Bar News - August 19, 2015
President’s Perspective: Political Discourse: A Primary Responsibility
By: Mary E. Tenn
The candidates running for president of the United States have arrived in New Hampshire. At last count, five Democrats and some 17 Republicans have declared their candidacies. They can be found traveling across New Hampshire at diners, house parties, parades, picnics and town hall style meetings. It seems that this summer season the throngs of candidates are hard to miss, even though a certain few seem to be grabbing the headlines. And, as the summer heats up, so too will the campaigns and the campaign rhetoric.
My young children asked me recently why all of the candidates are coming to New Hampshire. With each news story and each new campaign shocker, I find myself explaining the historical importance of the New Hampshire primary and why the New Hampshire primary matters today.
New Hampshire, recognized nationally for our engaged and inquisitive voters, holds the coveted first in the nation primary. With this upcoming 2016 primary, we celebrate 100 years of the New Hampshire primary – a primary which, despite efforts of other states to jump ahead, has been first in the nation since 1920.
In New Hampshire, candidates are put to the test under the demands of old fashioned retail politics. Here, we have the opportunity to meet the candidates, often more than once, and press them on the issues of the day. Thoughtful discourse and considered policy debates traditionally have taken precedence over sound bites.
David Broder, the long-time Washington Post political reporter, said of the New Hampshire primary: “I am of the firm belief that New Hampshire is and always will be first in this process… the voters up here… they ask tough questions. These are serious times and people are expecting the candidates to talk in a serious way with them, and those that don’t are going to be shuffled out very quickly.”
Broder’s sentiment, I explained to my children, reflects the national importance of the New Hampshire primary and that of an informed citizenry.
In my explanation, I could not help but add that New Hampshire lawyers have played key roles in the primary and in the political discourse of our nation. Certainly on primary day, we see our colleagues working the polling stations and serving as poll-watchers. But more than that, leading up to voting day, New Hampshire lawyers have been integral participants in the political process by, among other things, hosting the candidates, questioning them (some might say cross-examining) and working behind the scenes on the myriad campaigns that have launched in our state.
Today, New Hampshire lawyers are uniquely positioned to help elevate the political conversation, which of late has been replete with high-charged rhetoric and personal attacks. For certain, as lawyers we study the law, our system of government and the political process. By our training and practice, we also are taught to be analytical, skeptical and zealous advocates. As part of our basic skill set, we are trained to look at issues from all sides and to disagree without being disagreeable. Perhaps now more than ever, the professionalism and civility of New Hampshire lawyers is needed in political discourse.
In our Bar Association, we have a strong history of fostering civility and professionalism. New Hampshire lawyers also have been actively engaged through our association and the New Hampshire Bar Foundation in promoting law-related education and civics education. This primary season is an important time to continue these traditions.
In the coming months, as candidates campaign in our state, and New Hampshire voters consider their choices, engage the candidates when you meet them, and let them know that you are a concerned New Hampshire lawyer. Talk to your family, friends and neighbors. As New Hampshire lawyers, we can help educate others and promote thoughtful and civil political discussion. Whether in official campaign or party positions, or in less formal activities of our daily routine, our voices can improve the political conversation and inform the choices.
Whatever your political persuasion, as New Hampshire lawyers, we have a primary responsibility and great opportunity this primary season.