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New Hampshire's whining smacks of hypocrisy

Published Oct. 10, 2005

Has there been any more unpleasant sound this primary season than the gnashing of New Hampshire teeth? For weeks the nation has been forced to listen to New Hampshirites complain about how tough they've got it there. Endlessly we've had to endure their whining about how little the federal government has done to get them back up on their feet. Nightly we've had to watch the candidates grovel before them, each attempting to "out-care" the other.

What I haven't heard anyone saying out loud is what some of us non-New Hampshirites are thinking: Enough, already. Listen, New Hampshire, it's tough everywhere. Despite what the president apparently believes, your recession has not been worse than anyone else's.

Connecticut has been devastated by cuts in the defense budget. New York is in terrible shape. Texans have been coping with a severe recession that has lasted far longer than yours _ and which they've handled with much more dignity.

While you've been complaining about the president not paying enough attention to you, the administration has actually been pouring millions of federal dollars into the state, attempting to get back into your good graces.

There was that Small Business Administration loan program announced in December and the half-billion dollars in federal highway funds that are coming your way. This is the kind of aid that you folks, with your historic disdain of government, used to sniff at as "pork barrel." Now you seem to accept such aid as your just due.

In fact, that's been the most annoying thing about listening to you these past few weeks: It's your attitude that it's somehow the government's responsibility to make everything right again.

Aren't you embarrassed? What happened to the flinty independence for which you were once so famous? What happened to your old belief that the only good government was no government?

It turns out, of course, that it's a lot easier to disdain government when everybody has a job. I remember in the good old days of the mid-1980s when John Sununu, your then-governor, used to thumb his nose at the big spenders in Massachusetts. The more unpalatable truth is that New Hampshire is an economic satellite of the neighbor you most loathe.

We read stories in the newspaper about how, when someone in your state has their car repossessed they often lose their job because they no longer have a way to get to work. Bus service in New Hampshire is terrible.

We notice that the pain in the state has been exacerbated in no small part because your unemployment benefits are so much lower than in "big-spending" states, such as Massachusetts. The programs that might cushion the blow, which other states provide as a matter of course, you prefer to do without, thanks to your no-tax, low-service ethos. It's your hypocrisy that grates on us, New Hampshire.

If you can't abide either a state income tax or a state sales tax you ought to be prepared to accept the consequences. If you refuse to erect a safety net you shouldn't be surprised when the landing turns out to be hard. If you really believe that government is a hindrance to freedom you should be trying to pick yourselves up without asking it to do everything for you.

Oh, one more thing. Ditch the motto. "Live Free or Die"? How about: "We've Got Our Hand Out Too."

Joseph Nocera, a columnist for GQ, is working on a history of personal finance.