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Editorial: O’Brien the Explorer; Former Speaker Mulls Higher Office

That low murmuring you might detect while traveling in New Hampshire these days is not the sound of streams swollen with snow melt. Rather, it’s the softly uttered prayers of Democrats beseeching the political gods to deliver unto them a great gift — a run by former House Speaker Bill O’Brien for a prominent office.

O’Brien, according to the Nashua Telegraph, is exploring the possibility of challenging Ann McLane Kuster, the Democrat serving her first term representing the 2nd District in the U.S. House, in 2014.

Why any exploration is necessary remains a mystery to everybody but O’Brien. It is abundantly clear to just about everybody else that his disastrous two-year tenure as House speaker made him one of most disliked political figures in the state in a long time. Think of him as New Hampshire’s Newt Gingrich, times three. No doubt, a committed band of true-believers still holds O’Brien in high regard. But there can be little doubt that the Democrats’ stunning reversal of fortune last November — capturing control of the House, achieving near parity in the Senate and winning both congression-al races, among other victories — can be attributed in large part to O’Brien. If the wreckage that was in plain sight on the morning of Nov. 7 didn’t deliver that message to the Mont Vernon Republican, no amount of exploration is likely to enlighten him now.

Just to be clear, O’Brien’s political radioactivity should not be attributed solely to his politics, although his reckless radicalism is certainly one of the contributing factors. While O’Brien’s chest seems to swell with pride whenever he reflects on the biennium over which he and his gang held sway, most others regard that period with a combination of disbelief and revulsion. O’Brien brags about a time when state spending finally was tamed; most everybody else focuses on the damage done to the university system, gun laws gone wild, eviscerated social services and legislators suddenly interested in meddling in residents’ personal lives.

Misguided zealotry is no stranger to the New Hampshire political landscape, of course. What distinguished the O’Brien brand was its mean-spiritedness. Even members of the speaker’s own party expressed dismay about O’Brien’s flashes of vindictiveness, pettiness and authoritarianism — best personified perhaps by his refusal to seat disabled members who had crossed him in easily accessible places. When voters made clear last November that they were repulsed by the ugliness and recklessness in Concord — there really is no other credible explanation for the extreme political makeover that occurred — the unspoken assumption was that the message had been delivered loud and clear.

But now here’s O’Brien saying that Kuster’s performance has been so abysmal that he feels duty-bound to consider stepping forward and giving the 2nd District the representation it deserves.

How one could render such a verdict after an elected official has completed all of three months in office is beyond us. More puzzling is that the service has been performed at a time when Congress has accomplished absolutely nothing. If only it were the case that Congress had been doing something more than alternating between tiresome posturing and undeserved vacationing — and Kuster could be rightfully blamed for being party to some piece of legislation that had a discernible impact on people’s lives.

Considering the enormous damage he did in a short period time, it’s not a charge that Democrats will be able make about O’Brien, if and when their fervent prayers are answered.