By Gregory W. Wallace (@gregorywallace)
MANCHESTER, N.H. — Jon M. Huntsman Jr. today used his tempered support of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations to distinguish himself among a field of G.O.P. presidential hopefuls which generally has unkind things to say about the protest movement.
“Oh, I probably will get in trouble by saying this,” he said, going on to cite his recent stint as the U.S. Ambassador to China, “but having lived most recently in a country where if you get more than five people showing up on the street corner, you’re rounded up by the domestic security services, I say, 'Let freedom ring.'
“We have the freedom to gather, we have the freedom to speak out and so long as people are doing it in accordance with the law of the land, I think it is uniquely American and traditional,” he said.
Across the street from the business roundtable where this former Utah governor spoke were the last of a group called Occupy New Hampshire, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street demonstration. The majority of the Manchester group had had moved a mile downtown earlier in the afternoon.
Huntsman said he understands frustrations with unemployment and the “too big to fail” approach towards businesses, but he did not align himself with the other messages of the protest. He recalled large-scale protests of U.S. involvement in Vietnam, and said he “will always stand up for the right of people to speak out.”
“All I can remember growing up in the early '70s, I was very young at the time, there was a time when it got so hot in our involvement in Vietnam that at one point the White House was completely circled by protesters,” he said. “These things, whether it’s the tea party, whether its Occupy Wall Street, I believe at some level that they are a manifestation of our freedoms in this country.”
Only a few protesters and tents remained in Victory Park here, as the movement had been asked to move and last night chose Veteran’s Park, where they had camped before moving to accommodate a 5 kilometer race in honor of Manchester Police officers killed in the line of duty. Their new and higher-profile grounds, where two dozen people were late Tuesday afternoon, have hosted countless fairs, protests, and political candidates — most recently, Sarah Palin, who spoke in the park on Labor Day, and Rick Perry, who attended the Manchester Chilifest here last month.
Huntsman, who has been cool but not frigid towards the protests, stands apart from many of his Republican rivals for the party nomination, who have spoken out against the movement. Businessman Herman Cain, who has found the spotlight on his campaign and book tour in recent weeks, told The Associated Press that the movement is un-American.
Last week in the Granite State, former Gov. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts said the protesters are making their point in the wrong way.
“Are there bad actors on Wall Street? Absolutely. Are there bad actors on Main Street? Absolutely. And they have to be found and plucked out,” Romney said, as quoted by ABC News. “All the streets are connected. Wall Street is connected to Main Street. Finding a scapegoat, finding someone to blame, isn’t the right way to go.”