It’s over. While I always knew this day would come, I was hoping it would end differently. You’re not the man you used to be. Sometimes, I wonder if you ever were the man I thought you were.
We met many years ago. Back then, the words you spoke and the things you did made you special. We shared a belief in the promise of individual freedom and a healthy distrust of government. Do you remember that guy, Butch? He inspired people. He was the person who wanted people to be free, who took a stand in defense of liberty.
Remember, in the 1980s, when you said no to the federal government, which was trying to extort the state into raising the drinking age? Remember how, in 2001, you were one of just a handful of congressmen to vote against the Patriot Act because you worried we were surrendering liberty for security? Those were brave things to do, Butch. We were so proud.
You were that cowboy who rode for the brand, who spoke up when principles mattered, as they often do. Now, it seems you’re just riding for yourself. Lately, you’ve started pretending you never knew us, like a teenager in high school trying to impress his cool new friends by dissing his old ones.
You’ve presided over an increase in government regulation, an increase in taxes and spending, the creation of numerous agencies and programs, and you’ve allowed our state to become the poster child for implementing Obamacare.
I had hoped it was just a phase you were going through, something that you might one day grow out of, that you’d find your way back to the principles of liberty. Instead, you even campaigned to defeat conservatives in the Legislature. Most recently, you got behind the write-in campaign of a career politician who lost the primary to a more conservative newcomer.
Right before Halloween was the last straw. There, I saw you. On TV. Speaking about the virtues of Obamacare. Saying things that aren’t true about Medicaid expansion. You spoke favorably about a plan to make your neighbors and other Idahoans more dependent on government. You applauded this, knowing full well how our state would become beholden to Washington, D.C. And that’s when I decided to write this letter, to end our long relationship.
You sealed your political legacy by completely abandoning the person you were when we first met so long ago. It’s as if our Old Butch no longer exists. You erased him.
People often ask me, “What has happened to Butch?” “How did he get like this?” “Is he losing his mind?” “Where is the Old Butch we used to know?” Sometimes, I’ll joke that you were abducted by aliens and replaced by a replicant. Almost always, I’ll tell them that I don’t know. I don’t know the causes, but I know the result, and it’s been awful.
In 2003, our friend and mentor, Ralph Smeed, asked you to write a preface to his reprinting of Ezra Taft Benson’s essay, “The Proper Role of Government.” In the preface, you warned, “Politicians, bureaucrats, and judges in all branches and at all levels of government are using the law to accomplish incrementally the very ends that our form of government was created to prevent.” You, Butch, are the very politician that you warned us about.
Were he alive today, Ralph would be disappointed, but not surprised. Ralph told me and others he asked you to write that preface “to keep Butch honest.” Ralph anticipated you’d eventually lose your way.
Butch, I know you’re entering a new phase of your life. I’ll wish you nothing but the best, because although we are no longer friends, we certainly are not enemies. Yet I’ll always wish it could have been different, because Old Butch would have made a helluva a great governor, far better than the one we got instead.