Cook On Concord

There is a theory in the study of history called the “Great Man Theory.” (It probably should be the “Great Person” to be politically correct, but I’ll risk it.) According to this theory, history is shaped by the actions of pivotal people at critical times — changing the course of history.

Pope John Paul II, Bishop of Rome, was to be historic if he had done nothing other than accept his election. A Pole, he was the first pope elected from outside Italy for centuries. But he was far more. Living through Nazi and then Soviet domination, he knew how to resist totalitarian rule and how to contrast the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the tyranny of Hitler and Stalin and his successors.

Standing up to the communist leaders of Poland from the time of his election, Pope John Paul II promised to return to his homeland if the Solidarity movement was threatened. He apparently helped fund the effort as well. Coupled with the efforts of Ronald Reagan, another unlikely Great Man, communism could not stand up to their assertions of freedom and the dignity of the individual inherent in western thought and Christian doctrine.

Roman Catholic leaders and Christians of other denominations, Jewish and Muslim leaders and other moral teachers all honored him as his death drew near, and in doing so, indicated the fact that the Bishop of Rome is the central religious leader in the world, regardless of doctrinal beliefs about his role. Many speculated that this was a final use God made of his remarkable life to spread His message.

John Paul II never strayed from the constancy of his message of the sanctity of life, from the womb to opposition to assisted suicide and capital punishment. He stuck to doctrines and customs, such as a celibate clergy and opposition to birth control, along with others many believed to be passé. That did not bother him, apparently.

In his final days, John Paul II also taught people how to die, as he had taught them how to live. He did not ask for extraordinary medical measures, but he accepted help with nutrition and breathing. He surrounded himself with those close to him and reportedly wrote a note, saying, “I am happy; you should be, too.”

For those glued to the television, watching the drama of the death and funeral of the great man who was, for many, the only pope they remember and who feel a great loss and recognize his contributions, one wonders whether they listen to his teaching about the wrongs of the materialism of the West as well as the evils of the communism of the East, whether they go to his or another church to honor his example of worshiping God and searching for His wisdom.

Also significant, watching the actions of the local legislature acting on issues affecting the poor, the old, the infirm and the rest in the face of assertions of what we, as a remarkably blessed corner of the world can “afford” and how those costs should be assessed, it is tempting to ask, “What would Pope John Paul II think.”


In Concord, what the Legislature has accomplished to date is hard to rate. Both houses passed plans for revising the factors for rating small employer groups for health insurance. How that will provide compromise is difficult to figure. Education funding plan compromise was last seen at the House Finance Committee, which has the tough job of coming up with the money. The Sunapee expansion matter drew both legislative and executive attention. The state budget awaited March revenue estimates and when they indicated increased revenue, everyone scrambled to claim it.

However, by any measure, many state needs cannot be funded in any iteration of the budget and many expenses will be pushed down to towns and cities in an ever-increasing property tax burden (in a state that believes in “no new taxes”).

The Business and Industry Association of New Hampshire warned against raising business taxes as a way to pay for services, noting that business is taxed highly enough and higher in New Hampshire than in other New England states. Scores of legislators and the governor promise to oppose an income tax, while at the same time many legislators wonder about the wisdom of education-funding plans that ignore rich people in poor towns and poor people in rich towns when considering “community income” calculations in determining aid.

The allure of gambling as a way to fund state needs promises to be debated later in the session, regardless of the social effect of taking money from those addicted to gambling.

Finally, “moral issues” like life issues, over the counter contraception, end of life matters, capital punishment and the like are the subject of legislative action — considered at least as much on the basis of politics as morality.

Brad Cook is a partner in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass + Green and heads its government relations and estate planning groups.

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