When did we stop wanting to take care of ourselves? And how is that instead of us wanting to take care of ourselves and each other, more and more Montanans are looking to the government to solve their problems, make their hard choices, and shield them from the bad (just the bad) outcomes of their actions? All too often it seems that government has become the savior of first rather than last resort. And that’s a bad thing for Montana.

Most Montanans like to think that they’re independent, individualist and all those other things that come from being bred from the hardy stock of our forbearers. If we’re behind the nation in any areas, one of them has to be in looking for others to solve our problems. But that picture has changed dramatically over the past few years. Or at least it must have since our state and local governments are spending more than ever. Like most of the rest of the nation, we’re giving up a lot of our basic responsibilities over to government bureaucrats and regulations. We’re looking to them for answers; and when they get to provide the answers that means they also get to set the conditions.

Do you want road money from the federal government? Then you shouldn’t be surprised when they mandate everything from seat belts to speed limits to drinking ages. Do you want federal school money? OK, but don’t complain when they set test standards, curriculum requirements, and standards for what constitutes meditation versus prayer. How about health care? If government pays the price, then government gets to set the standards on what you eat, how much you exercise, and when you see the doctor. If you’re willing to decouple your actions from their consequences, then you have no bone to pick when whoever pays those consequences starts dictating your actions. Any loss of responsibility means a loss of freedom. How much are you willing to lose?

Increased reliance on government also means that government gets to become the arbiter in cases where one person has to give so that another person can receive. Remember, government can only give what it takes from somebody else, and eventually we’re going to run out somebody elses. But the larger problem is that the people in government, however competent and well meaning they may be, aren’t in the business of finding the best solution for everyone; they’re in the business of finding the best solution for their constituents. The result is that squeaky wheel gets the grease. That also creates a condition that’s ripe for conflicts of interest, but that’s a whole ‘nuther matter.

Here in Montana we’ve been fortunate so far. Our economic cycles aren’t tied too tightly national cycles and we’ve been pretty much under the radar screens of big organizations with national agendas. Yes, we’ve had to comply with a lot of government mandates because federal money is a big piece of our budget pie, but we’ve been fortunate enough to pretty much find our own solutions to our unique sets of problems. But that’s changing. National agenda-driven organizations are seeing Montana as low hanging fruit in the culture wars. They’re moving into our state and pushing their vision of a better world.