Today’s Obamamania is not unlike Gorbymania. You may not remember Gorbymania—it marked a brief period of giddy enthusiasm for the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, and ran from the late 1980s up until the dismantling of his country in late December 1991. For Westerners, the genial Gorbachev was such a stunning departure from the Soviet leaders of yore and seemed so enlightened in his attitudes—seeking to dramatically reform the Soviet Union with perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness)—that he became wildly popular across the Cold War divide. During his frequent visits to U.S. cities and other countries, people would line the streets on the off chance he might jump from his motorcade to press the flesh, which he often did, and TV producers panted to book him. Plump Gorby dolls even sold by the gross in U.S. department stores.

Gorbachev won the Nobel in 1990, at the height of his international celebrity. Then it all came abruptly to an end. It turned out that Gorbachev didn’t understand a basic point: the communist system he was trying to reform was unreformable. His popularity disappeared with the Soviet Union. And he became a despised figure in post-Soviet Russia. His good nature no longer conveyed hope but weakness.

I wonder whether something reminiscent of this might be happening to Obama.