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My Turn: Politics, pandemics and the New Hampshire way

  • New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu announces a series of emergency orders on Tuesday, March 17, in Concord in response to the coronavirus pandemic. AP

For the Monitor
Published: 3/21/2020 6:15:12 AM

Lately, all of the news appears grim. The COVID-19 pandemic, stock market corrections and political uncertainties are taking a toll on the standards of living all over the world.

Local town meetings, which in a good year can offer high entertainment value, appear to have been a mixed bag of malaise and somber expectations this year, reflecting the general mood of our country.

History teaches us that we will get through this medical emergency. We are a resilient people. We care about each other and Mother Nature.

We are fortunate to live in a state that does offer a high quality of life. We demonstrate those high standards every day and in many different ways, including being attentive stewards of our state’s natural beauty and valuable resources.

New Hampshire has only one national park: Saint-Gaudens National Historical Park in Cornish.

We do have national and state forests.

Tall, patrician stands of fir and hardwood trees in our forests along with prodigious populations of trout and bass in our lakes and streams are great examples of our dedication to keeping New Hampshire a popular vacation destination and special place in which to live. There are still generous amounts of unspoiled wilderness areas to be enjoyed by New Hampshire residents and visitors.

There are people who believe that we are also a special state because we do not have broad-based state income or sales taxes. It is referred to as the New Hampshire Advantage.

There is more to a high quality of life than counting beans. The true New Hampshire Advantage is the value we place in helping each other in periods of need.

New Hampshire does have its share of issues besides COVID-19. One of them is stagnant population growth.

There are only about 1.3 million of us. Some business cheerleaders would like to encourage more people to relocate to New Hampshire, basically for cheap labor. I am among a chorus of people who would like to keep it just the way it is. We fit nicely into a state shaped like a triangle, south to north. Encouraging people to move here will only exacerbate our problems, not solve them.

We are a people devoted to an unwritten social contract to keep New Hampshire a beacon of economic opportunity consonant with responsible fiscal restraint, personal responsibility and practical resource development.

New Hampshire has a long history as an agricultural state that we can be proud of. Some family-owned farms go back many generations. Many people can remember visiting their grandparents’ farms in the summer. The clean aroma of freshly mowed hay or picking a ripe apple off the tree will not be forgotten experiences.

Those farms are slowly disappearing. It is a tough way to make a living. Some farmers have given up farming and have sold their farm land to home builders and commercial developers.

In 1900, 98% of the family farms in New Hampshire had chickens, grew corn, had at least one milk cow and a pig, according to the USDA.

Drive along a New Hampshire rural road and you will see hundreds of stone walls. They are silent reminders that there was once a farm there. New Hampshire Poet Laureate Robert Frost observed that “Good fences make good neighbors.”

Farmers respected Mother Nature because their livelihoods were dependent on Her.

Farming today takes individuals of considerable fortitude and character to adjust to both the seasonal weather and political climate changes for which New Hampshire is famous.

New Hampshire also has a long list of well-known authors and orators who promoted personal responsibility and integrity, beginning with the likes of Daniel Webster and Henry Dearborn. They were testimonials to our commitment to the merits of a quality education, honest work ethic and a reverence for our cultural identity that makes us a unique and proud people.

I am fearful that New Hampshire is abandoning its cultural heritage. We are on the threshold of irreparable damage by becoming a politically polarized and culturally divided society. Politics has become corrosive, bitter and filled with crude and vulgar ad hominem character assassinations. Family, friends and neighbors become angry over other people’s political opinions.

Bertrand Russell commented, “If you wish to be happy yourself, you must resign yourself to seeing others also happy.” Good advice.

It is only a matter of time until politicians will blame COVID-19 on their political opponents. COVID-19 is not a political problem, it is a medical problem. Democrats get the virus at the same rate as Republicans. It is an equal opportunity virus.

As serious as the COVID-19 pandemic is, we still must get on with life. This emergency will test what kind of people we really are. Families must still put food on the table and pay the rent.

New Hampshire is not immune to the ancillary effects of COVID-19. As the number of people who become infected escalates, there will be more reasons for people to restrict their summer vacation travel plans and remain closer to home. That could render a serious economic blow that will affect thousands of employees who work in tourist- and vacation-related businesses.

The good news is that most pandemics do not last forever. Medical science and time are our best hope.

I am 83 years old and in a category of people who are most vulnerable to the virus. I use caution and common sense when going out in public spaces. I try to be optimistic and hopeful.

In the past, I registered my opinion in the Monitor about the foolishness of replacing the old motto on our New Hampshire vehicle registration plates from “Scenic New Hampshire” to the cavalier “Live Free or Die.” In lieu of the morbidity rates of the COVID-19 virus, it may be wise to return “Scenic New Hampshire” on our plates. Most people do not feel the need to be reminded about dying.

In politics, things never remain stagnant. It will be interesting to watch how voters respond to a host of issues that are of importance to New Hampshire, including how the government responds to COVID-19.

The November elections (if we have them) will be interesting.

(Jim Baer lives in Concord.)

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