One of my early posts at Legal Insurrection, on November 11, 2008, was Is It Time For Conservatives To Sit Down In The Snow?.

The post analogized what conservatives were about to experience in the aftermath of Obama’s first victory to the experience of Soviet Jewish Refusenik Anatoly (Nathan) Sharansky. I related the story of Sharansky’s release from the Soviet gulag, and how he resisted to the very last moment of his release:

Sharansky spend almost a decade in Soviet prison because of his activities on behalf of Jews who wanted to emigrate to Israel. Sharansky was subjected to torture and other indignities, but never lost his spirit.Sharansky notoriously refused to obey even the most mundane orders from his captors. Sharansky understood that to compromise even a little would lead to compromising a lot. Throughout his ordeal, Sharansky kept his spirits alive by reading a small book of psalms.

As Sharansky was being led to the airplane that would take him from the Soviet Union to East Germany for the exchange, the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms.It would have been easy for Sharansky simply to keep walking towards the plane and freedom. But Sharansky understood that the Soviets confiscated his book of psalms not because they wanted the book, but because they wanted to show that even in this last moment, they were in control.

In front of reporters covering his departure, Sharansky sat in the snow refusing to move unless the Soviets gave him back his book of psalms. Here was this diminutive man, after 10 years in prison, on the verge of freedom, refusing to budge unless one of the world’s two superpowers gave him back his book. And give him back his book of psalms they did. Sharansky proceeded to the plane, where he read Psalm 30: “I will extol thee, O Lord; for thou hast lifted me up, and hast not made my foes to rejoice over me.”

Jay Nordlinger’s 2005 interview with Sharansky recounts not only the episode in the snow, but also the final moments when Sharansky walked to the car for the exchange:

Sharansky spent nine years in the Gulag, a harrowing time in which he demonstrated what resistance is. More than 400 of those days were spent in punishment cells; more than 200 were spent on hunger strikes. His refusal to concede anything to the Soviet state was almost superhuman. This was true to the very last. When they relinquished him to the East Germans, they told him to walk straight to a waiting car — “Don’t make any turns.” Sharansky zig-zagged his way to that car.

I found this video which has brief clips of that moment of release, as well as his arrival in Israel as the crowd sang Hine Mah Tov (Psalm 133 – “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!”). I remember those events, but never was able to find video.

I’m not a “hero” type of person — but if I were to have a list of heroes, Sharansky would be on it.

So when Sharansky speaks, I listen. And he spoke on April 17, 2015, in The Washington Post, When did America forget that it’s America?, in which he compares the U.S. capitulation to Iran to U.S. negotiations with the Soviet Union:

As a former Soviet dissident, I cannot help but compare this approach to that of the United States during its decades-long negotiations with the Soviet Union, which at the time was a global superpower and a existential threat to the free world. The differences are striking and revealing.

For starters, consider that the Soviet regime felt obliged to make its first ideological concession simply to enter into negotiations with the United States about economic cooperation. At the end of the 1950s, Moscow abandoned its doctrine of fomenting a worldwide communist revolution and adopted in its place a credo of peaceful coexistence between communism and capitalism. The Soviet leadership paid a high price for this concession, both internally — in the form of millions of citizens, like me, who had been obliged to study Marxism and Leninism as the truth and now found their partial abandonment confusing — and internationally, in their relations with the Chinese and other dogmatic communists who viewed the change as a betrayal. Nevertheless, the Soviet government understood that it had no other way to get what it needed from the United States.

Imagine what would have happened if instead, after completing a round of negotiations over disarmament, the Soviet Union had declared that its right to expand communism across the continent was not up for discussion. This would have spelled the end of the talks. Yet today, Iran feels no need to tone down its rhetoric calling for the death of America and wiping Israel off the map.

Sharansky correctly notes that reinforcement of the Mullah regime’s expansionist and aggressive posture seems to be a concession the U.S. is willing to accept:

Reality is complicated, and the use of historical analogies is always somewhat limited. But even this superficial comparison shows that what the United States saw fit to demand back then from the most powerful and dangerous competitor it had ever known is now considered beyond the pale in its dealings with Iran.

And then Sharansky zeroes in on the problem — the Obama and modern liberal world view of moral equivalence:

While negotiating with the Soviet Union, U.S. administrations of all stripes felt certain of the moral superiority of their political system over the Soviet one. They felt they were speaking in the name of their people and the free world as a whole, while the leaders of the Soviet regime could speak for no one but themselves and the declining number of true believers still loyal to their ideology.

But in today’s postmodern world, when asserting the superiority of liberal democracy over other regimes seems like the quaint relic of a colonialist past, even the United States appears to have lost the courage of its convictions.

So, When did America forget that it’s America?

Don’t say 2008. That’s too simple. Obama’s election was the symptom, not the cause.

We abandoned the educational system over two generations ago, and allowed people who think that the U.S. is the main problem in the world to get control of our children. Obama will be out of office in two years, but the problem will live on.

[Note: As originally published, the sentence starting “As a former Soviet dissident …” was not included in the block quotes in error. That’s Sharansky’s statement, obviously, not mine.]