Chester_A_Arthur-1

When someone—Donald Trump, for example—assumes the presidency of the United States, he knows from the first day that eventually he will be compared to all those who held the office before.

When the history professors and other analysts cast their periodical votes, the new president, in most cases, can hope to rank higher than, say, 34th of 45 places. That’s the place now occupied, in one prominent poll, by Chester Alan Arthur, subject of a biography by Zachary Karabell.

To rank below Arthur, one has to have had a name such as Tyler, Harding, Pierce, or Buchanan.

But Karabell’s biography, one of The American Presidents Series by Times Books, shows that even in his lowly niche, Arthur deserves credit from some unexpected effectiveness in office. Without intending to, Karabell’s book also portends—if the events of the past seven months are any indication—that Arthur stands to move up at least a notch.

U.S. Presidential Portraits

Arthur and Trump have this in common: They went to the White House from New York City where each, in his own way, took as much personal advantage as possible of the prevailing system—real estate for Trump, political cronyism for Arthur.

A native of Vermont, Arthur had a reputation for being, if not lazy, not energetic either. He arrived late and left early. When he could choose how he spent his time, his choice was usually an evening at the club with his cronies, whisky, and cigars. But he was efficient and even effective at what he did, and he was successful in the practice of law in New York City.

Arthur also signed on with the Republican machine which at the time was run by U.S. Senator Roscoe Conkling. Arthur’s association with the party paid off, and in 1871 President Ulysses Grant appointed  him collector of the Port of New York.

Chester A. Arthur 4

Roscoe Conkling

The post was both powerful and lucrative, although Karabell points out that Arthur never took money that he was not legally entitled to. He was consistent in this respect: during the Civil War, he had been appointed brigadier general and was put in charge of arranging housing and other accommodations for troops arriving in the city to serve in the New York militia. “Arthur did not take advantage of the numerous opportunities for skimming,” Karabell writes, “and his gains were not ill-gotten.”

In 1880, the Republican Party was unable to break a convention deadlock between Conkling’s “Stalwart” faction, which wanted to nominate Grant, and the “Half-Breed” faction that wanted to nominate U.S. Senator James G. Blaine of Maine.

Chester A. Arthur 5

James A. Garfield

The convention finally compromised on U.S. Rep. James A. Garfield of Ohio. Garfield was a “westerner” and was not aligned with either faction; in order to guarantee the support of the New York Republicans, the party sought to balance the ticket by nominating Arthur, who by then was a widower, for vice president. Folks who were familiar with the amiable, efficient, but unexceptional Arthur reacted with emotions that ranged from shock to mirth.

In the event, Karabell reports, Arthur’s hail-fellow skills were instrumental in the election of Garfield:

“From his baronial suite in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, Arthur worked tirelessly on behalf of Garfield, levying assessments, raising money from donors, handling correspondence, wheedling and cajoling, wining and dining, getting speeches printed and distributed, organizing events and, of course, collecting and doling out campaign funds.”

Chester A. Arthur 6

James G. Blaine

It was a dirty campaign but, although Arthur was clearly in the Stalwart camp, he was so downright nice that few held that or anything else against him.

“His ego,” Karabell writes, “unlike Conkling’s and Blaine’s, did not walk into a room before he did, and few people felt strongly enough about him to hate him. He was the Teflon candidate of his day. …”

The election of Arthur as vice president might not have mattered in the long run had it not been for Charles Guiteau—a man with a tentative grip on reality—who shot Garfield in July 1881. Garfield died two months later, and Chester was sworn in as president on September 20.

Few people, including Arthur, considered him a good fit for the presidency, but when

Chester A. Arthur 7

Charles Guiteau

two months had passed between the shooting and Garfield’s death, the country was prepared to make the best of it. In some ways, the country got more than it expected.

For one thing, when Arthur took office there was already an investigation of a scandal in which federal officials had been grossly overpaying contractors for operating postal routes. Although he was the willing product of spoils-system politics, Arthur and his Justice Department played hardball with the offenders. Arthur forced some public officials to resign and fired others. Although those tried in the scandal were not convicted, Arthur’s administration had removed the cancer.

In another ironic move, considering Arthur’s background, he took the occasion of his first “state of the Union” message to call for civil service reform—namely, a system in which civil servants were employed based on merit, not on their political connections or on graft. In 1882, Congress passed the Civil Service Reform Act, and Arthur, the one-time political hack, signed it and acted quickly to put it into practice, launching an historic sea change in the way public jobs were filled.

Chester A. Arthur 8Immigration was a hot topic in the 1880s, and one on which Congress and the President, for the most part, could work together. They butted heads, however, over a bill designed to cut off immigration from China for twenty years and deny citizenship to Chinese immigrants already in the country. The bill was unpopular in the East but not in the West where Chinese laborers, who had been allowed to enter the United States without restrictions, had long been a welcome source of hard labor. But in a development that should sound familiar in our own time, an economic downturn turned the tide opinion against the Chinese, who were accused of taking jobs that should have been available to Americans.

In response to this trend, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, and Arthur shocked his own party by vetoing it. He didn’t like the ban on citizenship, and he believed that the 20-year moratorium on immigration would violate a treaty with China. But when Congress passed a new bill that reduced the moratorium to ten years, Arthur knew there would be enough votes to override another veto, so he signed the bill.

Chester A. Arthur 9An important aspect of Arthur’s life was his unwavering opposition to slavery—a point of view he no doubt inherited from his father, who was an abolitionist preacher. Arthur did not adopt the comfortable position of many other northerners who said they were opposed to slavery in principle, didn’t want slavery in their own states, but were content to let it endure in the South where the citizens felt otherwise. No, Arthur was dead against it anywhere, including in the West.

When Arthur was president, Reconstruction had pretty much collapsed and the government was not vigorously enforcing the rights of black Americans. When the Supreme Court struck down the Civil Rights Act of 1875, which claimed “to protect all citizens in their civil and legal rights,” including the right to equal access to public accommodations and public transportation and the right to serve on juries, Arthur tried, though unsuccessfully, to prod Congress into adopting a new measure.

Arthur was not nominated to run for reelection in 1884. He returned to his law practice in New York but was not well enough to devote much energy to the firm. He died in 1886 at the age of 57 after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage.

Arthur is largely forgotten among the Washingtons, Lincolns, and Roosevelts, but he probably deserves at least a little better. His career was not without its achievements—civil service reform being a major one that benefitted generations of men and women. And he was a decent human being in an environment of cut-throat politics—a characteristic not to be lightly brushed aside. “In everything he did,” Karabell writes, “Chester Alan Arthur was a gentleman, and that is rare and precious.”

Isn’t it, though?

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NIXON AT THE KEYBOARD

NIXON AT THE KEYBOARD

There is a scene in a PBS documentary about Jack Paar that illustrates as well as anything why William Shakespeare would have loved Richard Nixon.

The scene comes from a 1963 episode of Paar’s groundbreaking talk show. Nixon, since leaving the vice presidency, had lost elections for president and for governor of California, but for a two-time loser, he was in a good mood — one might say light-hearted, a term not often associated with RMN.

Paar reminds the audience of something that was widely known at the time, namely that Nixon was a piano player. Paar also explained, to Nixon’s obvious amusement, that Nixon had also written some music for the piano and that his wife had made recordings of him playing his own tunes.

Paar said that bandleader Jose Meles had used one of those recordings to write an arrangement to back up one of Nixon’s compositions, and  Paar asked Nixon to take to the keyboard.

JOHN F. KENNEDY and NIXON

JOHN F. KENNEDY and NIXON

Before complying, Nixon noted that Paar had asked earlier about Nixon’s political ambition.  “If last November didn’t finish it, this will,” Nixon said, “because — believe me — the Republicans don’t want another piano player in the White House,” a reference to Harry S. Truman whose musical virtuosity was about on the same level as Nixon’s.

When I saw this incident on a PBS documentary about Paar, I thought about what a complex creature a human being is, and I thought about that again when I read Don Fulsom’s book, Nixon’s Darkest Secrets. Considering the depth and breadth of Nixon’s corruption and paranoia, I wouldn’t have thought it possible for a writer to do a hatchet job on the old trickster, but Don Fulsom has managed it.

On paper, at least, Fulsom has some credentials to be writing about this subject. He covered the White House and was Washington bureau chief for United Press International, which once upon a time was a viable news agency. Having been a journalist myself for more than 40 years, I would have expected a writer with Fulsom’s resumé, producing a book this long after Nixon’s death, to provide some insight into the whole man. As deeply immersed in muck as he was, after all, Nixon didn’t spend his whole time drinking himself blotto, assaulting people who annoyed him, beating his wife, raking in dough through his bag men, or plotting to have people like Jack Anderson killed.

And while his administration was forever besmirched by his prolongation of the Vietnam war and his order for the secret and murderous bombing of Cambodia, it was productive in many ways, including creation of the Occupational and Health Safety Administration , the National Endowment on the Arts, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Nixon approved the first significant step toward a federal affirmative action program. And Nixon — as probably only he could have — altered the course of modern history by changing the U.S. relationship with the Soviet Union and China.

Although Fulsom has riffled through some of the more recently released documents about Nixon, he hasn’t contributed anything to our understanding by recounting in nauseating detail the depravities of the man’s life. We get it. He was a sleaze. But he was also this other guy. This guy with a remarkable grasp of foreign affairs. This guy who supported a lot of moderate initiatives. And this guy who played the piano. And from this distance, that’s what’s so fascinating about him.

Look for Fulsom’s book with the scandal rags at the checkout counter. Shakespeare would have told the whole story.

You can see Nixon playing the piano on Jack Paar’s show by clicking HERE.

Gov. CHRIS CHRISTIE

I caught a few minutes of Ann Coulter’s appearance on one of the Sunday talk shows this week, and found that by not tuning in earlier I had missed hearing her reasons for promoting Chris Christie as a Republican presidential candidate.
Apparently, it wasn’t a half-hearted endorsement; I heard her refer to the governor as “my first love.”
Coulter is not the first person to make this case. Christie is a controversial figure in terms of his public policy and his style, but he seems to be developing a following around the country.

Still this kind of talk has an unfamiliar ring to us in New Jersey because, except for Bill Bradley’s failed attempt to win the Democratic nomination in 2000, making presidents has not been our thing in recent decades.

Even the two we contributed in the distant past had imperfect credentials. Woodrow Wilson wasn’t born in New Jersey, and Grover Cleveland – who was born here and is buried here – spent most of his life someplace else.

GROVER CLEVELAND

Christie hasn’t lent much credibility to the idea that he would be a willing candidate, but if he should run, one thing that has come up already and surely would get a lot of attention in the news coverage – and late-night commentaries – would be his girth.
Christie himself has often acknowledged that his weight is a result of his eating habits and that it is unhealthy.
In the world we live in, it is also a potential liability from the aesthetic point of view.

There already have been stories speculating as to whether a man of Christie’s size can be elected president – kind of a diss on the intelligence of the body politic.

In fact, that question has already been answered twice by the elections of William Howard Taft and Grover Cleveland.

Taft, the largest president so far, was six feet tall and weighed more than 330 pounds when he was elected president in 1908. After Taft had left the presidency, he lost about 80 pounds, which lowered his blood pressure and improved his ability to sleep.

WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT

Cleveland – whose weight isn’t mentioned as frequently as Taft’s – was five-feet-eleven and weighed between 235 and 280 pounds. His weight is noticeable in photographs from his presidential years, but it apparently didn’t trouble the citizens who gave him the majority of the popular vote three times in a row – the only president besides Franklin Roosevelt to achieve that. (In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won the majority of the electoral votes.)
The criticism directed at political candidates in the 19th and early 20th centuries could be as cruel, in its own way, as the attacks that are leveled today. Cartoonists gleefully exploited the proportions of both Cleveland and Taft, and no one’s physical appearance attracted more public ridicule than that of Abraham Lincoln.

But the pervasive and relentless nature of media in our age add a lot of destructive power to negative messages.

Some voters might be legitimately concerned about the life-threatening nature of Christie’s weight, but the web of electronic communications has given people the idea that they can – and should – say virtually anything that comes into their heads. The comments posted on web sites suggest that many writers think it’s a virtue to be as coarse and demeaning as they can.

I noticed, for instance, that folks who frequent a Facebook page for graduates of my high school alma mater, say some pretty awful things about former teachers and classmates – undaunted by the fact that most of their targets are still living and could easily read these messages.

For his own well-being – particularly if he takes on the rigors of a presidential campaign and a term or two in the White House – Christie ought to do something about his weight.

Besides prolonging his life, it would spare him and his family the meanness that has become the lingua franca of smart alecs in the digital age.

Woodrow Wilson with his predecessor, William Howard Taft, shortly before Wilson was inaugurated as the 28th president. In 1921, the 29th president, Warren G. Harding, appointed a slimmer Taft chief justice of the United States. Taft is the only person to have held both offices.

There’s a place in New Brunswick that serves up a hot dog known as the “crackler.” A strip of bacon is wrapped around the dog like an armature, and the dog and bacon are deep fried. I used to frequent that place — Tido ‘n His Junkyard Dogs — before the Gannett Co. discovered that I was of no further use and I had to find work in another neighborhood. I thought to myself at first that it might be easier to forego the cracker and simply put a loaded revolver to my head, but my watering palate got the best of me, and indulged myself from time to time. I suppose one could make the argument that I was putting my family’s future at risk by abusing my arteries in that manner, but I was, after all, accepted “for better or for worse,” and if this was as bad as “worse” got, perhaps it wasn’t a bad bargain for anyone concerned.

I have often wondered, standing in a checkout line while some bloke at the front asks the clerk for an eight-dollar pack of cigarettes from the vault, whether I would still lay down that much money if I had been a smoker. I have never been a smoker, so I have never had to confront that dilemma, but it seems as if New York Times columnist Mark Bittman would like to come at me from a different direction.

Bittman wrote this week that the federal government should heavily tax unhealthy foods so as to discourage people like me from becoming a drain on the health care system.

This is the approach that has already been taken with cigarettes, which the feds and the states have gleefully taxed and taxed again, boasting that they’re only looking out for people who can’t look out for themselves, whereas what they’re really doing is compensating for their own inability to control government spending by making scapegoats of people engaged in an unpopular but legal activity. The last I heard, beer wasn’t a healthy drink. Why don’t governments tax the hell out of that? I think you know why.

Bittman isn’t in government, and I don’t suspect him of such a cynical motive — although he does mention the potential for billions in tax revenues from consumers of donuts and Pepsi. I think he means well, and in a way that’s almost worse. Government can do whatever it wants in the way of public education — things such as Mayor Bloomberg’s calorie-posting requirement — but slapping what amounts to a financial penalty on people exercising their freedom to eat what they choose, which is perfectly legal, is too much government in private life.

You can read Mark Bittman’s column by clicking HERE.

LOU GEHRIG

There’s a hilarious string of comments on the MSNBC web site stemming from a story about Lou Gehrig’s medical records. It’s entertaining to read these strings, because the readers who engage in them get upset and abusive – in this case, two of them sunk to assailing each other’s grammar – and then they get off on tangents and eventually go spinning off into space.

In this case, the brief story that started the row was about Phyllis Kahn, a member of the Minnesota State Legislature, who has introduced a bill that would open medical records after a person has been dead for 50 years, unless a will or a legal action by a descendant precludes it.

Kahn was inspired by a story that broke several months ago about a scientific study that speculated that the root cause of Gehrig’s death was concussions he suffered while playing baseball. Gehrig’s ailment, of course, was diagnosed as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, which affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

LOU GEHRIG

A study published last summer in the Journal of Neuropathology & Experimental Neurology made a connection between brain trauma and a form of ALS. Gehrig played first base, a position not usually associated with concussions, but he was hit in the head by pitches during his career, and he might have suffered head traumas in when he was the runner in a close play. He famously played for 14 years without missing a game, which means he played hurt many many times. In fact, although he is lionized for setting a record for consecutive games that stood until Cal Ripken Jr. surpassed it, Gehrig was criticized in some quarters in his own time by folks who regarded his streak as a foolish stunt and worried that he would damage his health.

Researchers want to look at Gehrig’s medical records, which are housed at the Mayo Clinic, and Kahn thinks they should be allowed to do so – and that, in the absence of instructions to the contrary, the records of any person dead for 50 years should be accessible. Gehrig has no descendants

PHYLLIS KAHN

As a Lou Gehrig fan, my emotions are screaming, “Leave the big guy alone!” As a former journalist, my interest in free flow of information is muttering that such records should become available at some point — though I don’t know what that point should be. Considering the level of concern about concussion injuries in football, research in this area could be valuable, and Gehrig might have provided an almost unparalleled  opportunity to examine the impact of repeated injuries. His doctors might even have considered a link between his grueling career and the illness that killed him. The Mayo Clinic and a bioethics professor at the University of Minnesota are opposing this bill, probably concerned more about the opening of a flood gate than about Gehrig’s privacy in particular.

Incidentally, Phyllis Kahn, a Democrat-Farm-Labor legislator, once pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for stealing campaign brochures distributed on behalf of a Republican candidate and replacing them with material for one of Kahn’s DFL compatriots. But that’s a story for another post.

JIM BUNNING

I suppose Jim Bunning is used to being taken off the mound. As good a pitcher as he was, he still got the hook from time to time, so the maneuver tonight to put an end to his filibuster so the Senate could pass a bill extending unemployment benefits and other programs should have felt familiar.

If Republican leaders have found Bunning hard to handle, they will get some sympathy from Gene Mauch, who managed — some say mismanaged — Bunning when he was playing for the Phillies and Mauch was his manager. Mauch, who is a partaker in Glory at present, was an early practitioner of calling pitches from the bench — that is, giving signs to the catcher as to what pitch to call for.

GENE MAUCH

Bunning would irritate Mauch by shaking off pitches repeatedly when he knew the signs were coming from the manager. Mauch, who is deservedly well respected as a manager, has come in for some criticism of the way he used Bunning and Chris Short during the 1964 National League pennant race. The Phillies that year performed the flop heard ’round the world. They had a 6 1/2 game lead on September 21, but they lost 10 games in a row to finish tied for second place while the Cardinals won the pennant. Mauch, some say, overdid his reliance on Bunning and Short, who were worn out by that time in the season. I think he started Bunning three times in one week.

WILMER MIZELL

It’s a shame that Bunning, whose baseball career was outstanding, chose to make himself a laughing stock in Congress. He might have emulated Wilmer “Vinegar Bend” Mizell, who pitched in the majors for nine years and ended up with a winning record and a respectable lifetime earned run average. He was no Jim Bunning on the mound, and he was no Jim Bunning in Congress. A conservative Republican like Bunning, he was one of the most popular men in the House of Representatives, where he represented a North Carolina district from 1968 to 1974, when he was swept away in the voters’ reaction the scandals of the Nixon Administration. He later served in a number of appointed federal offices.

BARACK OBAMA

It’s not that I don’t like ritual – I’m a Catholic, for heaven’s sake. And I can never be distracted when the managers exchange lineup cards before a baseball game. But there can be too much of a good thing, and the State of the Union speech is an example of that.

Every year I am disappointed after hoping that some president — I’ve been waiting since Franklin Roosevelt’s last term — will talk some sense into us. Every year I hope to see the sergeant -at-arms announce the president, and the president come in from the wings instead of striding down the center aisle as though he were George Clooney on yet another red carpet and Carrie Ann Inaba were waiting to gush all over his silk suit.

THOMAS JEFFERSON

The speech isn’t even necessary. The Constitution doesn’t require it; it only calls on the president “from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

After George Washington and John Adams established the precedent of strutting into Congress to give that “information,” Thomas Jefferson discontinued the practice, and it wasn’t revived until Woodrow Wilson in 1913. Presidents in the meantime sent only written messages. The republic survived the hiatus.

WOODROW WILSON

I’ll probably still be alive in 2013. Maybe the man or woman who takes office that January will quiet the Members and speak as follows: “Let’s try this. Don’t applaud again until I’ve said, ‘And God bless the United States of America,’ and don’t get out of your chair again unless you have to use the bathroom.”

I realize that this would put a burden on the commentators who analyze the “state of the union” by the pattern of standing O’s, but maybe that challenge would make them better journalists.

I’m a little late in getting to this, but I wanted it on the record. And, hey, Irving Kahal, “I can dream, can’t I?”

Sen. JIM BUNNING

Some baseball players lose their edge over time, but Jim Bunning ain’t one of ’em. He can still put them over the plate, as he demonstrated last week in his verbal assault on Ben Bernanke, who was appearing before a U.S. Senate committee that was considering Bernanke’s nomination to continue as head of the Federal Reserve.

Bunning, a Republican senator from Kentucky and one of the most conservative members of Congress, made a statement at the hearing in which he explained not only why Bernanke shouldn’t be reappointed but why — as my brother might put it — he has no reason to exist. Amid a detailed dissection of what Bunning considers Bernanke’s contributions to the nation’s financial crisis, the senator said: “You are the definition of a moral hazard … Your time as Fed Chairman has been a failure.” The complete statement was published by the Huffington Post at THIS link.

JIM BUNNING

Bunning holds a degree in economics, so for all I know he could be right about Bernanke and about Bernanke’s predecessor, Alan Greenspan, for whom the senator has at least as much affection. On the other hand, his political career has been peppered with bizarre incidents and statements, including his prediction of the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Ginsburg and his public pronouncement that he doesn’t read newspapers and gets all his information from Fox News. His approval ratings, for what they’re worth, are at present in the sewer. He has been unable to raise campaign funds — which he blames on a conspiracy against him within his own party — and he will not run for reelection.

Well, if his political career hasn’t been exemplary, that fact will never outweigh his baseball career. He was one of the very best pitchers of his time and is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. He could throw strikes — oh, could he ever! He struck out 2,855 batters while walking only 1,000. Bunning was one of only 40 pitchers in the history of baseball to strike out the side by throwing nine pitches — all strikes. Try that sometime.

RICHARD NIXON

RICHARD NIXON

The AARP recently pointed out in its monthly bulletin that President Richard Nixon in 1972 proposed a health-care reform program that was shot out of the sky, with U.S. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy wielding one of the guns.

“Nixon’s plan,” editor Jim Toedtman wrote, “required employers to provide health care insurance for their employees. It provided federal subsidies for the poor and created rural health clinics and a network of state committees to set industry standards, guarantee basic coverage and coordinate insurance for the self-employed. In the process, it would have extended health care coverage to almost all Americans.”

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY

SEN. EDWARD M. KENNEDY

According to Toedtman’s commentary, Kennedy told the Boston Globe earlier this year that Nixon’s initiative was a “missed opportunity” and that, “We should have jumped on it.”

Should have. What were the chances that a Democrat, and a Kennedy at that, would support a sweeping program like that coming from Nixon? Ted Kennedy had his own ideas about health-care reform, and the twain never met. As a result, 37 years later, the problems perceived with health care then — cost and accessibility — are exponentially worse, partisanship still trumps the general welfare, and fundamental reform is no more likely, no matter what bill Congress may pass.

Nixon, meanwhile — if he can hear the debate from where he reposes — is probably as surprised as anyone to learn from his own party that he was a socialist.

ELIE WIESEL

ELIE WIESEL

Elie Wiesel, the Holocaust survivor and author, made some of the more salient points I’ve heard today about the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Peace to President Barack Obama. Wiesel was interviewed by Steve Inskeep on National Public Radio. The core of the interview, from the NPR web page, was as follows:

Mr. WIESEL: I’ll tell you. First of all, it’s strange for me to think of him now as my fellow Nobel laureate. … After all, he’s the president of the United States. But at the same time, seriously, he made history by allowing the American people to correct its own old racial injustices. After all, he’s the first black person to have been elected to that high office, and in doing so he did bring hope and dignity to the fact, to the very position. And therefore I think he gave something to the Nobel Prize.

INSKEEP: He added to the Nobel Prize rather than the other way around.

Mr. WIESEL: It goes both ways. But in this case, really, for the president of the United States, a sitting president, who is nine months in office, it’s true that he tries and tries – I’m sure he tries in many areas to do the right thing, and he will succeed, but in this case the prize will add or increase his moral authority.

INSKEEP: Moral authority. Well, let’s talk about that. Because this is a president who has begun many efforts around the world and the Nobel committee cited them, from reducing the threat of nuclear weapons to reducing nuclear arms stockpiles, efforts to bring peace in different parts of the world. But it’s been widely noted this morning that although many efforts have begun, none have really been concluded. Do you think it will make a big difference in those efforts that the peace prize goes to the president?

Mr. WIESEL: First of all, I think he is being recognized for his efforts and his beginnings, as you say. But I am a person who loves beginnings, I love beginnings. The mystery of beginnings is part of Jewish mysticism. And in this case, in politics, of course, because it’s also – it’s also politics – it is a good thing, it’s a promise. The Nobel committee says that he represents a promise and I’m sure that he will try to fulfill it.

INSKEEP: And they do say that they want to encourage him on his way. Is that normal for the Nobel Prize to be used to encourage rather than just reward people?

Mr. WIESEL: Not really. But the Nobel Prize committee has its own rules, and they may decide anything they want. They may decide that encouragement is part of the experiment.