It’s sometimes nice, though it may be painful, to hear people speaking frankly. Senator Schumer was overheard speaking frankly to four other Democratic senators. (For the story, go here.) He told them to be sure to describe Republican spending cuts as “extreme.” “I always use ‘extreme.’ That is what the caucus instructed me to use.”
Oh, yes. All of my life, Republican policies, whatever they are, have been described as “extreme,” by Democrats. It’s one of their favorite words. You’ve noticed that?
The chief joy of the “Journolist” revelations was that the mask came off. (I wrote a column on that subject here.) One of the e-mail threads of these journalists was headed “The line on Palin.” Everyone had to get his talking points straight concerning the troublesome Alaska governor.
Democrats love to quote a Will Rogers quip that flatters them: “I belong to no organized party. I’m a Democrat.” The thing that has always struck me about Democrats — is how organized they are.
‐Every year, as April 15 approaches, or passes, I do a little harangue on taxes. At least, I have done this many a year. What I say is, the tax code pits Americans against one another: homeowners against renters, the married against the unmarried, the married with children against the married without children, etc. (Hey, “married with children” — that’d be a good title for a show.)
I think I’ll forgo that harangue this year. But let me say this: You know how people say, “There’s something wrong with our tax system if people can’t do their taxes on their own”? I think I agree with that. A special caste, almost a priestly caste, has grown up: tax accountants, tax preparers. They exist to help us do our taxes, or to do them for us.
A friend of mine was saying the other day, these people — bright, dedicated, and capable, as a rule — could be spending their lives in other ways, more productive ways: coming up with widgets, helping the economy grow. Instead, they’re doing their H&R Block routine. A routine sadly necessary.
There, that wasn’t much of a harangue, was it?
‐In a column last week, I blew off a little steam, China-wise. I said, “Weren’t you told that, if we were super-nice to the Chinese Communists, pretending they were civilized people, instead of the monsters they are, they would ease up on persecution? Weren’t you told that ages ago? Haven’t you been told that repeatedly since?” I then cited a report informing us of a crackdown “on a scale and intensity not seen in many years.”
Here is another report, which begins, “Ran Yunfei, a well-known Chinese Internet writer and independent intellectual, was formally arrested on suspicion of ‘inciting subversion of state power’ . . .” And how about this?
Australia has asked China for information on a Chinese-born Australian writer who disappeared in the country, the government said Tuesday as a friend claimed Yang Hengjun had been detained in Beijing’s ongoing crackdown on political expression.
The Sydney-based spy novelist phoned an assistant Sunday from Guangzhou airport in southeastern China to say three men were following him, said his friend Feng Chongyi, Associate Professor in China Studies at the University of Technology in Sydney.
Yang was later able to briefly phone a sister in Guangzhou to say “he’s having a long chat with his old friends,” Feng said. This was a prearranged signal that Yang had been taken by the secret police, Feng said.
“I’m 100 percent sure that he was been taken away by the secret police,” said Feng, adding that the current crackdown on political expression in China was the reason.
I understand the need to get along with the Chinese Communists, I really do. But, if I were in the U.S. government, in a position of responsibility, I would say something about the Communists’ continual, intensified assault on the human being. Wouldn’t you?
‐Baiqiao Tang is an important Chinese democracy leader, now living in exile (New York). His book has just been released: My Two Chinas: The Memoir of a Chinese Counterrevolutionary. I have blurbed it as follows:
“There are many Chinese — more than a billion of them — but there are relatively few to speak for them: to speak for their rights, their dignity, and their freedom. Baiqiao Tang is one such person. He speaks, not only for himself, but for masses of his countrymen, who are gagged. If the Communist dictatorship in China ever falls, Tang will be one of those who gave it a hard, wonderful push.”
‐Norway is a splendid country, and its citizens are right to be proud of it. But it has a problem, one common to many countries: anti-Semitism. Not just opposition to Israel (which is problematic enough), but plain, old-fashioned anti-Semitism. This is a defect marring a country with a great deal to offer.
Manfred Gerstenfeld has written an article called “Something rotten in Norway.” Its subhead is “Norwegian elite dominated by anti-Israel haters obsessed with Jewish state.” Oh, yeah. The author mentions that I have written a little about this myself. He quotes from this piece, which says, “There are two items of particular interest in Jensen’s office . . .” Who is Jensen? Siv Jensen, the leader of the Progress party, which is the Reaganite or Thatcherite party in Norway. And what are those items? “. . . a little Israeli flag and a bust of Reagan. It would be hard to convey how extraordinary these symbols are in the traditional Norwegian political culture. An American politician might be less scandalous for having kiddie porn in his office.”
When I wrote those sentences, a colleague protested that they were unbelievable. I protested that he did not know Norway.
Let me tell you a little about a man named Kare Kristiansen. He was a Norwegian politician who lived from 1920 to 2005. I got to know him a little — about him, I mean — when I was writing a book on the Nobel peace prize. (It will be published next year.) Kristiansen was a member of the Nobel committee, though not for long: only from 1991 to 1994. He resigned when his fellow committeemen gave the prize to the trio of Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Yasser Arafat. He did not think Arafat should have a peace prize, even a third of one — even a prize shared with two Israeli statesmen. His stomach and conscience would not allow it.
Kristiansen was a member, and leader, of the Christian Democratic party. The son of a Salvation Army pastor, he was a staunch Christian himself. And a staunch supporter of Israel. After the 1973 war, he started a Friends of Israel group in parliament. Understand that this is very, very rare.
When he resigned from the Nobel committee, some friends stopped speaking to him, and he received volumes of mail: from inside Norway and from abroad. The mail from Norwegians tended to be hateful; the mail from abroad tended to be supportive. It came mainly from religious people: Christians and Jews. Kristiansen would not allow his wife to open the mail from Norway — it upset her too much. He was happy for her to open the mail from abroad.
I have mixed feelings about the 1994 Nobel peace prize, given to honor and encourage the Oslo peace process, begun in the committee’s hometown the year before. The process had yet to prove itself a farce. The Israeli prime minister and the Israeli foreign minister were happy to share a prize with Arafat. Peres, in his Nobel lecture, went out of his way to say that Arafat deserved it.
Anyway, I could say much more. But I mainly wanted to say, Kare Kristiansen — there was a man. Someone Norwegians ought to be proud of.
‐Did you know that Norway was the first country in the West to recognize Hamas?
‐The Norwegian state divested from an Israeli company because that company was involved in the West Bank “separation barrier” — the barrier meant to stop the murder of innocent people through suicide bombing. It worked too, the barrier. Thank goodness.
‐“I’m not anti-Semitic, I just hate Israel!” people say (in so many words). I love what Paul Johnson says: “Scratch someone who’s anti-Israel, and it won’t take long before you reach the anti-Semite beneath.” I know full well there are people who are anti-Israel without being anti-Semitic. (So does Johnson.) It’s just that I think they are fewer in number than people generally suppose.
‐Wanted to share with you something charming, an answer that James Taylor gave, in an interview published by Carnegie Hall — in a concert program, I mean. The question was, “When did [your songwriting] start?” He answered,
“I think I tried writing my first songs when I was 12 or 13 or 14 years old. They were little things — definitely nothing I’d care to offer now — but in that time, when folk music was popular, it was such an accessible thing. Everyone just pretended that they were songwriters, and in some cases it turned out to be true.”
Just loved that. Priceless, that last line.
‐A couple of words about Warren Christopher, if I may. He passed on a couple of weeks ago. I regard him as a kind of Democratic Jim Baker: a lawyer, diplomat, and fixer.
Christopher was born in North Dakota, four years before the Great Depression, and he knew poverty. Went to Stanford Law School. Clerked for Justice Douglas. Later, he wrote speeches for Pat Brown — strange to think that Brown’s son is California’s governor, again.
In the Carter administration, Christopher was deputy secretary of state. Worked like a dog on the hostages-in-Iran problem. (It took Reagan’s inauguration to solve that.) When Clinton was nominated, in 1992, Christopher headed the search committee for a vice-presidential nominee. That turned out to be Gore. When Gore himself was the presidential nominee, in 2000, Christopher again headed the vice-presidential search committee. (Gore chose Lieberman, as you know.) In the Florida recount mess, he led the Democrats’ legal team, while Baker led the Republicans’.
What have I to say about Christopher’s tenure as secretary of state? (That was during Clinton’s first term, as you recall. Albright had it during the second.) He was sober, competent, and usually sensible. In short, the Democratic party has done far worse than “Chris,” as he was called. Now and then, the Republican party has done worse too.
‐Did you hear about the house that looks like Hitler? Weirdest news item of the month, I think: Go here.
‐Let’s end with a couple of stories. I’m with a friend at the opera. Young Asian woman. (By the way, when did it become evil to say “Oriental”? Why?) Another young Asian woman approaches her and says, “Hey, do you have a student ID I can borrow? I want to get a student ticket. They think we all look alike anyway.”
And a related story — a neat illustration of modern America, its mindset and neuroses. There is a grad-school happy hour. You get one free-drink ticket. Asian woman wants another drink. Arab friend of hers says, “Go up to the guy handing out the tickets” — a white guy — “and if he challenges you, tell him all Asians don’t look alike.”
Duly, she goes up to the guy. Guy says, “Hey, you got one already.” Her: “No, I didn’t.” Him: “Come on! We like totally had a conversation.” Her: “Whatever — not all Asians look alike, you know.” Him: “I’m not a racist. Just take this damn ticket and go away.”
Anyway . . . have a good rest-of-week, dearhearts, and I’ll see you later.