Election Caveat: Ideas Matter More Than Politicians

By: Carl Graham, President, Montana Policy Institute

At the risk of deflating the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade-sized conservative victory balloon, I’m going to pull out my curmudgeon hat. Ok, maybe it’s good to revel a little in the solid repudiation of European-style welfare-state policies.


That’s enough. Now it’s time to get beyond repudiation (as satisfying as it is) and fix the mess that’s been left in the wake of massive spending, record debt, unfunded pensions, and government intrusions into our daily lives that’s occurred over the last ten (yes ten) years. This will take a longer term approach that includes ideas and not just grievances. And those ideas have to reflect the underlying principles that give substance to most Montanan’s desire to govern themselves in their everyday lives and return government to its proper role as a protector rather than a granter of rights.

Politics is about power, and this year’s results determined where the power will be for at least the next couple of years. But power without principle is at best ineffective and at worst dangerous. We need to make sure that those in power reflect the principles of the people who put them there.

Power is also fleeting, while principles and the ideas they foster are lasting. Unfortunately, some of the election results seem to indicate that many Montanans are investing more in people whose names they recognize or who they think will fix their problems than in the ideas that will eliminate the sources of those problems. Overspending, over regulation, shifting everyday decisions from people to bureaucracies, pandering to special interests or the policy fad of the day; these are all things that shift the power of people to govern themselves to someone or something else. They take away responsibility for our own actions, and by extension the ability and freedom to decide how to live our lives.

I don’t think most Montanans get the relationship between freedom and responsibility yet. We need to get that word out or the shift we saw in this election could turn out to be just a footnote in the history books.  The grass roots movement that drove this wave has passion, but even the hottest fire fades without adequate fuel. We need to inform and impress upon our fellow citizens the importance of ideas over people. We need to remember that politicians don’t typically lead the culture, they follow it.

Our political system doesn’t reward innovation or risk taking. In fact it punishes those who really want to stand out and co-opts those with a weak understanding or just plain lack of underlying principles.

For those reasons and more, our political leaders generally stick their finger up into the wind to see which way it’s blowing before determining their course.

For generations it’s been blowing away from individual freedom and responsibility and towards ever larger, more powerful, and overweening government. It’s time to shift the wind and remember what made our country the shining city on the hill, and our state its crown jewel.

We need to be the wind when our elected leaders stick their fingers in the air. We need to be strong. We need to be constant. And we need to invest in the ideas that keep us true to our principles. Investing in people is necessary but can only have a short term effect. Investing in ideas moves the culture and changes the world.


For Immediate Release

563 Words



Carl Graham is president of the Montana Policy Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research and education center based in Bozeman, MT.

He can be reached at:

67 W. Kagy Blvd., Ste. B

Bozeman, MT 59715

(406) 219-0508



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