Principle Matters – Political Power vs. Policy Power

There is exactly one thing standing between the American people and the type of government the founders of the nation envisioned. That one thing? For members of Congress to do their job!

For far too long Congress has ceded its authority to the executive branch and the regulatory state. Why has so much power shifted from the legislative branch to the executive branch? Because members of Congress have decided to abdicate authority in order to avoid accountability. Less accountability makes re-election much easier.

My former boss, Senator Mike Lee, uses a simple example to illustrate: Members of Congress love to pass bills with inspiring names, such as the “We shall have clean air” act. (Because after all, who is going to vote for dirty air?) Then within the bill Congress transfers all authority to the Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, to decide what clean air is, what it isn’t, how to comply with the law and what the penalties will be for violations. Further, Congress allows EPA to be the judge, jury and executioner of law. There are no checks and balances for potentially outrageous and overly burdensome regulations or excessive penalties.

When an individual or company is being hurt by these regulations and they rush to a member of Congress for help or relief, the representative can say, “Hey, don’t yell at me, I just voted for clean air. You will have to go complain to the EPA.” Then that individual or company has to go to someone at EPA who is not elected by or accountable to the citizens. When Congress abdicates its policy power to federal bureaucrats, it rarely ends well for the American people.

On the other hand, we also have too many so-called leaders in Washington who are more concerned about maintaining their political power than using their constitutional policy power in conjunction with their power of the purse. Such leaders distract and even discourage the general public with fake fights, false choices and a steady stream of divisive drama. Political power seekers know that if the American people believe that we are too divided as a nation to solve a problem, it gives Congress the excuse to do nothing and the executive branch an excuse to do whatever the president wants through executive order. The result is that power, money and influence stay with Congress, along with the wealthy and well-connected. We need to demand more from Washington.

Congress abdicating policy power and obsessing on political power has weakened the checks and balances within our republic, fostered dysfunction within government, and rightly fueled public frustration toward elected officials. Congress caused this mess, and only Congress can clean it up by reasserting its power and proper role. By putting Congress back in charge of making and funding federal policy, we can once again put the American people back in charge of their government – as it should be.

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary broadcast on several radio stations across the country. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly via iTunes by clicking here

Outdoor Retailer should avoid ultimatums on lands policy

Today, some leaders from the outdoor retail industry are making demands and issuing ultimatums to Utah’s elected officials, threatening to pull the Outdoor Retailer trade shows from the state.

Their aggressive actions highlight how the discussion around public land management has been absolutely degraded. So, while questioning our state’s values and love for public lands, their ultimatums are actually restricting and undermining real collaboration and constructive dialogue on this critical issue. So, those who care about our public lands need to move beyond the bluster and bombast and get to principled compromise and viable land management solutions.

Clearly, tourism and outdoor recreation play a vital role in Utah’s economy today and will for generations to come. Utah’s unparalleled beauty and recreational opportunities draw visitors from around the world, driving small businesses, providing tax revenue, and making our state a great place to work, live and play.

To claim that the only appropriate use of our public lands is outdoor recreation is to ignore the needs of real Utahns – especially those who live in our rural communities. And despite the false claims often depicted on the internet and in the media, responsible land management is not a zero-sum game with only winners and losers.

The type of bullying rhetoric currently coming from some in the outdoor retail industry is creating the kind of fake fight and false choices we often see in Washington, D.C. That is not how we do it here in Utah.

We understand that stewardship of natural resources is everyone’s responsibility. We know public lands can and ought to be put to multiple – often complementary – uses, which expands the economic pie to everyone’s benefit. We must remember that ultimatums kill collaboration and compromise.

We call on Utah’s elected officials, the outdoor retail industry, and other key voices to engage in an inclusive, elevated dialogue that will lead to land management policy that will foster a healthy environment, abundant recreational opportunities, and a diverse thriving economy for all Utahns now and for many generations to come. That is the Utah way.

Vision for Religious Freedom

True equality requires the protection of religious liberty. Religious freedom ensures equal treatment for all of God’s children.

To understand the former, one need only contemplate the contradiction in values, morals and logic contained in this scenario: A demand for equality leads to legal protection of an individual’s right to their core belief and expression regarding sexuality, but leads to legal prosecution of another individual for exercising their right to their core belief and expression regarding God. That is, in fact, a form of intolerance and inequality masquerading as equality.

To understand the latter, one need only ponder the historical fact that religion was a driving force behind the abolition of the English slave trade, the emancipation of American slaves, and the American civil rights movement. Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. did not lead America’s civil rights movement in spite of his religious identity, but because of it.

Very early on in America’s history, Alexis de Tocqueville noted: “Religion, which, among Americans, never mixes directly in the government of society, should therefore be considered as the first of their political institutions; for if it does not give them a taste for freedom, it singularly facilitates their use of it.”[1] Part of what Tocqueville meant is that religion shapes the experience of citizenship. It is easy to see then, why the freedom to practice religion is critical to the nation’s order and character.

The interconnectedness of religion, equality and freedom is uniquely American. Other nations have viewed religious freedom in different ways. The French Revolution’s 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man had a “religious freedom” provision, which subordinated the right to the perceived interests of the state: “No one shall be disquieted on account of his opinions, including his religious views, provided their manifestation does not disturb the public order established by law.” This approach allowed for unfettered freedom to believe, but severely constricted the ability to act on or express that belief.

Even the charter of the Soviet Union guaranteed “freedom of religious worship,” which looked nothing like what Americans would recognize as freedom. The governing principle of Communist Russia was that everyone was free to believe what they would like, but with the caveat that expressing those beliefs in contradiction to the laws and will of the state would be severely punished. In practice, even the guarantee of freedom of belief was never honored.

Contrast the foreign ideas of freedom of religious views and religious worship to the American principle of religious freedom. Religious freedom is core to the way Americans constitute ourselves as a people. The pursuit of religious liberty motivated the establishment of America’s second English colony in 1620 in Plymouth, Massachusetts. Religious freedom also holds a unique place in our constitutional order: It is literally the first freedom protected in the Bill of Rights.

Religious freedom in the Constitution is found in two places. The First Amendment provides that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” There is also a provision in the text of the original Constitution, less remarked upon, but no less important. Article VI says that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Taken together, these provisions, and similar ones in the constitutions of each state, show that the American ideal is one of robust protection for religious belief, worship and expression in the public square. These protections include three connected principles:

  1. All human beings should be free in their religious beliefs and practices without suffering persecution or official discrimination, except in the rare instances where a religious practice compromises a compelling governmental interest (e.g., protecting innocent life).
  2. Religious organizations must be free to determine doctrines and practices, including standards for membership, and to carry out their activities without government interference.
  3. No one should be forced by the government to affirm or support beliefs to which they do not freely ascribe.

Despite the robustness of the American principle of religious freedom contained in the Constitution, limited conceptions of religious freedom have their advocates in the modern United States. There has been a rhetorical shift among some to speak of a “freedom of worship.” This means that churches and individuals can believe and teach what they like, and perhaps even select their own clergy and perform their own ceremonies, but this “freedom” essentially ends outside the door of the meetinghouse, mosque, cathedral or synagogue.

For instance, a prominent government official recently argued that religious freedom was merely a “code word” for darker motives, such as hate for a particular group of people – the implicit suggestion being that the government can restrict the freedom of people of faith if their beliefs conflict with the official government-endorsed ideology: discriminating against religious people because of their beliefs, in the name of anti-discrimination.

A related notion is that other protections, like freedom of speech, are adequate to protect religious people. Thus, a recent Supreme Court decision dismissed concerns about religious organizations and individuals being asked to facilitate conduct at odds with their beliefs by saying that they still have the ability to verbally express their teachings. But the freedom to state one’s core beliefs becomes largely meaningless without its intended companion: freedom to live according to those core beliefs.

A free society prioritizes religious freedom. It recognizes what Tocqueville observed, that religious devotion fosters accountability that, in turn, secures the qualities in citizens that allows for a broadly tolerant and pluralistic community that is both safe and open. It also recognizes America’s historical reality: that religion is tied to equality, and without religious freedom equality would not exist in its current form in America.

With very rare exceptions – the damaging effects of which can be alleviated by existing constitutional principles – religion inculcates in its adherents a spirit of civility and public-spiritedness that allows a free society to flourish. It motivates individuals to come together to care for those who are less fortunate and to protect those otherwise excluded from the bounties of a prosperous nation.

Religious freedom is a foundation of a decent, equal and free society.

 

[1] Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America 280 (translated by Harvey C. Mansfield & Delba Winthrop, 2000).

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Op-ed: Community-based solutions — A new vision of self-government

Originally published in the Deseret News.

At times, this election season has seemed like an exercise in how to most effectively undermine our national motto of e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”). Caustic rhetoric has alienated and divided voters nationwide, creating an environment that has made finding agreement on important issues like energy, the environment and public land management unnecessarily difficult.

But with the passing of Election Day comes the opportunity to move beyond failed politics and divisive mudslinging, toward elevated dialogue grounded in American principles and values, shared around dinner tables, across the fence with neighbors and in town meetings with locally elected officials. In these critical issue areas, that dialogue — and the practical solutions it generates — can be found by achieving community-driven solutions.

Community-driven solutions require a federal government that recognizes the harm that one-size-fits-all bureaucratic mandates do to people. Standardized mandates from Washington, D.C., crush cultural, social and economic diversity in local communities by elevating the interests of one group over another. Community-driven solutions embrace that diversity through balanced solutions that recognize the value and contributions of everyone in the community.

One-size-fits-all mandates stifle innovation by forcing all members of a community to conform to a rule determined by decision-makers thousands of miles away. Community-driven solutions recognize that innovative thinking, informed by people on the ground who understand local conditions and circumstances, is the best way to find solutions that both protect the environment and strengthen the economy.

Federal bureaucratic mandates demand that communities bow to the will of government. Community-driven solutions empower communities so that their government reflects the people’s will.

In energy, community-driven solutions means policies like the Re-empowerment of the States Amendment — giving states authority to block economic regulations that would be harmful to the men and women that they represent. It means devolving full authority over energy rules — such as the Clean Power Plan — from federal to state and local governments, trusting in the American principle that government closest to the people governs best.

In the environmental realm, community-driven solutions mean recognizing that local residents and decision-makers are best situated to know how to protect wildlife, conserve natural resources and encourage clean air and water. It means embracing the principle that no one has a stronger economic, environmental or cultural interest in protecting the beauty of natural landscapes and wilderness than the people who must live with the consequences of those decisions.

In public land management, community-driven solutions mean transferring the ability and authority to manage public lands to those whose livelihoods, communities and cultural heritage are rooted in the health and well-being of those lands. It means reforming laws like the Antiquities Act — which enables a single federal executive to restrict access and use of huge swaths of public land — so that local individuals representing a diversity of interests in public lands play the primary role in approving and managing national monuments.

In other words, community-driven solutions mean self-government — the foundational principle of the American model of government. This principle is the foundation of an elevated dialogue and practical solutions in the areas of energy production, environmental conservation and public land management. By applying the principle of self-government, we can move beyond a politics of Pyrrhic victories and ideological extremes to a system that actually protects the cultural diversity, economic prosperity and the natural beauty in our communities.

Those are outcomes we can all agree on.

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The road to happiness

Politics has been important from the founding of our nation – but strong individuals and community-driven solutions regularly serve us better than our political parties.

With both political parties holding their conventions over the next two weeks there will be an overload of analysis in the media. So this week’s Principle Matters is going to take a little journey off of the beaten path. Rather than focus on the government-driven solutions, we are going to focus on a set of principles that will create change, improvement and happiness – beginning with each of us as individuals.

The road to happiness and prosperity is never as difficult as we try to make it. In the late 1800s an unknown author penned a set of principles titled “The Road to Happiness.” The years have flown, the centuries have turned, times have changed, and technology has transformed the world, yet the road to real happiness remains unchanged. It is never to be found in the halls of Congress or emanating from some central government agency for happiness. It is found by following a set of simple principles.

Here is “The Road to Happiness”:

  • Keep skid-chains on your tongue; always say less than you think. How you say things often counts far more than what you say.
  • Make promises sparingly and keep them faithfully, no matter what it costs you.
  • Never let an opportunity pass to say a kind and encouraging thing to or about somebody. Praise good work done, regardless of who did it. If criticism is merited, criticize helpfully and never spitefully.
  • Be interested in others: interested in their pursuits, their welfare, their homes, and families. Make merry with those who rejoice and mourn with those who weep. Let everyone you meet, however humble, feel that you regard them as a person of importance.
  • Be cheerful. Keep the corners of your mouth turned up. Laugh at good stories and learn to tell them.
  • Preserve an open mind on all debatable questions. Discuss, but don’t argue. It is the mark of a superior mind to disagree and yet be friendly.
  • Let your virtues, if you have any, speak for themselves, and refuse to talk of another’s vices. Discourage gossip. Make it a point to say nothing to another unless it is something good.
  • Be careful of others’ feelings. Wit at the other fellow’s expense is rarely worth the effort and may hurt where least expected.
  • Pay no attention to ill-natured remarks about you. Simply live so that nobody will believe them.
  • Don’t be too anxious about getting your just dues. Do your work, be patient, keep your disposition sweet, forget self, and you will be respected and rewarded – on the road to Happiness!

Simple, powerful principles to build a better individual, family, neighborhood and nation. Imagine what could happen if everyone, especially our political leaders, pursued such a path?

For Sutherland Institute, this is Boyd Matheson. Thanks for engaging – because principle matters.

This post is an edited transcript of Principle Matters, a weekly radio commentary aired on several radio stations. The podcast can be found below.

Receive this broadcast each week directly to your iTunes by clicking here

Intolerant tolerance is not tolerance at all

Editor’s Note: This op-ed originally appeared May 5, 2016, in The Salt Lake Tribune.

The recent kerfuffle over Lynette Gay and the honorary degree that the University of Utah plans to award her is a case study in the kind of intolerant tolerance that seems to be driving and, in my view destroying, meaningful public dialogue and serious debate on the important issues of our day. Crying intolerance and spewing accusations of hate have become the new go­-to strategy for shutting down debate or discrediting those who disagree with you.

Gay is an extraordinary individual with a life filled with service — the kind of person any university would love to commend with an honorary degree. Now she finds herself in a roiling debate while being bullied into resigning her position from one of the many boards on which she serves.

The portion of Gay’s biography that has caused the wild reaction and protest from two outside groups and some at the University of Utah is her association with the World Congress of Families. The organization I now lead, Sutherland Institute, was the host and sponsor of the World Congress of Families IX event, held in Salt Lake City last year. The group has a long history of strengthening families and supporting at­risk children. There is a mountain of evidence attesting to the good work it has done.

I do not wish to engage in a series of tit­for­tat, claim­and­counterclaim arguments which have become standard for TV and media. None of us should be interested in shouting matches, talking­point tirades or hyperbolic accusations. Rather, I wish to speak to the principles that undergird an open society and the processes that should guide our public discourse.

The leading voice against Gay comes from the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC). It would be easy for me to lay out a case against SPLC, identify past members of SPLC who have said or done less than honorable things, or dispute SPLC accusations which were proven flawed. Such an approach, while temporarily satisfying to some, would leave us a long way from the type of open­mindedness and dialogue we are capable of creating.

The real question is, where there are disagreements, who gets to decide who can be vilified, who is tolerant, who is filled with hate and who is not? One group declaring another group to be evil simply does not make it so. Organizations that cower before such clamor and character assassination are contributing to a less­than­tolerant environment on campus and in the public square.

The selection of individuals to be recipients of honorary degrees is hardly a canonization — and it shouldn’t be. Business success, philanthropic work, and service to community are all compelling reasons to bestow such degrees — none has to be the next Mother Teresa. Turning this process into a purity test for political correctness is neither wise nor prudent. With this precedent, some will undoubtedly argue that a potential honoree should be disqualified for having been an Eagle Scout as a youth or that a graduate of a university like the U. of U. should be rejected because of possible insensitivities to Native Americans. While seemingly absurd, such examples flow from the demonization of those with whom we might disagree.

Whipping students into a frenzy of indignation to the point that they would turn their backs on an honored son or daughter of the University is to teach them to turn their backs on the most important lessons from their university experience — openness to learning from and discussing a wide variety of thoughts and ideas. (Yes, students have every right to protest. But just because they can, doesn’t mean they should — that is part of what they should have learned during their college years.)

We believe that the LGBT community deserves respect and should be heard. The role of families, the challenges of a complex society and the needs of children are also important. The events of this week didn’t advance any of these causes but instead were an exercise in intolerant tolerance. The result, ultimately, is that we have besmirched a wonderful member of our community, the U., and numerous individuals and organizations who have a rightful claim to civic dialogue, elevated communication and respect.

If our teaching of tolerance is that we are to be tolerant only of those who agree with us and that we should disrespectfully treat and then dismissively turn our backs on everyone else — we have taught by word and deed intolerant tolerance — which really isn’t tolerance at all.

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The Sutherland Vision: Boston to Philadelphia

It has been said that ideas go booming through the world like cannons; thoughts are mightier than armies; and principles have achieved more victories than horsemen or chariots. Inspiring ideas, transformational thoughts and powerful principles – these have been the driving forces of Sutherland Institute from the very beginning.

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Sutherland President Boyd Matheson co-moderated, with KSL Radio’s Doug Wright, the 2016 Republican gubernatorial debate

As we begin this new chapter in Sutherland’s storied history, it is my hope that this institution will become known as the idea factory for policy entrepreneurs, as the launching pad for thought leadership, and as a guardian for timeless principles.

I am confident that Sutherland-based ideas will go booming through Utah and throughout the nation, and that our thoughts and principles will achieve victories tangible and real for the betterment of society.

Standing in front of you today, accepting this new role and challenge was definitely not on my flight plan. After stepping down as chief of staff to U.S. Senator Mike Lee, I thought I had a very good plan to just mix a little business consulting and a little political strategy and little bit of media commentary and life would be great. My being here truly is a testament to the old adage, “If you ever want to make God laugh, just tell Him your plan for your life.” This isn’t the first time I have given Him a good chuckle.

The process was the most natural thing I have ever experienced as a professional. My initial conversation with Stan Swim was like talking with one of my siblings. My meeting with the board was like sitting around the table with good friends (though I had to do a lot more talking than I would normally do in such a setting). And when I met with our extraordinary staff last week – I knew I had come home. So again my thanks to Stan, the board of trustees, the Swim family, and staff past and present. And I reiterate what I said last Thursday, that I wish to convey to the board my deep appreciation for their faith in me – which faith I hope is rapidly replaced by the kind of confidence that comes from extraordinary results. 

There was much more to this all coming together than just the talented and gracious people of team Sutherland. I want to share a few points – not so you can see what brought me here, but more importantly, what brings us all to recognize and support the critical work that takes place here.

First is my belief in, and admiration of, dreamers of the day.

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T.E. Lawrence

T.E. Lawrence wrote:

All men dream, but not equally.
Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds
Awake to find it was vanity,
But the dreamers of the day are dangerous men,
That they may act their dreams with open eyes to make it possible.

Gaylord Swim was and is a dreamer of the day. He sent countless ideas booming into the world and drove conservative principles deep into the bedrock of this institution. I will never forget sitting in my office at home reading the last speech that Gaylord gave before he passed away. His dream struck a chord within me and inspired me in an overwhelming way.

Two passages in particular not only rang true but have caused my mind to race continually with all the things that can be, and must be, done to fulfill his dream. Gaylord said that the purpose of the Institute was

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Gaylord Swim

“making sound ideas broadly popular among governmental, opinion, and business leaders, and the citizens generally,”

and then he said something I have long believed,

“Utahns have the capacity, the character, and thus the potential to lead out among the states. The Sutherland Dream is that we will promote principled patterns for governing and adopt and implement public policies that will be the envy of, and set a standard for, the nation.”

This is the kind of thought leadership I have been striving to be a part of my entire life. Gaylord’s dream is my dream and as a team we will work relentlessly as dreamers of the day to make it a reality.

Second is a vision of elevated dialogue, deeper discussions and more meaningful conversations. I learned this concept long years ago, in a setting most of the world would have missed or dismissed as nothing too great or grand.

Christine Cooke, Sutherland’s education policy analyst, testifies during the 2016 Utah legislative session

Christine Cooke, Sutherland’s education policy analyst, testifies during the 2016 Utah legislative session

I grew up in a family of 11 children and was fortunate to have parents who understood the blessing and power of dialogue. I remember a period of time when there was much discussion about parents spending quality vs. quantity time with their children. I found it odd that many parents were running off to high-priced seminars to spend their evenings learning about how to spend more time with their children. How grateful I was that my parents were simply doing simple things that would impact us kids.

One such tradition for us was pancakes on Saturday night. With 11 children we had a unique kitchen, which was anchored by a large counter, similar to what you find at a café. Every Saturday evening all of us children were expected to be at home, sitting around the counter while my dad would make pancakes. I don’t know how many of you have had pancakes in a large group before, but they do not come in stacks – I had no idea what a stack of pancakes was for years. In fact, my sister Vickie coined a phrase that having pancakes with the Mathesons was like the early stages of labor pains – you get them one at a time and about 10 minutes apart.

Yet it was during that time, when we were waiting for those precious pancakes to come our way, that we engaged in meaningful dialogue. No, we didn’t quote philosophers or recite scriptures or sing hymns, and I am certain we had some arguments and disagreements about whose turn it was to do the dishes – but all in all it became a special time when my parents would share things that were important to them, and just as important, they would listen to what was important to us children. It was a simple thing, a little dialogue that made a big difference.

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Sutherland’s director of policy Derek Monson joins host Doug Fabrizio during a broadcast of RadioWest

There has never been a greater need for such dialogue – in our homes, in our communities, in our state houses, and in our nation’s capital. We must remember that the solution to any problem begins when someone says, “Let’s talk about it.” And how we engage in that dialogue matters. Words and tone carry meaning and the meaning matters.

I won’t bore you with my analysis of the noisy world of politics and policy today. But let me again quote Gaylord Swim

“This process requires strong advocates, certainly, but it also takes a counter-balancing sense of humility, civility, and dialogue … the political course often leads to power struggles, pride, vanity and egocentric ambition, ending in acrimony. It all too often manifests itself in strident voices, character assassinations, protest demonstrations, cloakroom deals, and corruption.”

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Boyd Matheson engages in conversation with Pastor Greg Johnson and Rep. Chris Stewart

Needless to say – we have our work cut out for us in this realm. Sutherland will be known in Utah and nationally as a thought leader and as a convener of thought leaders, highlighted by the depth of our dialogue, the civility of our communication, and how we elevate issues in inspiring ways.

Finally, a positive policy agenda to transform the way government, at every level, works. I am most thankful for my time with Senator Lee, his team and his family, who share Gaylord’s pursuit of powerful principles and policies – recognizing that it isn’t only about cutting big government, but fixing broken government. Abraham Lincoln declared that the purpose of government was

“to elevate the condition of men – to lift artificial weights from all shoulders, to clear the paths of laudable pursuit for all, to afford all an unfettered start and a fair chance, in the race of life.”

As chief of staff to Senator Lee, my job was to execute on what we called the “Boston to Philadelphia” model, which was launched Election Night 2010. The model is based on our nation’s founding era. The original Boston Tea Party was really nothing more than a protest against the kind of government the colonists did not want. (A big oppressive government that taxed them too much, regulated too heavily, and was way too intrusive in their lives.  Sound familiar?) So they protested.

Sutherland’s board and staff welcome Boyd Matheson as president of the Institute

Sutherland’s board and staff welcome Boyd Matheson as president of the Institute

But had those early patriots stopped at just protesting against the kind of government they did not want, the Boston Tea Party would not have been even a footnote in history. It would have been just one more angry mob protesting against a big oppressive government.

Fortunately for all of us, the Founders of this nation pressed forward from Boston – and their protest against the government they didn’t want – all the way to Philadelphia, where in 1787 they created, in the Constitution, the kind of government they did want. 

Unfortunately, due to the current occupant of the White House, we have had a lot of Boston battles over the past seven years – from fiscal cliffs and attacks on our Second Amendment rights to executive overreach, religious liberty erosion and Obamacare. 

But if we as conservatives do not also have a Philadelphia vision – we won’t even make it as a footnote in history!

Stan Rasmussen (center), Sutherland’s director of public affairs, with Speaker Greg Hughes (left) and Jim Dunnigan, House Majority Leader

Stan Rasmussen (center), Sutherland’s director of public affairs, with
Speaker Greg Hughes (left) and Jim Dunnigan, House Majority Leader

So, to be clear, Sutherland Institute will never back down from a Boston moment – and we will never stop rallying the American people to fight those battles. But it is equally important to keep our eyes in the direction of Philadelphia, and on the principles and policies that will lead us ultimately to the kind of government we do want.

I invite you to join us on our march toward Philadelphia! Your voice is vital. Your support moves this movement and makes our Philadelphia vision a reality.

Confusion, corruption and promises of entitlements have fostered an out-of-control expansion of government. Neal A. Maxwell wisely observed,

“I fear that, as conditions worsen, many will react to the failures of too much government by calling for even more government. Then there will be more and more lifeboats launched because fewer and fewer citizens know how to swim. Unlike some pendulums, political pendulums do not swing back automatically; they must be pushed. History is full of instances when people have waited in vain for pendulums to swing back.”

So Sutherland will push, and pull, and even prod when necessary, that the pendulum will once again swing toward the core principles upon which we are anchored. They are:

  • The primacy of individual self-government
  • The centrality of family
  • The keystone of private property
  • The essential and complementary cultures of generosity and self-reliance – where we make poverty not just tolerable, but temporary
  • The moral compass of religion
  • The productivity of free markets
  • The wisdom and virtue of limited government
Sutherland federalism policy analyst Matt Anderson visits with Gov. Gary Herbert

Sutherland federalism policy analyst Matt Anderson visits with Gov. Gary Herbert

The principles we promote at Sutherland Institute lead to smaller government, bigger citizens and more heroic communities. I invite you to join us in creating a better Utah and a better future for all.

All of this is what led me here. Sutherland has a rich history forged by men and women of courage, conviction and a passion for making a difference. It has been said “that we honor best those who have gone before by living our lives with excellence – today!” That is the charge for each member of the Sutherland team. Standing on the shoulders of giants, anchored in the principles outlined by Gaylord Swim and inspired by our better angels, it is time for Sutherland Institute to send more ideas booming into the world and for our principles and policies to create a movement that will transform lives, communities and the nation.

Sutherland is not just a think tank, or policy shop or advocacy group – it is a movement that will grow and expand in extraordinary ways as we execute and deliver on our principles. There are no small parts or players at Sutherland Institute – every voice is vital, and every additional person we touch adds power and force to move this movement forward.

I close today and begin my season at the helm of the good ship Sutherland by paraphrasing William Morris, who said,

“One person with an idea in their head is in danger of being considered mad: two people with the same idea may be foolish, but can hardly be mad; ten sharing an idea begin to act, a hundred draw attention…, a thousand and the status quo begins to tremble, a hundred thousand and the cause has victories tangible and real; and why only a hundred thousand? Why not a hundred million and more…? You and I who agree together, it is we who have to answer that question.”

I invite you to continue to help us answer that question and more fully transform the Sutherland Institute Dream into a brilliant reality.

 

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A vision of love and community

Here’s a great column in The Atlantic by Michael R. Strain on how love and community can save conservatism.

Many on the right correctly emphasize individual liberty, but they do not emphasize what conservatism knows to be true: It is in community that people learn how to be free.

[Rep. Paul] Ryan argued that “the federal government has a role to play” with respect to community, but that “it’s a supporting role, not the leading one.” This is generally true. Government should distance itself enough from the individual that civil society — which exists in the space between government and citizen — can flourish. Speaking generally, government should help support these institutions, but it should not do their work for them.

But this is not to say that a communitarian ethic should be absent from politics and public policy — quite the opposite. Proceeding with a spirit of community would help conservatives formulate and support better policies. Let’s discuss a few.

This is the kind of conservatism we want, the kind that would improve life in Utah – or anywhere. Read the rest of this article here.

Photo credit: Sarah Stierch via Wikimedia Commons

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Conservatives begin with gratitude

Conservatism is not about saying “no” to everything, nor is it about putting the brakes on a rapidly moving culture.

It’s about gratitude.

That’s what Yuval Levin told us upon receiving the Bradley Prize two years ago at the Kennedy Center in Washington. Levin, who calls himself a “reform conservative,” is editor of National Affairs, a quarterly journal of public policy and political thought.

He said in his Bradley Prize acceptance speech,

To my mind, conservatism is gratitude. Conservatives tend to begin from gratitude for what is good and what works in our society and then strive to build on it, while liberals tend to begin from outrage at what is bad and broken and seek to uproot it.

You need both, because some of what is good about our world is irreplaceable and has to be guarded, while some of what is bad is unacceptable and has to be changed. We should never forget that the people who oppose our various endeavors and argue for another way are well intentioned too, even when they’re wrong, and that they’re not always wrong.

But we can also never forget what moves us to gratitude, and so what we stand for and defend: the extraordinary cultural inheritance we have; the amazing country built for us by others and defended by our best and bravest; America’s unmatched potential for lifting the poor and the weak; the legacy of freedom—of ordered liberty—built up over centuries of hard work.

We value these things not because they are triumphant and invincible but because they are precious and vulnerable, because they weren’t fated to happen, and they’re not certain to survive. They need us—and our gratitude for them should move us to defend them and to build on them.

Levin pointed out that conservatism is about sustaining “the foundations of American life—our free society, economy, and government; our culture of virtue.” American progress grows from those foundations:

Without those, there is no future. The work of preserving them is therefore not passive work, it’s not restraint; it is the active work of keeping our society alive and thriving. It’s not a brake, it’s the very engine of the American story.

Click here to read the rest of Levin’s optimistic, forward-looking speech.

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Crowdfunding and ‘little platoons’

Want to see what a strong civil society looks like in practice? Then you need to meet Austin Niehus. Austin was born with Goldenhar Syndrome. The National Craniofacial Association defines Goldenhar syndrome as:

A congenital birth defect which involves deformities of the face. Characteristics include:

  • A partially formed or totally absent ear
  • The chin may be closer to the affected ear
  • A missing eye

Because of the Goldenhar Syndrome Austin is dealing with, he has undergone 52 surgeries. His mom, Kera, set up a fundraiser to help pay for surgery number 53. Kera described 14-year-old Austin’s journey this way:

[His surgeries have included] cleft lip and [palate] repair, G-Tube, Tracheotomy, Bone anchored hearing aid, external ear reconstruction, Bone Grafts, Orthodontia, and multiple Mandible Distractions.

Austin has grown into a kind, intelligent and gentle young boy even after enduring bullying most of his life. He has a great future in front of him, as well as many more surgeries.

Austin’s next surgery will be his 53rd. It is a major surgery to repair his open palate. Insurance won’t cover the plate they will be using to close his palate. It costs $4,000.

As I record this, the campaign has raised $87,542 from 4,034 people. Simply beautiful. And Kera’s right. Watching Austin on his video, I see a kind, happy, beautiful human being.

And his story is evidence of civil society in action. I’ve talked before about what English statesman Edmund Burke called the “little platoons” of society that need to be strong in order to meet the needs of our family, friends and neighbors. Austin’s story is the story of individuals, you and me, uniting to form a little platoon to help, in this case, a complete stranger.

Screenshot 2015-04-10 09.29.36Think of the results. Those who donate feel great for helping out in their own small way. For their part, Austin and Kera say they feel deep gratitude toward this little platoon of strangers. They feel the love of 4,000 people saying, “Austin, we love you. Kera, it must be so hard to handle the financial and emotional burden. You are both awesome. I can’t do much, but I want to help. Here’s my donation.”

Another consequence of sturdy little platoons is that they reduce the need or opportunity for government to grow in its size, scope and services. Smaller, more focused government means less taxes, less waste, less need for the impersonal bureaucracy of government to enter into the delicate details of people’s personal lives.

Think of practically any government program — youth detention centers, prisons, police, food stamps, Medicaid. Now, think about this. Instead of those government programs, what if we met those needs? What if family, friends, and churches nurtured their children so they stayed out of government correctional programs and prisons? What if neighbors kept an eye out for each other and their kids and banded together to share their food, money and resources with those in need? Wouldn’t the care given to our neighbors in need be more personal, more loving? Wouldn’t your life be more deeply enriched this way, instead of just paying more and more in taxes to “let government take care of it?”

Some neighborhoods already work this way. Let’s do our part to spread it, to build our own little platoons. Find a community nonprofit, or a church, or a club that you can be a part of. Find a cause to which you can donate your time or money. The more we can help our neighbors, or even strangers like Austin, the less we’ll have to depend on the impersonal, often unreliable arm of government.

If you want to learn more about Austin’s story, search for “Support Austin Our Hero” on the gofundme.com website.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Dave Buer. Thanks for listening.

This post is a transcript of a 4-minute weekly radio commentary aired on several Utah radio stations. The podcast can be found at the bottom of this post.

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