The Sutherland Dream: Promoting Principled Patterns

Boyd Matheson 01(Editor’s note: Boyd Matheson was recently appointed president of the Sutherland Institute. Following is the text of his speech at the announcement of his appointment.)

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.

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. T.E. Lawrence wrote:

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.

(T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom)

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 Gaylord’s last speech 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 “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.

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 where 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.

There has never been a greater need for such dialogue – in our homes, in our communities, in our statehouses, 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.” 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.”

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

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.