the speeches Reagan would deliver before, during, and after his visit to Moscow. According to Cannon and Oberdorfer, "From the White House point of view, the major emphasis was on three speeches . . . a May 27 address in Helsinki emphasizing human rights, a May 31 speech at Moscow State University extolling the virtues of freedom and a June 3 speech at Guildhall in London where Reagan summed up developments in U.S.-Soviet relations.". Ramee, a political counselor at the U.S. embassy in Moscow, in a memo to Hooley (Director, Presidential Advance) suggested that the event at MSU should "provide the President with a forum from which to make a major address" and "put the President before and . . . enable him to interact with a generation of young people and potential future leaders." Gilder understood that President Reagan wanted to talk to the MSU students "about the importance of freedom and what it means," so Gilder brought in standup comedian Yakov Smirnov to help him "make the theme [of the speech] concrete in terms of Soviets' own experience." Gilder made sure that Reagan's address included names and quotations of literary and cultural figures with whom the students could identify not so much to make Reagan appear to be familiar with all of the individuals named but as a way of politically embracing the sentiments expressed by those individuals....
Encouraging Reform: Balancing Conciliation and Subversion
Reagan had a delicate balance to strike. Gorbachev needed Reagan's support in light of antireformists who feared the "subversive implications" and destabilizing potential of glasnost and perestroika. And yet, Reagan needed to exploit the opportunities presented by glasnost and perestroika because of their subversive implications. If Reagan commended Gorbachev's reforms, Gorbachev could "point [Communist Party conservatives] to his [own] unique and indispensable role in easing international tensions." However, it was also equally important that Reagan confront Gorbachev with criticisms of unreformed Soviet policies to continue to apply international pressure.
Reagan needed to praise Gorbachev's reforms in order to calm the fears of those who were concerned about the consequences of political change. Yet Reagan staffers expressed concern regarding excessive praise of Gorbachev. Rodman, Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs, objected to an initial draft of the MSU speech because he said there were "two paragraphs that gush much too much about Gorbachev's reforms and even criticize his internal opponents. That goes much too far; both should come out." Others argued that the speech should combine Reagan's praise for reforms with reassurances that change would not be detrimental to Soviet life. In a memo to Dawson, Assistant to the President for Operations, Stevens, Executive Secretary of the National Security Council, indicated:
There is considerable anxiety now within Soviet society because of the changes initiated by Gorbachev and the uncertainty regarding their direction and degree. This is not a society accustomed to change. The President was advised to address this anxiety through both empathy and reassurance that we in the West are accustomed to change, that change should be viewed as an opportunity and not a threat, and that change is inherent and essential to modern society.
This recommendation would not be difficult to follow as it would serve both Gorbachev's and Reagan's needs.
Conversely, Reagan had a significant interest in criticizing conditions in the Soviet Union. Criticism, strategically voiced, could prod Gorbachev to seek additional reforms. Gorbachev was, after all, a reformist intent on restoring the Soviet Union to economic health. Gorbachev's book, Perestroika, for example, relied on Lenin's writings to illustrate that socialism was dynamic and would pass through several revolutionary stages before achieving "a qualitatively new state.". Indeed, for Gorbachev, perestroika was "a revolution."....In the MSU address, Reagan commended Gorbachev's revolutionary changes and attempted to motivate the people of the Soviet Union to desire greater reforms by criticizing existing policies restricting individuals' freedoms, criticizing the lack of "institutionalized" reform, and offering Soviet citizens an alternative means of achieving a higher standard of living.
MOSCOW STATE UNIVERSITY, MAY 31, 1988
To achieve his desired diplomatic effect, Reagan employed four rhetorical strategies. First, he cast doubt on the historic inevitability of communism and socialist economic theories. Second, he offered an alternative to Marxist-Leninist doctrine. Third, he presented a positive image of himself and of the United States. Finally, Reagan democratized the diplomacy process in the Soviet Union. These goals were interrelated; in accomplishing one, Reagan could influence or partially achieve others as well.
De-Legitimizing Marxism-Leninism
Reagan may have considered communism evil and destined for the ash heap of history, but stating such opinions explicitly to his audience at Moscow State University would have been counterproductive. Instead, Reagan strategically cast his message as a discussion of the technological progress occurring outside the Soviet Union: "Standing here before a mural of your revolution, I want to talk about a very different revolution that is taking place right now, quietly sweeping the globe without bloodshed or conflict"-a "technological revolution." Use of the terms "technological revolution" had strategic significance. According to an academic textbook of Soviet philosophy (written for use in Soviet schools to explain Marxist-Leninist principles), it was the "scientific and technological revolution" that would lead to the achievement of Marx's vision and the ultimate goal of the Bolshevik revolution-a communist society. Moreover, for many Soviets, technological progress was meaningful in more areas than science, engineering, or the economy....
Since his election as general secretary at the April 1985 Plenary Meeting of the Central Committee, Gorbachev emphasized perestroika and its basic principles, including technological advancements, as an integral part of his plan for reviving the Soviet economy and industrial base. However, by May 1988, when Reagan spoke in Moscow, the Soviet economy was still faltering. Thus, Reagan compared the world outside the Soviet Union to a "chrysalis, emerging from the economy of the Industrial Revolution-an economy confined to and limited by the Earth's physical resources" that was "breaking through the material conditions of existence to a world where man creates his own destiny." Here Reagan attempted to create in his audience a sense of being surpassed by the rest of the world, a sense of the inability, rather than the inevitability, of the current Soviet political and economic systems to lead to what Marxism-Leninism promised: "the development of the working masses, their material and spiritual advance." The explicit message in Reagan's, discussion of the "technological revolution" was merely an explanation of the revolution's occurrence and its effects. However, Reagan's implicit message was a comparison between two economic systems-socialism and capitalism-and their consequences for humanity's material existence. Clearly, Reagan intimated that the world outside the Soviet Union was experiencing an exceedingly better material existence. In this way, Reagan attempted to erode confidence among the Soviet people as well as among the nomenklatura-"the conservative middle-ranks of party officialdom"-in the historic inevitability of a command economy controlled by a communist government.
....Thus, Reagan equated freedom with progress. Specifically, his thesis argued that human rights equal individual freedom; freedom equals individual creativity; individual creativity equals technological progress. The essence of the argument in Reagan's MSU address can be summarized as follows:
There is a revolution taking place. It is spreading around the globe. This revolution is in the field of technology/information. The revolution reflects a breakthrough of the human spirit and will affect significant material transformations in mankind's existence. The catalyst of the revolution is freedom: freedom of the individual, freedom of individual imagination, freedom for individual creativity. This revolution is also being accompanied by increased economic and political freedoms. Democracy serves as the guardian against the only impediment to the revolution: infringement of individual freedom.
....Reagan relied upon identification to link his cause with Gorbachev's interests: Reagan (1990a) strategically equated freedom with progress and progress with freedom. If Gorbachev would attempt to encourage individual creativity in pursuit of technological innovation by expanding personal freedoms, Reagan could achieve his objective of greater individual liberties for Soviet citizens.
Legitimizing an Alternative to Marxism-Leninism
Although technological progress by the Soviets was possible, Reagan warned that, contrary to Marxist-Leninist economic doctrines, it was not inevitable: "Progress is not foreordained. The key is freedom-freedom of thought, freedom of information, freedom of communication." Reagan offered his alternatives to a command economy controlled by a communist government: capitalism and freedom for the entrepreneurial spirit under a democratic form of government. Konstantinov et al. argued "capitalism stands in the way of the application of science and technology for the benefit of the working prople [sic], in the interest of man's all-around development." To the contrary, Reagan argued that the world outside the Soviet Union was in a new economy "in which there are no bounds on human imagination and the freedom to create is the most precious natural resource." As an example, Reagan pointed to entrepreneurs as "the prime movers of the technological revolution." He cited the success of "one of the largest personal computer firms in the United States," a company that was started by "two college students, no older than you, in the garage behind their home."....It was the entrepreneurs, Reagan (1990a) argued, who were "responsible for almost all the economic growth in the United States" (p. 684).
....Marxists-Leninists argued, "in the capitalist society the development of the productive forces cannot be attributed to the need of the working people for improvement of their material position." Reagan countered that a free market and free enterprise allowed individuals to fulfill their vocational and material dreams: "And that's why it's so hard for government planners, no matter how sophisticated, to ever substitute for millions of individuals working night and day to make their dreams come true."....
....Reagan adopted Marxist-Leninist language and "orthodox" Marxist-Leninist arguments to state his own case. Marx and Lenin contended that social change occurs when the way work is organized ("relations of production") prevent new technologies ("forces of production") from reaching their full potential. Reagan argued that within the Soviet Union it was the relations of production (as imposed by the government) that were restraining the forces of production (the development of technology). Governmental social planning of the relations of production was impeding the development of the forces of production that Marxism-Leninism claimed would result in the increased well-being of the working masses. Reagan, thus, in Marxist-Leninist "language" encouraged his audience as those who lived in a collectivized society and labored in a centrally planned economy to compare their standard of living to those of individuals around the globe who labored in "economic freedom." He enticed his audience with a larger vision of what labor could result in not only for national, but also for individual, economic progress.
To further support his claim for "the power of economic freedom" to generate technological innovations, Reagan quoted Mikhail Lomonosov, "the renowned scientist, scholar, and founding father" of Moscow State University, whom, Reagan said, understood this "power" as well: "'It is common knowledge,' he [Lomonosov] said, 'that the achievements of science are considerable and rapid, particularly once the yoke of slavery is cast off and replaced by the freedom of philosophy'." By employing the words of famous Soviets, as he would throughout the speech, Reagan demonstrated that freedom was not just a Western concept, but that it was a concept some Soviets understood-and valued-as well. As an example, Reagan cited Boris Pasternak, author of Dr. Zhivago, and quoted what he told his audience was "the most eloquent passage on human freedom." Before he revealed the source of the quotation, however, Reagan noted, "It comes, not [italics added] from the literature of America, but from this country, from one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century:"
I think that if the beast who sleeps in man could be held down by threats-any kind of threat, whether of jail or of retribution after death-then the highest emblem of humanity would be the lion tamer in the circus with his whip, not the prophet who sacrificed himself. But this is just the point-what has for centuries raised man above the beast is not the cudgel, but an inward music-the irresistible power of unarmed truth.
Only recently, under Gorbachev's reforms, had a ban on Pasternak's book been lifted. Now that this book and others like it were again available to readers in the Soviet Union, Reagan's reference to it not only promoted his belief in freedom, but also served as an encouragement to his audience to read Dr. Zhivago and other previously banned works that discussed such subversive concepts as truth and freedom.
In discussing the concept of freedom, Reagan provided a civics lesson, a brief discussion of the freedoms experienced by citizens in the United States, affirming the belief that all people "are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights-among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness-that no government can justly deny." He praised democratic government: "Democracy is less a system of government than it is a system to keep government limited, unintrusive; a system of constraints on power to keep politics and government secondary to the important things in life, the true sources of value found only in family and faith." Reagan's description of life in the United States would have been too glowing for his Soviet audience had he not also admitted that the freedom experienced in the United States allowed its citizens to "recognize our shortcomings and seek solutions." Ultimately, Reagan said, "Freedom is the recognition that no single person, no single authority or government has a monopoly on the truth." By making his argument in this way, Reagan commended "perestroika and what its goals are", thereby establishing an ethos of goodwill with his audience. At the same time, he compelled his audience to consider his views and values-the belief that greater limits on government and less limits on personal and economic freedoms were in the best interest of Soviet citizens.
Creating Positive Images of a New Friendship
Reagan's discussion of democratic ideals, concepts usually identified with Western culture, expressed his belief in the superiority of such concepts. However, he strategically incorporated examples from Russian and Uzbekistanian cultures in order to demonstrate that these ideals were not solely the ideals of the Western world but were the ideals of all who desired the best for humanity. Reagan assured his audience:
I go on about these things not simply to extol the virtues of my own country but to speak to the true greatness of the heart and soul of your land. Who, after all, needs to tell the land of Dostoevski about the quest for truth, the home of Kandinski and Scriabin about imagination, the rich and noble culture of the Uzbek man of letters Alisher Novoi about beauty and heart? The great culture of your diverse land speaks with a glowing passion to all humanity.
Reagan identified with Russia's history and culture and embraced them while avoiding an embrace of the current governmental and political systems. His identification was with the Soviet people, not the Soviet system, a distinction often made in diplomatic discourse.
Reagan countered the image of the aggressive, imperialistic capitalist of communist propaganda and provided encouragement to those in his audience who were hopeful for peaceful international relations by establishing three areas of identification between Americans and Soviets: ethnic ties, a desire to increase contact between the peoples of both nations, and a common abhorrence of war. Reagan assured the Soviets, "Americans seek always to make friends of old antagonists." The conciliatory attitude of the United States toward the Soviet Union was based, in part, on the common nationalities that populated each nation. "America," Reagan said, "is a nation made up of hundreds of nationalities. Our ties to you are more than ones of good feeling; they are ties of kinship."....For Reagan, a new and greater harmony could exist between the old antagonists, but he linked international relations to intra-national reforms. Because Reagan knew that there were some in his audience who "fear that change will bring only disruption and discontinuity, who fear to embrace the hope of the future," he attempted to diminish their anxieties....
A positive step in the process of creating new understandings between Americans and Soviets was to create new and greater opportunities for contact between the two peoples. Therefore, Reagan announced his proposal for increases in student exchange programs....By increasing the number of Soviets experiencing the world outside the U.S.S.R. through student exchange programs, Reagan hoped to increase the number of Soviets who desired to change their living conditions inside the Soviet Union.
Finally, and most importantly, Reagan established a common abhorrence of war between the two nuclear superpowers and former allies....
Reagan sought to quell any fears that the Soviet people had that the United States and its allies meant to do them harm: "People do not make wars; governments do. And no mother would ever willingly sacrifice her sons for territorial gain, for economic advantage, for ideology. A people free to choose will always choose peace." Drawing from elements of Russian culture and extolling the virtues of the Soviet people, Reagan established significant areas of intercultural identification between Soviets and Americans. In so doing, he undermined the credibility of the propagandized portrait of the United States' hatred for the Soviets and American desires to perpetuate the Cold War.
Democratizing Diplomacy
Many of Reagan's criticisms in the MSU address were veiled. Reagan's goal was to motivate, not alienate, his audience. Like other speeches during the Moscow summit, the MSU address was an attempt to "spread subversive good will." While Reagan acted as an exogenous agent, diplomatically pressing for greater liberalization, he sought to motivate Soviet citizens to act as endogenous catalysts for change. Although this was not Reagan's overt message, it was his covert goal. Reagan utilized commendation-condemnation clusters. When his criticism was more direct it was usually coupled with a statement of praise for Soviet reforms or a diplomatic expression of goodwill. For example, following his criticism of the failure to institutionalize Gorbachev's reforms and the need to remove "the barriers that keep people apart" (a veiled reference to the Berlin Wall), Reagan announced his proposal for increased people-to-people exchanges. After voicing his approval for progress on the INF Treaty and for the Soviet commencement of withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan, Reagan confronted his audience with the need to cease the "continuing destruction and conflicts in many regions of the globe," mentioning "southern Africa, Ethiopia, Cambodia, the Persian Gulf, and Central America." Following his statement that the only way for "this globe to live in peace and prosper" is that "nations must renounce, once and for all, the right to an expansionistic foreign policy," Reagan asserted that Americans abhorred war just as much as did Soviets, and he assured his audience that the United States always endeavored to overcome old antagonisms in an effort to create new, friendly international relationships. Thus, Reagan was careful to strategically balance praise and criticism.
....Reagan was attempting to "democratize" the diplomatic process, to open up the issues of international affairs directly to the Soviet people for their deliberation and decision in a manner that Soviet leadership adamantly avoided. Hence, Reagan followed his address with a 20-minute question-and-answer session with the students, affording them the opportunity to challenge him through direct questioning from open microphones. This took place at the request of U.S. officials to avoid the usual "Soviet habit" of "send[ing] written questions to the stage, where a host selects and passes presumably representative questions to the speaker."
....Speaking directly to an audience he characterized as yearning to "break free," involving them in the diplomatic process as their own leaders did not, Reagan positioned himself, and the United States, as a friend of the Soviet people encouraging them to trust his motives and intentions toward their nation. From this rhetorical posture, Reagan allied himself with the Soviet people as agents for institutionalizing change: "We [italics added] should remember that reform that is not institutionalized will always be insecure. Such freedom will always be looking over its shoulder. A bird on a tether, no matter how long the rope, can always be pulled back."
CONCLUSION
Ignatius argued that "the military posturing and rhetorical excesses of the Reagan era" resulted in "a loss of flexibility and subtlety in foreign policy." However, as the Moscow State University address illustrates, Reagan's foreign policy rhetoric, at least in the summer of his last year in office, exhibited both flexibility and subtlety. Once inside the U.S.S.R., Reagan attempted to construct a positive image of himself and to establish significant intercultural links between citizens of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. In doing so, he tried to remove the external antagonist of which the Soviets were wary. By moderating the international threat, Reagan attempted to assure his audience that Soviets did not need to be as concerned with international affairs as with their intra-national circumstances. That Reagan would use his opportunity at MSU to discuss Soviet domestic affairs is not surprising. Reagan previously established his interest in Soviet internal affairs as a significant aspect of his diplomatic agenda, especially his interest in human rights and bilateral issues. Having positioned himself as a friend of the Soviet people, Reagan engaged them in deliberation about their standard of living versus that of other peoples who were experiencing greater political and economic freedoms.
....Rather than making accusatory statements about the evils of communism and a socialist economic system, Reagan adopted a "truth-seeking tone." He opened up the discussion to the Soviet people for their deliberation. As the Washington Post observed, Reagan, during the question and answer period of his speech, provided an opportunity for "direct, unprotected popular challenge and scrutiny [that] define [s] the American model of accountability." Additionally, as he had in his domestic foreign policy rhetoric, Reagan operated under the "consensus-gaining rationale," seeking to garner support for more progressive reforms in the Soviet Union. Therefore, he attempted to broaden public participation in deliberations over Soviet affairs and to set a new agenda for the domestic debate. His speech expanded the discussion so that Soviet citizens might deliberate whether it was worth reforming the Soviet Union, as Gorbachev desired, or if a more fundamental change was necessary.
....Reagan's rhetoric of subversion was subtle-as subversion usually is. His rhetoric was designed to create a social and political undercurrent of discontent with the status quo that would eventually result in the rejection of Marxism-Leninism. Thus, Reagan used the language of Marxism-Leninism to de-legitimize its prominence in Soviet thinking and to legitimize alternatives for consideration. In this way, Reagan's rhetoric was as much, or more, about subverting the entrenched ideology of a foreign public as it was about "courtship" and "seducing" a foreign public, a significant aspect of the MSU address that Goodnight's analysis fails to reveal. Reagan's argument was sophisticated because it functioned to subvert the Soviet governing system while simultaneously maintaining a harmonious relationship with this declining nuclear superpower. Reagan's rhetorical strategies allowed him to achieve both a rhetorical creativity and a diplomatic subtlety in an effort to conciliate the Soviet people and their reform-minded leaders while maintaining his subversive rhetorical posture as a foe of Marxism-Leninism.

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