Pitching himself as a politician who cares less about party than someone who wants to help the United States' economy rebound, former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman on Saturday told college graduates in this key early nominating state that the nation must set aside its partisan sniping in the name of patriotism.
Huntsman, a Republican who until last month served as Democratic President Barack Obama's ambassador to Beijing, told Southern New Hampshire University's commencement that the United States should not resign itself to China's growing influence. He also said bipartisanship would be a key component to maintaining the United States' advantages over China.
"If we Americans remain civil to each other, we can deal with our problems, including the debt crisis that hangs over all of us," Huntsman said.
He noted how the nation came together for a short while after U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., was shot.
"After the shooting in Tucson when Representative Giffords was injured, we talked seriously as a nation about civility. Many Republicans and Democrats even sat together at the State of the Union. Remember that?"
'Civility is a lubricant'
"Now, if we can just sit together and solve our problems," Huntsman said. "Civility is a lubricant to make the system work."
Huntsman, making his first campaign-style trip to early voting New Hampshire as he weighs a presidential campaign, is on a five-day trip to this state to meet with activists and operatives. Already, he is piecing together a formidable political machine if he enters the GOP presidential field as expected.
He also is working to turn his time as the Obama administration into an asset. Some conservatives look at his two years in Beijing as a disqualifier and ignore his record working as an official in the administrations of Republican Presidents Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush and George W. Bush.
"You hear how the Chinese economy is going to swamp us. Don't believe it. China has its own problems. And we have our own strengths," said Huntsman, a fluent Mandarin speaker who slipped into his second language to address the international students. "I mean, there is a reason that Google was started in America and not Russia or Germany or China."
"Anyone who has bet against this country long-term has lost his money."
Huntsman's speech, which largely skipped over domestic politics, contrasted American freedoms with China's crackdown on press freedoms.
"Here at home, listening to cable news, 24/7, it's easy to forget that our nation still pulses with a vital, life-enriching energy that comes from the very freedom we breathe," Huntsman said. "The dissidents around the world see this. Sometimes we're too close to really appreciate its impact."