- - Wednesday, January 29, 2014

William F. Buckley once said that he would rather be governed by the first 2,000 names in the Boston telephone directory than by the faculty at Harvard. A fair point, but President Obama seems to be taking Mr. Buckley’s remark a bit too literally.

George J. Tsunis, a New York lawyer and the CEO of Chartwell Hotels, has been nominated to be U.S. ambassador to Norway. His qualification appears to be a near-supernatural ability to conjure cash for Democrats. Over the past few years, he has collected $500,000 for the party and almost a cool million for Mr. Obama.

Sen. John McCain lobbed a softball at Mr. Tsunis at his confirmation hearing the other day, expecting the nominee to knock it down the left-field line for at least a double. The senators learned only that shaking the money tree and learning something about the world are not necessarily complementary.

Mr. McCain asked why he thought Norwegian voters had embraced the Progress Party as part of the government, given its “anti-immigration” policies. Mr. Tsunis obviously had never had a thought about it. “You get some fringe elements that have a microphone that spew their hatred,” said Mr. Tsunis. “And I will tell you Norway has been very quick to denounce them.” Mr. Tsunis obviously had left his talking points in his other suit.

Not only had Mr. Tsunis neglected to read anything about Norway before the hearing, but he wasn’t paying close attention to the senator’s question. The Progress Party is not a “fringe element,” but part of the coalition government, endorsed by Norwegian voters.

Whatever “spewing” has been going on, it was “spewing” by the government. “People who have been granted the legal right to reside in the country,” the official government platform says of immigration, “should face the expectation that they will contribute to and participate in Norwegian society. Integration policy must have as its goal that immigrants should feel affiliation and connection to Norwegian society.”

The government wants all its citizens to speak Norwegian, and wants schoolgirls to leave their hijabs for the mosque because hijabs are offensive to many Norwegian women.

Mr. Tsunis must learn quickly that throwing lavish parties is only part of what an ambassador does, and Mr. Obama should have learned by now the peril of auctioning ambassadorships to his most skillful fundraisers.

The Tsunis incident should be a caution to other ambassadors-to-be to read the briefing book about their Foreign Service destinations. This might prevent embarrassing their host governments, the U.S. government and themselves.

Mr. Obama’s nominee for the key diplomatic post in Beijing, Sen. Max Baucus, took a cautious tack when he got a question about the Middle Kingdom: “I’m no real expert on China.” Sen. Marco Rubio asked Mr. Baucus whether he would be willing to attend a Protestant or Catholic church service not recognized or registered by the government.

“With respect to where I go and do not go,” he said, “that’s a matter of judgment, and it’s one I’m going to think about very carefully about where I go and do not go.” That’s hardly a ringing endorsement of freedom of conscience, but “I don’t know” is better than putting ignorance on display.

An ambassador to China need not be fluent in Mandarin, nor need an ambassador to Norway know the plays of Henrik Ibsen by heart. But he should know enough to “spew” intelligent cocktail-party chatter.