In the politics of the environment, applied to New Hampshire, President Reagan enjoys an extraordinary position. Strong as emotions are on that issue, and critical as many have been about his environmental aides, the president appears untouched personally by the problems.
At this point, Reagan is still a winner in New Hampshire.
The contrast between his personal popularity and his administration's record frustrates his opponents and confounds some environmental leaders in New Hampshire.
"I'm not sure the connection has been made on the part of the general public about Reagan policies and the environment, or the political impact that can have," said Jackie Tuxill, of the Audubon Society and head of the Citizens Task Force on Acid Rain. "I'm not sure people understand the election can make a change."
State Democratic leaders expressed the same frustration, but more strongly.
"It's very frustrating," Rep. Norman E. D'Amours said. "The environmental concerns should strike hard at Reagan, but they don't. They don't largely because of Reagan's charismatic leadership.
"The guy has a way of announcing the most Draconian, heartless budget cut imaginable. Then he's on television that night watching a baseball game and sitting next to Nancy. He pats her on the back and laughs, and everybody says, 'Isn't he a darling?' And everything's forgotten."
Chris D. Spirou, Democratic minority leader of the state House of Representatives, said Reagan's "unique capacity to make people feel comfortable in their misery applies much more to New Hampshire than in most other places."
Spirou and other politicians see environmental issues as certain to become more important in New Hampshire and national politics.
" . . . You've got to educate a lot of people," he said. "In the beginning when they were talking about acid rain, people thought they were talking about a rock-and-roll band. Now it's coming home.
"Somebody has to articulate that the damage caused by Ronald Reagan is going to be measured not in 1983 and 1984 and 1985, but in 1990 and 1991 and the year 2000 . . . . The curse of Ronald Reagan is going to be haunting this country for a long time, and the measurements are going to start a few years up the road. And it's going to be a national disaster.
"When they talk about national disaster funds, someday somebody is going to be president of the United States, and he will declare the entire country a disaster because of the way the country has been treated by this president."
Partisanship and rhetoric aside, New Hampshire's concerns extend far beyond the doings of what people here call "the silly season"--presidential primary election time.
The people of New Hampshire are articulating a larger concern about state and country. It embraces the concept of quality of life, for themselves and fellow citizens.
"Quality of life, maybe not openly but subtly, is probably the No. 1 thing in the back of the mind of the average person," said Dick Hamilton, who promotes tourism for the state in the stunningly beautiful White Mountains area 100 miles north of Manchester. " . . . Everything I do, everything I want, everything I buy, things that I think about or talk about, are connected with that subtle thing about quality."
For Hamilton, a Republican who voted for Reagan in 1980, this translates into concern about issues from the environment and energy costtive place in the world. He is worried that the United States is in jeopardy of losing control of all of them.
In a Manchester suburb, Irey, a part-time office manager, spoke with concern about the economy and high energy costs and described a feeling of uneasiness png her and her friends.
"By talking to each other, that's what keeps us together, keeps us from losing cont good-natured person . . . . But it's getting harder
In that connection, Hamilton had a general message for the president:
"That we little guys, I guess, have very little impact on decis by the power brokers of the world. But we little guys are very concerned about the future of the country and they ought to get serious about getting it under control. Stop rattling swords.
"And on the acid rain thingr our natural areas like this, . . . they should stop fooling around, playing politics with it. I think they hinterests and look for what's best for the whole region, for the whole country.
"If we screw up a natural area like northern New England and upstate New York just so U.S. Steel or General Motors or whoever can make mon I think we've lost sight of where we're really at.
" . . . I'm not necessarily an environmentalist. But Ire's got to be a balance there someplace, and I think the balance has tipped the other way. It ought to be brought back s is a reasonably clean environment and a reasonably safe place to live."
Hamilton had a last thought, perhaps striking a theme that expresses the concerns oll Americans:
"Quality has now come back as a prime issue in all aspects of life in this country."