As the Democratic National Committee prepares to deliver the coup de grace to New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation primary status, I’d like to offer a justification for New Hampshire’s priority I haven’t heard yet.
New Hampshire produces an extraordinarily high concentration of extremely funny people.
This came to me today after my YouTube algorithm served up Sarah Silverman’s birthday song to Jimmy Kimmel from 2009, the one where she revealed her not-so-clandestine relationship with Matt Damon (“I’m F%X*ing Matt Damon”). Sarah was raised in New Hampshire. So was Adam Sandler. So was Seth Meyers. Are you kidding me? Whatever one might say about New Hampshire, something’s in the water in this tiny northern outpost when it comes to generating the funniest people.
Don’t believe me? Watch “Billy Madison” again.
Is there anything more uniquely human than a sense of humor? When you think about the best times you’ve had, don’t you always come back, first, to the big moments in life, to weddings, births, graduations, and awards, so often punctuated in the best ways with humor and laughter? And then don’t you think of the little moments in which you were floored by the funniness of friends gifted at being funny and making you laugh?
Backing out even further, can you identify anyone who is a more subtle critic of human nature than the gifted humorist who uses narrative to reflect our absurdities? When push comes to shove, don’t you want people with a high sensitivity to BS out front cueing up the laugh track over the distressing ways in which the strivers who want to lead us lie to us about themselves and the world; to check those who push to subvert democracy by tricking us into giving them extraordinary power over us and our loved ones?
The DNC and Biden want South Carolina to play that role going forward. Some, even in New Hampshire, apparently are resigned to this fate.
For me, it’s hard to make a joke out of rewarding a state like South Carolina, whose history is so soaked with treason, secession, and violent racism. It is harder to do so when the reward comes at my home state’s expense.
Consider the dichotomies. New Hampshire abolished slavery before the Civil War, where the practice had otherwise withered because of opposition to it. Its support also clinched the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. South Carolina’s demands infected the Constitution with protections for slavery that continue to plague us today. It was also the first state to jump ship to defend slavery in 1860.
Its treason triggered a civil war and the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Even after the Union Army, populated by New Hampshire soldiers, fought and died to defeat the Confederacy, whose army was populated by South Carolinians who rebelled, KKK violence was so intense in South Carolina by 1871 that President Ulysses Grant suspended the writ of habeas corpus in nine of South Carolina’s counties.
The attorney general who urged him to do so was Amos Akerman, a man born and raised in New Hampshire.
South Carolina overcame Akerman and then spent at least a hundred years imposing Jim Crow, fighting civil rights reform, electing Sen. Strom Thurmond to the august U.S. Senate for half a century to the detriment of the voting rights of his constituents. New Hampshire by contrast, delivered the nation’s first all-female congressional delegation and then elected its first openly gay congressman.
More recent history reminds us that John McCain won the New Hampshire primary in 2000 but lost in South Carolina, and so lost his best bid for the presidency, because of a racist smear campaign slandering McCain’s international adoption of a little girl from an orphanage in Bangladesh. How much better might the world have been had it had the chance to elect the Maverick, a military veteran and former prisoner of war with a reputation for directness, as president? Would we have gone to war in a far-off place on false pretenses, for decades, at the expense of American lives and trillions in American public funds?
Reality versus that counterfactual hinges on New Hampshire’s choice vs. South Carolina’s.
Most people think President Joe Biden and the DNC are punishing New Hampshire for Biden’s fifth-place finish here. South Carolina’s small fraction of Democratic voters — less than 20 percent of its voting population by some reckonings — cured that loss not long after and are to reap the reward.
Why did Biden lose in New Hampshire? Here’s one perspective from an engaged Granite State voter.
In 2020, President Biden didn’t seem to care about me or my family and what we were going through. He didn’t campaign the way other candidates campaigned. He relied on retired governors and retired chief justices and retired ambassadors as his surrogates.
I knew of no New Hampshire mother with children in our public schools during the early stages of a terrible worldwide pandemic that Biden brought into his circle of advisors, for instance. I know of many many talented New Hampshire people, who would’ve fit that bill. They could’ve helped him win by giving him some badly needly perspective. That’s on him.
Biden’s failure here illustrates what the New Hampshire primary delivers: results based on positive interactions with people outside of the Beltway who are trying to make it work in the world of the real and who refuse to be ignored by politicians who too often see them as data points to be considered, courted and then discarded.
I admire Biden for many reasons. He and the DNC can, if they choose, blame us for our desperation to connect with a candidate who would listen to us as voters, given our meager chance to make a difference for Gen Xers and Millennials and the millions of others who want to be heard in the hinterlands in these strange times.
I think the nation will be worse off because of that approach. But giving that role to South Carolina? If it happens, our sense of humor will prepare us to follow Lincoln, who once said, “I laugh because I must not cry, that is all, that is all.”