March 1, 2023

The Art of the Possible

By: Brian Almon

Brian Almon

So I wrote a long piece on universal school choice over the weekend just in time for the bill to fail on the Senate floor. That’s ok, that’s how the political process works. You pick yourself up and get ready for the next battle. It was still worth my time to research and write because it helped me clarify my thoughts on the issue, and I hope it was useful for you as well. For those who disagreed, I hope we continue to find common ground in our shared fight for liberty in the Gem State.

Allow me to tell you a tale of two responses I received to my position on this bill.

One response questioned why I wanted to move so fast. Why not push smaller incremental bills that made minor changes? Perhaps those would have had a better chance of passing. We can’t change too much too fast!

The second response dismissed the bill as pointless. Until public education is entirely reformed or even abolished, nothing will change. The problem is government, so we need to get government out of education.

Consider that both positions opposed SB1038, but for very different reasons. One thought it went too far, the other thought it did not go nearly far enough. That should give you an idea of the range of political discourse in our state. That doesn’t even count the left!



The great German Chancellor Otto van Bismarck said that “Politics is the art of the possible, the attainable – the art of the next best.” You can rarely get everything you want in politics, because it involved compromise, it involved bringing people on board with your agenda, people who have their own goals and motivations.

The heart of Bismarck’s expression is that if you can’t get everything you want, you must satisfy yourself with the best you can get. For Bismarck that meant a unified German empire that did not include Austria. What does it mean for us?

On the matter of education reform, it looks like SB1038 was a bridge too far, winning only twelve votes in the Senate, six short of a majority. However, that was not a guaranteed outcome. Arizona, Utah, Florida, Iowa, and several other states have already passed similar bills, so it’s not like this was something radical. Idaho is considered to be a very red state, so why shouldn’t we consider the same legislation that has already passed states who are not quite so red?

There are two lessons to take away from that vote. First, it gives us an idea of what our current legislature will accept. Assuming everyone who debated against the bill acted in good faith (which is not always the case) then we can work with them to craft a bill that is acceptable to a majority. Incrementalism – making small changes each year rather than going for everything in one bill – can sometimes work. It’s how the left turned my former home state of Washington, once a libertarian paradise, into a gun control tyranny. On the other hand, it could give lawmakers cover to say we fixed it! and remove enthusiasm for fixing deep problems. We must tread carefully.

The second lesson from the vote on 1038 is that it clearly identifies who should be replaced in the legislature. Many people campaign as conservatives, but once in office they vote to expand government and give away tax dollars to big business, while doing nothing to protect children or give families more flexibility to leave the established system. It doesn’t matter what a candidate says on the campaign trail, or what they write in their newsletters to constituents; what ultimately matters is how they vote, and that is what voters will take into account during the next election.

Politics is the art of the possible, but we don’t know what is possible until we push the limits. It requires careful attention to strategy and tactics, but the successes in other states prove that it can be done. In a world gone mad, it is up to us to do what we can to restore sanity and liberty where we can.

Note: A descendant of American pioneers, Brian writes about the importance of culture and about current events in the context of history.  His work can be found on Substack, here.

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