Opinion: We can’t make government the enemy


Published: 09-07-2023 6:00 AM

John T. Broderick, Jr. is the former dean of UNH Franklin Pierce School of Law and the founder of the Warren B. Rudman Center for Justice, Leadership and Public Policy.

The last few years have been disorienting for most of us. Disheartening, really. At least they have been for me. I don’t remember an America like this — a great country at war with itself, an America that divides families and friendships along political fault lines. I have been a lifelong Democrat but have voted for Republicans when I thought I should; when I thought they were the better candidate. Party always mattered and I have always been a proud Democrat, but I was never blind to the common good nor fearful about supporting it. Country always came first.

I have always valued my Republican friendships and treasured my relationship and law partnership with former Republican Governor Steve Merrill. I can still hear his laughter when he kidded me about my political view on some topic. But he laughed just as loudly at my rejoinder. But for Republican Governor Craig Benson, this Democrat would never have been chief justice of our Supreme Court. I remain grateful to him for the life-altering opportunity for public service he gave me. His choice apparently transcended party affiliation.

I came to know former Congressman Bill Zeliff late in his career as we traveled by car across New Hampshire to raise money for the Rudman Center. During those many miles after long days and nights on backroads, we became good friends. Our politics sometimes differed but we learned from each other. I miss those conversations. I admired Senator Rudman and wanted to create something to honor his legacy at Franklin Pierce Law Center. His party affiliation was secondary in my mind. It still is. He was a great senator.

I have testified for Republican nominees for posts in New Hampshire and sometimes beyond and worked hard to find common ground with Republican politicians and leaders over my many years in the court system. When we didn’t agree, we left our disagreements with respect. I admired Senate presidents Tom Eaton, Ted Gatsas, and Chuck Morse even if I left empty-handed, even if I left frustrated. Sometimes they were very helpful. Not burning bridges is always important and easily forgotten. Those senators were never mean-spirited, personal, or petty. Never. Neither was I.

I have supported all members of our current Congressional delegation because I share many of the views they espouse. They’re good and decent people. But I don’t consider those they defeated as “evil” or in any way unworthy, nor do they. They just held and promoted different policy prescriptions. Welcome to America. That’s what elections are for. That’s what democracy demands.

I even had the opportunity to get to know General Don Bolduc and lunch with him in his home. He felt as passionately about mental health as I do. We found common ground. Our politics weren’t the same but that never got in the way of our friendship.

It is hard to comprehend how America has turned inward, and more tragically, on itself. Unless we change that, America will fail. We can’t continue as a great nation this divided. Too many of us distrust almost everything government does and attribute conspiracy-laden motives to virtually every government policy, worker, and official. My parents didn’t. I’ll bet yours didn’t either.

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Government sent hundreds of thousands of GIs to college and rebuilt Europe. Social security has allowed respectful retirements and national health care has helped countless families who would otherwise be lost and alone in search of care. The day-to-day work of government is not done by the “deep state” but by our neighbors. Government is not perfect, but it cannot be the enemy or we will cease to function. Improvement and not destruction needs to be our national goal. The rancor, suspicion and distrust have to stop. We all need to start talking and sharing. We need to find common ground and common purpose and we need to begin those dialogues in our own communities.

At the end of the day, our children and grandchildren need the dysfunction to cease. There is vitally important work to do as a nation united for their futures.