I’ve had the fun of voting in six New Hampshire primaries, but this one I had to sit out. I’ve just moved three miles across the river and become a Vermonter.

It was strange to watch all the foofuraw from across the state boundary. I still bumped into the candidates as they cruised the valley, canoed on the river, glad-handed in parking lots, blocked traffic with campaign buses. I still got inundated with their ads. I listened as New Hampshire friends weighed their options. All I missed was the nightly calls from the pollsters and the chance to vote.

McCain — he talks the talk …

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I wonder if other Vermonters feel both amused and neglected every four years when the spotlight beams on New Hampshire. I wonder if they all secretly imagine what they would do, if they could vote across the river.

What I secretly imagined was that I would ask for a Republican ballot (I was part of New Hampshire’s legion of independents) and vote with glee for John McCain. I was astonished to wake up Wednesday morning and discover how many New Hampshirites actually did that.

I guess their reasons must have been the same as mine. First, it would be great to vote for a real person, not a programmed puppet. I disagree with many of John McCain’s positions (especially on the environment), but at least he has positions, not a mishmash of poll results massaged into high-sounding vagueness by political handlers.

Second, it’s hard to resist a chance to slow down George W. Bush, the son of privilege, floating on a tide of Texas oil money, who seems to have no more serious qualification or purpose for the presidency than his own glory. I guess I’m not the only New Englander in whom he raises a mild nausea.

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Third, and by far most important, McCain talks straight about campaign reform. He even admits that he himself is a captive of our system of legal corruption, as opposed to Bradley and Gore, who try to pretend they’ve somehow stayed above it. Campaign reform appears to be maybe third on Bradley’s priority list, eighth on Gore’s, nowhere on Bush’s. George W. said several times that campaign reform is out of the question because it would hurt Republicans. He didn’t even seem to realize he was admitting that his party could not win an election that was fair rather than bought.

Campaign reform is number one on McCain’s list and on mine. In fact it’s the only item on my list, because everything else depends on it. Without it the will of the people means nothing. Without it we have no democracy; we have a plutocracy, a nation ruled by those with money.

A large majority of Americans think it’s reasonable to require a gun owner, like a car owner, to pass a test and get a license. But that will never happen as long as gun money pours in to lobbyists and politicians.

Our pockets are picked and our natural wealth is eroded every time minerals or trees or grazing or drilling rights on national lands are handed — essentially free — to a few profiteers. Those profiteers can easily pay, right out of the money they extract from our resources, more kickback to political parties than all environmental groups combined.

There is no way you or I can contribute as much as the oil lobby does to the senators who fight doggedly for oil company tax deductions — deductions that mean higher taxes for the rest of us.

Those who are desperate for affordable medicine or health insurance or decent medical care can’t begin to match the soft money flowing from drug companies, insurance companies, and HMOs.

Banks kick in millions to get regulations weakened so they can take greater risks with our deposits. Then when they lose, we get taxed to bail them out.

Time magazine this week spells out one small deal in which a single banana magnate (who does not even export from the United States) paid off both parties to the tune of $5 million in campaign contributions. For that he got “access,” a night in the Lincoln bedroom, the ability to call up John Glenn, Bob Dole, and Al Gore (who coolly asked him for more money before doing his bidding). His bidding was to pick a trade fight to open the European banana market. It was done, at ruinous cost to dozens of unrelated U.S. import businesses too small to buy “access.”

There are thousands of such stories. Our government is simply a machine that doles out special favors to large contributors at enormous cost to everyone else. Whatever your cause, unless you are very rich and have a stomach for bribes, it’s a lost cause without serious, thoroughgoing, all-money-out-of-politics, public-funding-equally-to-all-serious-candidates campaign reform.

More and more people are realizing this fact of political life. John McCain repeats it daily, loudly, publicly. The plutocratic power structure, including his main Republican rival, eagerly wants to shut him up. But if other primary voters react as New Hampshire’s did, by the time we Vermonters get to vote for president this year, there may still be a warrior for campaign reform on the ballot.

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