Pitching himself as a politician with international experience who would 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.
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 civility 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?"
"Now, if we can just sit together and solve our problems," Huntsman said. "Civility acts as 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.
Huntsman, who also served three Republican administrations, on Monday planned to have lunch in nearby Maine with former President George H.W. Bush. Bush was once chief of the U.S. Liaison Office in China, a post similar to an ambassadorship before the U.S. established official relations with China.
Huntsman, who was Bush' ambassador to Singapore, said every time he has returned from a foreign posting he learns something new about the United States.
"On returning this time, I'm finding how pessimistic many Americans are about this country's ability to adapt to the future," he said. "They point to global economic trends, the lack of jobs, the incomprehensible debt, the bitterness in Washington, the wars that seem to never end, the environmental and natural disasters."
He said Americans shouldn't despair.
"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."