Past Elections

Boston Globe
Mike Barnicle
January 21, 1996

Well, the sap is running again in New Hampshire. And this year’s principal dope is a rich guy named Steve Forbes who might as well issue bumper stickers reading: “Putz for President.”

Take a peek at this goober! He’s a goofy-looking millionaire trying to sell something called a flat tax in a state where the average IQ of most Republicans over 35 resembles the flat line at the far right-hand corner of the bell curve.

If you removed just four regions from the Granite State — Portsmouth, Concord, Keene and Hanover — the entire place would be a sit-com starring Buddy Ebsen, Chill Wills, Pat Buttram and Pee-Wee Herman. Maybe toss in Michael Jackson too because he is both white and slow.

But Forbes seems to have found a receptive audience for his ludicrous proposal because New Hampshire ranks 50th out of all states in charitable contributions. It’s “Live free or die” up there and the latter option costs nothing so people are constantly encouraged to simply keel over dead before they bother anyone for help.

Unfortunately, it’s more than likely this will be the last time New Hampshire will play an inflated role in presidential elections on the flimsy grounds that it holds the nation’s first primary. By the year 2000, everyone will be inter-active as well as on line and voters will select candidates in a national primary at half-time of the Rose Bowl.

Oddly enough, this will be sad.

New Hamsphire, for all its horrendous defects and strong claim to being the most selfish, self-absorbed state in the union, is kind of cute. And every four years, it is fun to see the national media treat it like a lab experiment.

Many reporters are struck by the fact that a spring training game between the Texas Rangers and New York Mets moves at a faster pace than the mind of the average Granite State resident. (According to the Census Bureau, New Hampshire leads the nation in the number of residents who majored in driver ed, as well as children named after popular household appliances.) So, it’s easy to take notes up there. Why, you can even stop for a mocha latte in between jotting down verbs.

The pace of life in New Hampshire also serves as a refreshing contrast to the dog-eat-brie existence the media get used to in East Coast cities. There, they are hounded with questions like, “Where do you work? How much do you make? Who do you know?” but in New Hampshire people are unassuming, quaintly aloof and the most they ever say is, “Nice tooth.”

In Washington, reporters constantly try to one-up each other by claiming to have more contacts or better sources. In New Hampshire, they one-up each other by driving bigger snowmobiles to reserved ice-fishing holes where they sit for days in bizarre outfits that look like they were once owned by Arsenio Hall.

The Forbes campaign fits right in. It does not require even the most minimal human contact — a handshake or a smile — because it’s all on TV. The entire campaign, all 30 seconds, is right there in the middle of “Jeopardy.”

Yet it appeals to those most basic human emotions, the elements that compel hundreds to register Republican and establish residence in New Hampshire: collective greed and individual selfishness. No income taxes. No welfare drain. No need for a conscience.

Forbes acquired his immense wealth the way Granite State Republicans admire and envy: First, he was born and then his father croaked, leaving him more cash than you’ll find in the state treasury in Concord.

The old man, Malcolm Forbes, was quite a character. He dressed like the owner of a Provincetown leather bar, rode motorcycles, flew hot-air balloons, had picnics in France that cost more than the Clintons’ legal bills and amassed a huge fortune that his son, “Thanks dad,” is using to campaign with.

The son is also an unusual piece of work. He is a perfect dweeb, the kind of guy who was pounded to a pulp by classmates every day of his pathetic, privileged grammar school life and looks today as if he could not cross the street without first sipping a nice cup of Metamucil.

Perhaps the only redeeming virtue of “Mr. Pocket-Protector’s” presidential ambition is it is killing that total moron Phil Gramm. Gomer Pyle is going down for the count in New Hampshire, beaten by a millionaire actually running for the post of top accountant.

The whole thing is perfect: The curtain is dropping on the Granite State’s quadrennial moment in the pale sun and the pageant this time features a wealthy nerd whose only pitch is an echo of the state’s motto: “What about me?”