Portside: Out of touch with N.H. conservatives?

While waiting in line to buy some beer, the guy in front of me noticed my Obama button. He volunteered: “I’m changing my registration. I’ve always been a Republican. I haven’t changed my values one bit. I didn’t leave my party — my party left me.”

Now, I’m not generally known as a traditional conservative New Hampshire Republican. But from my 14 years in the state Senate, listening to thousands of citizens, working with my Republican colleagues, I know pretty darn well what a traditional New Hampshire conservative is, and is not. The 2000 McCain campaign certainly fit. But the McCain we see today is something else.

Granite State traditionalists are moderate and pro-business. They don’t like big government or big spending. The Bush years of massive spending, centralization of power, and disregard for traditional constitutional values have been a shock to these traditionalists.

The takeover of their party by the radical neocons made old-fashioned conservatives squirm. McCain was big a hit here in 2000 because he spoke straight and stood up to the neocons. Now it’s just go along to get along.

New Hampshire traditionalists have a deep respect for and commitment to our veterans. While McCain’s past service in Vietnam earns nothing but praise and admiration, he would reduce access to Veterans Administration care. Disabled American Veterans Legislative Director Joe Violanti worries about McCain’s plan, which would increase costs for veterans, as it relies on more expensive private hospitals.

The 2000 McCain New Hampshire loved was against the Bush tax cuts for the richest among us, saying “Sixty percent of the benefits from [Bush’s] tax cuts go to the wealthiest 10 percent of Americans — and that’s not the kind of tax relief that Americans need.” Yet, the 2008 McCain flipped and now supports those same cuts.

New Hampshire conservatives are rock-solid pro-business. Yet the new McCain actually supports keeping tax incentives for corporations that send manufacturing jobs overseas. Since McCain ran in 2000 nearly a quarter of New Hampshire manufacturing jobs have disappeared. Pro-business former McCain supporters feel betrayed.

Granite Staters often differ from the national party on social issues. The Republican Party here is consistently moderate and has never been dominated by religious political extremists.

That was one reason New Hampshire went for McCain eight years ago. He then courageously dismissed Jerry Falwell as an “agent of intolerance.” Fast-forward to the 2008 campaign. McCain literally hugged Falwell, openly pandering to the same religious right he had once condemned.

One consistent aspect of traditional New Hampshire conservatism is mistrust of concentration of wealth and power. Yet at the root of the current financial sector meltdown is the radical centralization of financial power that was caused directly by McCain’s support for repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had disallowed the merger of commercial banks, investment banks and insurers. Here we are today in a $700 billion mess. Fiscal conservatism? Not hardly.

And then there’s big government spying on Americans. New Hampshire conservatives are disappointed that the new McCain is a cheerleader for this assault on America’s most valued republican traditions.

The McCain of 2000 showed independence. His straight talk then was really different, honest, not spun. Those days are gone.

New Hampshire conservatives have reason for pride as a breed of their own. These are folks with abiding integrity, seriously guided by the best traditions of genuine conservatism. I know traditional conservatism when I see it. John McCain ain’t it.

State senator from 1990 to 2004, Burt Cohen now hosts a radio talk show. His Web site is www.burtcohen.com.

Categories: Opinion