John Livingston News


It has now been over 1 week since Governor Otter presented his State of the State address. I have been an admirer of The Governor for over 40 years. I have seen him be a father and husband and be at the bedside during a difficult medical situation. I have seen him stay at the bedside of his best friend in life for 14 days, many of those days in the ICU. I have seen him support a discredited US Senator after allegations were made about him that precipitated slanderous and calumnious political discourse. All this is to say that our Governor is at his best when things around him are at their worst. Isn’t this the real test of a man? These types of people are few in our world today and they should be respected.

For 40 years I have felt that Butch Otter represented my political philosophy of limited government, states’ rights, strong security—law enforcement, military and 2nd Amendment Rights, free markets, all issues of individual liberty including increasing cash flows to the private sector as opposed to raising taxes.

Two comments in his State of the State Address concern me. The 1st was his comment about as he matures his belief that there is a bigger role for government in attending to the problems of the State than he originally believed. When he said this I began to have thoughts that maybe like John Kasich of Ohio he had changed his position on Medicaid Expansion—how is that budget in Ohio going John? Secondly, when he used the word compassionate conservative I had thoughts of no child left behind and faith-based initiatives with their promise of increasing Federal control of programs through their allocation of funds

When I first moved to Idaho in 1988, I worked as a trauma and general surgeon at St. Al’s. One of my first ER consults was a 65-year-old man with Down’s Syndrome who was septic and in extremis from an infected gangrenous Gallbladder. As I took a history I learned that this man had been taken care of by not only his mother and father—who were in their 80’s but also by the whole community of Emmet Idaho. His mother would get 4 hours off on Tues to do the shopping and run errands while one of her lady friends attended to the needs of my patient. There was a five-person bridge club set up so that every week the mother of our patient could play bridge.

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Two weeks ago my mother in law passed away in Blackfoot. She had been paralyzed for 15 years, yet she was able to live and function in her own home thanks to the benevolence and love of her neighborhood friends. Had she lived in a Big City she would have been placed in an extended care facility at a great cost not only to society, but also to the friends who took care of her who derived as much benefit from Bev’s council and friendship as they had given to her.

I am reminded of Benjamin Franklin’s Thank you note to Dr. Philip Phi sick after he removed bladder stone from him.

“A token of feeling to the surgeon who heals,
As much joy in the healing
As he whom he heals”

The values given to our society for the past 4000 years have always centered that to serve God is to serve each other. Beginning in the early ’60s and continuing into today with various progressive and communal philosophies the emphasis has been on serving ourselves with career and amusements. The responsibilities of parenting, neighboring, and our obligations and duties that we have to each other changed dramatically. In the 60’s it was decided that the functions of taking care of each other was best done by government bureaucrats many of whom had never lived in a small town where neighbors even today look after each other.

Not just the government but many other institutions-cotillions in inner cities, Boys and Girls clubs, Scouts and The YMCA and The Red Cross and Catholic Charities—almost all who now receive Federal and State Funding have taken over the role of taking care of what Charles Murray calls “the stuff of life”—being engaged around you in core social roles of parent, spouse, son and daughter, friend and neighbor.

It is not the amount of money not how much was wasted, not only the ways the government has hurt those it intended to help, Ultimately the most important effect of the government metastasizing role was to strip daily life of much of “the stuff of life”.

It was a mistake to think that vital communities could continue to exist if they didn’t have vital functions to perform. Neighbors exist because there are vital functions to perform that can only be performed by neighbors.

It was also a mistake to think that the geographic neighborhood no longer served a critical function. Families, tribes, neighborhoods, throughout history have served functions that government cannot possibly begin to serve. For people of means and affluence neighborhood is only a place. They socialize at Country Clubs and City Clubs the purpose of which is very different from a neighborhood in Emmett or Blackfoot, whose engagement in neighborhood is with each other, or the school or churches or scouts or boys and girls clubs or in black inner cities The Cotillions.

It is important to remember that we must do the important things ourselves and when these are left to others because we are engaged in our lives of “self-fulfillment” those who most need us will never be served in the manner they deserve to be.

I recently read a book called “The Square and The Tower” by Niall Ferguson that last weekend was reviewed in the WSJ.

The “Tower” in the title represents the hierarchy of government and large institutions like banks. Governments and “other legitimate institutions” rule from above and are required to rule the chaos of the private sector. The square is the network of family, neighborhoods, markets, languages and other enterprising institutions. The “invisible hand” of economic transactions and the structure of families and neighborhoods and their benevolence and benefit to society are lost in a discussion of networks leading to anarchy.

Governance from above only interferes with the intimacy and integrity of financial transactions, and leads to political power being a precondition for the distribution of benevolence. If you are a buyer of a good or service and you aren’t satisfied for the value you have received, will you go back and buy from the same seller—and vice versa. If you are Catholic Charities and you are dependent on government funding will you succumb to the demand that you be pro-choice in order to receive the funding that you need to survive.

Christian Charity has always been described as a covenant between the giver,

the receiver, and God. Nowhere in the New Testament is Government described as the conduit of Charity. Remember: “Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s”. Jesus called out the name of the “Good Samaritan” and he called Lazarus by name. Could a government bureaucrat do the same?

So I hope our Governor reconsiders his position on the role and size of government. I hope taxes are lower and Medicaid is rebuilt and not just expanded. If this doesn’t happen we will be well on the way to looking like John Kasack’s Ohio, or many other Democratic States—oh I forgot Kasich is a Republican.

So is our Governor.

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