Favorite Non-Fiction Books, #85: Combat, My Years in the US Senate
New Hampshire used to be a Republican state. Reliably red, as was the rest of New England. Even Massachusetts ("where Lodges speak only to Cabots, and Cabots speak only to God"). Now, of course, New England is a Democratic stronghold, and even rock-ribbed New Hampshire is a bluing shade of purple. That Republicanism in NH was never ideologically conservative in the modern sense as much as it was leave-me-the-hell-alone proto-Libertarianism, curmudgeonly Yankee communitarian tribalism disguised as coherent political philosophy.
New Hampshire used to generate some truly moderate Republicans. Not the current brand of pseudo-centrist troglodytes like the Sununu clan, but compassionate, thoughtful leaders like the late Walter Peterson. I loved Governor Peterson, and was lucky enough to get to know him well my junior year at UNH when he served as interim President and I was campaigning for and then beginning my term as student body president. We had a lot of wonderfully intimate chats about politics and life, and I learned a tremendous amount from him about how to treat people with basic decency and respect. Ray Raymond S Burton was another, a man of integrity committed to the secular faith of government answerable to and in service to the people. Councilor Burton was my earliest political mentor, taking me under his wing when I was Youth Governor way back in 1992. I missed both of them more than I can say last year, when I would have loved nothing more than to make the trip west or north to hear their wise counsel.
I didn't have that kind of personal relationship with Senator Rudman, but he was a man cut from the same cloth. We did have an encounter I'll always remember, though. NH historians will recall that when Walter Peterson was governor back in 1970, there was a kerfuffle at UNH when troublemakers from the 1968 Democratic National Convention were invited by student leaders to speak at UNH. Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, David Dellinger. Trustees weren't thrilled at the idea of student activity fee money going toward hosting these rabblerousers, so the students were told no. Students persisted, as they did in those less permanent-record-conscious days, and in the days immediately after the Kent State shootings, tensions rose. The student body president of the time, Marc Wefers, was held in contempt of court, and then-Governor Peterson sent the state's attorney general to campus to arrest the sitting student body president. The AG? Warren Rudman.
Fast forward to the dedication of Rudman Hall in spring 1996. I can remember as clear as day standing alongside both UNH President Peterson and the day's honoree, former Senator Rudman. In a quiet moment, I murmured to both, "as student body president, should I be nervous around you guys?" Both knew what I was talking about right away, and there was a warm, human chuckle from both.
Ah, when we could laugh at ourselves. Age, maybe? Or just a less partisan, less vitriolic time? All I know is that Peterson, Burton, and Rudman are gone now. And who are their successors as the conscience of the New Hampshire Republican Party? Go ahead, tell me. I'll wait.