National Perspective: More Reagan than Reagan

By David M. Shribman

ORFORD — This tiny community, first settled exactly 250 years ago, is conservatism's hometown.

It was here that Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman, one of the founding fathers of modern conservative economics, used to repair for restorative summers. And it was here that three-term Republican Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr. of New Hampshire served up his devoutly conservative view of the world along with his own pancakes, smothered in his own maple syrup tapped each spring from his own sugar bushes.

Indeed, there was a time, only a generation ago, when this community, hugging the Connecticut River and possessing a dazzling necklace of Federal-style houses built between the Colonial period and the Martin Van Buren presidency, was one of the important power centers in American political life, especially in presidential-election years.

It's not a crowded place — its 1,237 people ramble around in a swath of New Hampshire nearly the size of Pittsburgh. It's not an accessible place — the major north-south passage is state Route 10, which wanders with the contours of the river and the rise of the land. It's not a famous place — though in his official Nobel Prize biography Friedman said that the catalyst for his income hypothesis "was a series of fireside conversations at our summer cottage" here in the westernmost shoulder of the state.

And yet perhaps the most influential personage in Orford's history was Thomson, born in Wilkinsburg, Penn., and educated at nearby Washington and Jefferson College. But he was grounded in Mount Cube Farm here in Orford, where in a sugar house planted on his 365 acres facing Mount Moosilauke he constructed a rigorous conservatism and a cottage industry in pancakes.

There was nothing confectionary, however, about the man who governed New Hampshire from 1973 to 1979 and who died in 2001. I used to make my own pilgrimage to his farm amid the high-bush blueberries, the stands of raspberries and the rows of tomatoes, broccoli, lettuce and onions, and listen to the gray-haired man in soiled, faded blue jeans and an old olive work shirt decry "the asp that is Red China" and describe Ronald Reagan as having "a bulldog's voice and a pussycat's tread."

Now, only two months before New Hampshire holds the nation's first presidential primary, there is value in examining how conservatism, a political doctrine that in some forms is deeply skeptical of change, has itself changed from the time in the 1970s when Thomson was an outlier, to today, when debate about the nature of conservatism is one of the principal themes of our politics.

Thomson, coming from a community where one of the most striking homes was built in the same year as the Boston patriots hurled the British tea into the harbor, was a tea party Republican before the strong tea of today's conservatism was brewed, or even harvested. He was angry — about the way the world was changing, about how social norms in his own country were changing.

In those days New Hampshire was far more remote than it is today, and he symbolized a simpler time that was under siege — by television, which was only beginning to pierce his state; by migrants from Massachusetts, who brought a suburban outlook and a more progressive viewpoint that threatened and, in the southern part of the state, would nearly obliterate, the Yankee culture; and by changes in the economy, which undermined the independence of a New Hampshire that had virtually vanished even before he migrated here.

Above all, he created, and then sought to preserve, a conservative narrative about the state's politics and culture. As a result, his was a backward-looking conservatism, negative and brooding, a bit regretful and resentful — far different in some ways from today's conservatism, which embraces new technology and creates new thinking.

For all that, Thomson's conservatism — especially his contempt for bailing out businesses — most closely resembles the modern conservatism of Ted Cruz, though traces of the Thomson rhetoric are also evident in Marco Rubio (who inveighs against taxes), Jeb Bush (whose foreign-policy aggressiveness matches that of Thomson) and Chris Christie (whose blunt rhetoric is Thomson with a Jersey twang).

And there are echoes of Thomson in Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum (whose social conservatism is Thomson 2.0) and Donald Trump (whose bombastic criticism of his rivals and of the political culture is Mel for a new millennium).

Thomson opposed communism, the United Nations and any form of taxation. He advocated a muscular American foreign policy and a strong military. He was instinctive rather than intellectual, uncompromising and unforgiving. He and Manchester Union-Leader publisher William Loeb were a conservative tag team, each fueling the other's determination. They were like the Toronto Blue Jays in Game 5 of this year's American League Championship Series. There were no left-handers in their bullpen.

Thomson became governor only eight years after Barry Goldwater was repudiated in the 1964 presidential landslide. He ordered flags lowered to half-staff when the Panama Canal treaty was signed, when Taiwan's athletes were denied places in the 1976 Olympics and, twice, on Good Friday to mark Christ's death. Unlike Gov. Reagan in California, who had a soft, engaging side, Thomson had a hard-bitten Yankee mien, enforcing a no-tax doctrine far stricter than that of Reagan — a doctrine that survives here, the only state without a broad-based tax.

"People don't remember Mel anymore," says John H. Sununu, who followed him in the governor's chair after a two-year Democratic interregnum, "but while he is forgotten, his issues have not been forgotten."

Once the governor complained to his attorney general, Thomas D. Rath, about the conditions Washington placed on revenue-sharing funds. "These," Thomson said of the regulations, "are the rules of an omnipresent, omni-stupid federal government."

Though Thomson's personal, down-home style would be incongruous in today's politics, a remark like that would seem unremarkable in a 2016 candidate debate.

"I don't know if I was ahead of my time," Thomson told me up in these hills exactly 30 years ago, "but a lot of other people have come around." Just as I came around for the pancakes and syrup, a lot of other people have come around to his way of thinking, and to his state.

David M. Shribman is executive editor of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or follow him on Twitter at ShribmanPG. The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist has a vacation home in Kearsarge.


  • Category: Columns

Erik Eisele: In the face of terror

In the days immediately following 9/11, President George W. Bush visited the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. Standing before a lectern, sandwiched between a dark-skinned bearded man and a woman wrapped in headscarf, he addressed cameras directly.
“The American people were appalled and outraged at last Tuesday’s attacks,” he began, “and so were Muslims all across the world. These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith, and it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.”
“The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam,” he said. “That’s not what Islam is all about. Islam is peace. When we think of Islam we think of a faith that brings comfort to a billion people around the world.”
He quoted the Quran. He urged Americans to treat their Muslim neighbors with respect. “Muslims make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country,” he said. “Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That’s not the America I know. That’s not the America I value.”
“Those who feel like they can intimidate our fellow citizens to take out their anger don’t represent the best of America,” he said. “They represent the worst of humankind, and they should be ashamed.”
That was six days after the towers fell. What a difference a decade makes. Today, Donald Trump, the leading candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, is advocating putting certain mosques under surveillance. He also told a reporter he would support a database to track American Muslims.
“That’s not the America I know,” President Bush said in 2001. “That’s not the America I value.”
But Trump is not alone. In the wake of Paris, where 130 were killed and 368 wounded, people are scared. We Americans are scared. Paris reminds us of our own loss, of our own brutal encounter with terrorism, and calls for enhanced security have understandably poured out as a result.
But in the scramble to protect ourselves, we are forgetting ourselves. We are forgetting the things that, as President Bush said, “represent the best of America.”
This isn’t just in international circles or in Washington, D.C. This is right here at home, in New Hampshire.
In the wake of a crumbling Syria, 4.3 million Syrians have fled their country. They left in hopes of evading Assad and ISIS, and escaping civil war. They now sit stranded in Turkey and Europe, unable to return home, with nowhere to go. To date, Germany has accepted more than 38,000 of these refugees; Canada, more than 36,000. America, meanwhile, has opened its doors to 2,200.
That number was poised to jump to 10,000 in 2016, but with Paris serving as a punctuation point, governors across the country are demanding the border closed to Syrian refugees. A terrorist could be in their midst, they argue; the risk is too great.
French President Francois Hollande, meanwhile, said France will accept 30,000 Syrian refugees over the next two years.
The American fear is real, palpable. And it is understandable: Terrorism, the extremists’ chosen tactic, is designed to foment, to amplify, the fear response. The true victim of terrorism is society: Those killed are simply murdered, but the fear generated by the act reverberates among the survivors. Terrorism reigns among the living, and in the wake of Paris we are the survivors.
America is 320 million scared. Terrorism is proving its effectiveness.
“That’s not the America I know,” President Bush said in 2001. “That’s not the America I value.”
The lens of fear has twisted us. We are in the throes of the greatest refugee wave since World War II, but instead of seeing 4.3 million victims of terror we see 4.3 million possible terrorists. We stand in the land of the Statue of Liberty, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free” still emblazoned on its base, and shut the door. Why? Out of fear.
“That’s not the America I know,” President Bush said in 2001. “That’s not the America I value.”
Terrorism is real. The threat is real. But the threat is not the number of victims it claims by murder but the pressure it puts upon free societies to abandon their freedoms. We are fighting a war of ideas, and in the scramble to make our lives safe we are losing our principles. The roots of our strength are in our pluralism, our openness and our diversity. ISIS cannot change that. Only we can.
And we are. Last week, Gov. Maggie Hassan joined that call to put a pause on the Syrian refugee resettlement. Sen. Kelly Ayotte echoed close behind. And Rep. Frank Guinta and Rep. Annie Kuster both voted to add additional screening measures to the refugee resettlement process when Syrians are involved.
“Live Free or Die” be damned. New Hampshire marches to the chorus of fear.
Only Sen. Jeanne Shaheen has staked out an alternative position: “After the Vietnam War we took 750,000 Vietnamese,” she told WMUR. “We took over 500,000 Cubans when Castro took over Cuba. We’ve taken Somalis, we’ve taken people from all over the world.”
“We do need to vet them,” she said, “but we also need to look at how we can expedite that process so it’s as efficient as possible.”
An America that sees victims of terror and is unafraid to respond? One that rushes to wrap them in her cloak, to welcome them to her shores? That’s the America I know. That’s the America I value.

Erik Eisele is a reporter for The Conway Daily Sun.

  • Category: Columns

Tom McLaughlin: Giving thanks for beauty

During a difficult period some years ago, an old priest/counselor told me that as I endured pain, my capacity for feeling joy would grow commensurately. It seemed small comfort at the time, but now I believe he was on to something. Grieving the death of my son last June, I'm going through another hard time. A friend who also lost a son to addiction told me his grief comes in waves. I'm seeing now what he meant, and I've been swept along in such a wave for days as I write. I have to let it carry me and feel the grief but not let it drown me. When the wave passes, I'll be able again to perceive beauty around me, which is always there whether I see it or not.
He was an Anglican priest, and his son was alcoholic, too. He understood the anguish I felt watching my own son spiral down. When I asked how to deal with it, he said: "Carry it."
"Carry it?" I asked. "That's the best you can do for me?" It was, he said, so I tried carrying it with as much dignity as I could muster and then asked: "What's next?"
"Embrace it," he said.
"Really?" I said. "I don't ever see myself doing that," and I didn't for years. While my son was alive I still thought I might do something to steer him from his self-destructive path, but his death ended that. Lately I haven't been embracing my grief; I've been wrestling with it. I grapple onto it and throw it aside. Then I get some respite before it comes back. Will I ever come to embrace it? I don't know. The old priest was right about the joy part, though. I'm having my moments between waves.
I'm seeing too much beauty around to record and preserve, though I try hard — a nice problem to have. I've been able to extract increasing measures of joy in attempts to replicate it. Never do I go anywhere without a good camera near at hand. If it's not slung over my shoulder, it's in my car or truck parked nearby. If I'm taking pictures, I know I'm healing. In letters, emails and texts, I use words as a medium for capturing and preserving and those go to people I love, almost always family. Occasionally I use this space to express what I'm feeling as well as thinking, but in a somewhat muted form.
Whether my method of capture is visual or verbal, it always falls short. The scene itself is always more beautiful than my picture of it; the thought or feeling is always more profound than my description of it. However inadequate my recording efforts, they please me more as time goes by. Pictures I took two, three or 10 years ago seem more adequate because the memory of the experience has faded while the quality of my visual or verbal facsimile remains undiminished.
My pictures are my own. I don't sell them and I'm the only one who sees many of them. Every Christmas, however, I collect four or five hundred "best of the year" images and put them onto miniature flash drives for my children. These they insert into digital picture frames I gave them a few years ago. When I visit, I see those images displayed in 5-second intervals on their walls. It's possible they only turn the frames on when I'm visiting, but I don't think so. I suspect they're used often because the pictures are almost as meaningful to them as they are to me. Every shot is imbued with whatever I was feeling as I saw the beauty in the loved one or the scene. I saw and felt something exquisite each time I snapped the shutter.
Before I had a good digital camera, I always had a good film camera, and I shot slides rather than photos. The light capture was better in slides, and capturing light is what photography is all about. Today, I much prefer seeing my digital photos on a computer screen or digital picture frame than on a print. Prints are disappointing, but I still enjoy them. I can derive pleasure while learning to dry mount, pick out a matte and put them together in the right frame.
Though I seldom read what I've written after it's mailed, sent or published, I often look at my pictures. As when listening to an old song or smelling an old, familiar scent, seeing my images of special people and beautiful scenes brings it all back. They help me realize I have much for which to be thankful. Thankful to whom? Why the God who made us, who sustains us, and who calls us home when He's ready, of course. Who else?

Tom McLaughlin lives in Lovell, Maine. He can be reached on his website at

  • Category: Columns

Susan Bruce: The post-truth era

Author and teacher Ralph Keyes published a book in 2004 called, “The Post-Truth Era: Dishonesty and Deception in Contemporary Life.” The “post-truth era” sounds so much better than the liar-liar-pants-on-fire era — but any way you look at it, that’s where we now reside. We don’t expect honesty in any situation anymore, and we’ve cultivated a variety of euphemisms to soften the blow of that reality. We use the term “spin” instead of “deceit.” We say, “ethically challenged” instead of “thief” or “charlatan.” We’ve become so compromised that we can’t even use the word “liar.”
There is little we can trust in our public lives. In the post truth era, we can pick our own media. We can choose the media sources that give us information that confirm our beliefs or biases. Saint Ronnie told us that gummint is the problem, so we don’t expect anything good or honest to come from our elected officials. We watched as Reagan’s history was rewritten to make him a saint. Everything is fair game these days — even history can be sanitized for our protection. Our presidential primary has become a reality show where big, bold lies are TRUMPeted with no fear of reprisal. The sad truth is this: There are no consequences for lying.
The N.H. House of Representatives has an internal “all-reps” email listserv that is supposed to be used by House members to communicate with one another (and constituents) as they work on The People’s business. Instead, it is frequently used as a means of sending out ideological mendacity. In 2013, state Rep. Peter Hansen of Amherst achieved global renown when he sent out an all-reps email where he referenced, “children and vaginas” instead of saying women and children. In 2013 state Rep. Romeo Danais sent out a “joke” over the internal mail system that compared people getting food stamps to wild animals. Danais found it so amusing that he sent it to all of his colleagues twice. In 2013, state Reps. Gary Hopper and Jordan Ulery found it necessary to send out an all-reps email with a scantily clad photo of a young woman. The subject matter of the email was the “Democrats’ plan for a 100 percent gun ban.” In other words, it was fabrication combined with soft-core porn.
In the weeks since the terrorist attacks in Paris, we’ve seen a near constant barrage of prevarication on just about every level of public discourse. From presidential candidates to New Hampshire legislators, folks are working overtime to spread fables in order to gin up fear.
On Nov. 13, state Rep. Dick Marple of Hooksett sent out a real beaut to the all-reps listserv:
Coming to a State near you!
“Oh” “Yes” it is coming here too! 1,200 to 2,000 a day are coming here. Obama asked for to have 10,000 then it expanded to 100,000 then with in a week it went to 180,000. That is a lot of Diaper heads.
The thing is, these that Obama is bringing in does not have a wife or family with them! This a invasion! Wake up people we are being taken under with out a shot fired! Obama’s pen does the same thing! If this pisses you off! GOOD!
The spelling, sentence structure and grammar are all Marple’s. The email heading read: “Four wives? Yup n Miochighan.”
Xenophobic? Check. Offensive? Check. Incoherent? Check.
Marple sent this out to all of his colleagues on the official House internal email system. He referred to Syrian refugees — people fleeing for their lives during wartime — as “diaper heads.” These are the words of an adult man, speaking about some of his fellow humans. That’s awful enough, but this is, by the way, a listserv paid for and maintained by our tax dollars. Our tax dollars are subsidizing the spread of lies, fear and hate. Marple is serving his fourth term, so one assumes that the good people of Hooksett support his incoherence, duplicity and his xenophobia.
Back in June of 2012, then-Speaker Bill O’Brien sent out an email to all reps advising them of a new policy regarding speech on the all-reps listserv:
“Electronic media cannot be used for knowingly transmitting, retrieving, or storing any communication that is: 1. Discriminatory or harassing; 2. Derogatory to any individual or group; 3. Obscene, sexually explicit or pornographic; 4. Defamatory or threatening.  In addition, also prohibited are jokes ... or any other non-legislative work activity that is not allowed on government computers.” This new policy was, according to O’Brien, going to be strictly enforced, and violators would lose their email privilege. Clearly it was not strictly enforced, nor has it ever been. Not a single speaker or majority leader (including O’Brien himself) has ever attempted to enforce this rule, no matter how much offensive stuff is sent out on the official House internal email system.
One would think that these guys would be smart enough to send stuff like this out over their own personal email, rather than risk having someone like me make their bigotry, calumny and bad spelling a matter of public record, but one would be wrong. There are no consequences for lying.
State Rep. Max Abramson, Republican, Free Stater and convicted felon, from Seabrook sent out his refugee falsehoods on Twitter. He tweeted, “Shaheen and Obama are still trying to bring 10,000 Syrian refugees to New Hampshire to help the Democrats win a close race in 2016.”
This is complete fabrication. The total of all Syrian refugees approved to come to the United States is 10,000. That is for the entire country, not the state of New Hampshire. If Abramson had done even a modicum of research, he would have learned that a refugee coming to the United States is not eligible to apply for citizenship for five years after they arrive. They have to be citizens to vote. Abramson didn’t bestir himself to find facts. His intent was to gin up fear and xenophobia for his political party, before an election, so he deliberately sent out misinformation.  
No one has paid any attention to his lies, or those of his colleague Dick Marple. We should want better from our elected officials, but this kind of behavior is exactly what we have become conditioned to expect. There are no consequences for liars in the post-truth era.
“Casual duplicity picks at the thread of our social fabric.” — Ralph Keyes

Susan Bruce is a writer and activist who lives in the Mount Washington Valley. Visit her blog at

  • Category: Columns

William Marvel: From Conway to the Cumberland

As Kennett High School let out one day nearly 90 years ago, when the Conway railroad station sat in the middle of what is now Route 16, Heloise Cloutman made the mistake of taking a ride on the back of my father’s Henderson motorcycle. She apparently considered it better not to hold on by wrapping her arms around him, and she fell off on Depot Street, in front of the station; he wasn’t aware of it until he rounded that U-shaped drive and saw her running toward him across the median.
Heloise was directly descended from a line of Conway Village blacksmiths. The dynasty began with her great-grandfather, Eliphalet Cloutman, who established his shop along the outlet of Pequawket Pond two centuries ago. He bought a house on Main Street, near the intersection that gave Conway Corner its name, and there his first son, Charles Chase Cloutman, was born in June of 1824. Eliphalet took an active role in the community, serving many terms as selectman and rising to command of the local militia regiment. Col. Cloutman, as he was known thereafter, let one of his sons take over the shop as he approached his allotted threescore and ten, and in 1861 Abraham Lincoln appointed him postmaster of Conway.
Charles Cloutman mastered the trade under his father’s eye, but in 1848 he headed west. He opened his own shop along the Mississippi River in Burlington, Iowa, where he married and started a family. A few years later he moved to Ottumwa, on the Des Moines River, and the residents there came to regard him as highly as his father was viewed in Conway. At the outbreak of the Civil War Charles raised a company of recruits for the 2nd Iowa Infantry, and the men chose him as their captain.
For nine months the 2nd Iowa guarded railroads in Missouri, but early in February 1862, the regiment joined Ulysses Grant on an expedition up the Tennessee River to pierce the Confederate defensive line that roughly paralleled the border between Kentucky and Tennessee. Grant quickly captured Fort Henry, on the Tennessee River, and then marched overland a few miles to invest Fort Donelson, on the Cumberland River. The 2nd Iowa encamped within striking distance of Donelson on Valentine’s Day, finding the ground covered in snow and the mercury plummeting.
The Confederates had fortified a series of ridges overlooking steep ravines in that erosional landscape, but before Grant surrounded them completely they tried to escape, massing most of their forces for an attack on the Union right flank on the morning of the 15th. They had driven the Yankees back about a mile, and their escape route was nearly clear, when Grant ordered a counterattack on the weakened end of the rebel line. The 2nd Iowa spearheaded that assault, scrambling up the side of a steep, slippery ridge with fixed bayonets; climbing that same ridge two weeks ago, I estimated the worst of the incline at 45 or 50 degrees, and found it difficult going even without someone shooting at me. Only 130 Tennessee riflemen manned the earthworks at the top, but the precipitous terrain so slowed the Iowans that the Confederates had time to inflict serious casualties. One of them put a bullet through Capt. Cloutman’s chest just before blue overcoats swarmed over the crest, chasing the Tennesseans back to the next ridge. The fighting ended at dusk, and would have resumed at dawn had the Confederate commander not surrendered.
Cloutman, the highest-ranking Civil War soldier born in Conway, was also the senior officer killed in that charge. Henry Lovie, an artist for Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, accompanied Grant’s army and sketched the attack — probably from descriptions the soldiers gave him, rather than from direct observation. He failed to depict the steepness of the ground, but he did include the requisite romantic feature of soldiers tenderly carrying away a mortally wounded officer. If that figure represented a specific officer, rather than a generic artistic feature, it was almost certainly Charles Cloutman.
Cloutman left a widow and four children, including one born the day after his funeral. Exactly 24 days after the captain was killed, and probably only a week or two after the news reached Conway, Eliphalet Cloutman died amid a local epidemic. His other sons and his grandsons made anvils ring near the Pequawket dam well into the 1930s, when their smithy turned to the repair of automobiles, and the site is still devoted to that same function. Wanting the land so he could build a stable for the Conway House, Hiram Abbott bought the home where Cloutman’s children were born and moved it to Pleasant Street, where it stands today beside St. Margaret’s. Hundreds of people pass it every day, unawares.

William Marvel lives in South Conway.

  • Category: Columns