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Posted: September 30, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Government is bad — unless you need it

One of the themes underlying this year’s waves of political protests — whether anti-tax, anti-Obama, anti-healthcare reform, whatever — is that government in all its forms should be abolished.

I have some Libertarian friends who consider it a bedrock principle that government never works under any circumstances, so the sooner we get rid of it and stop collecting taxes, the better. I have no doubt that they are sincere in their beliefs.

We have seen a milder variation of this anti-government viewpoint during the healthcare reform debate from Georgia congressmen like Tom Price, Saxby Chambliss, Paul Broun and Johnny Isakson. They have strongly opposed proposals for a government-funded "public option" or similar form of federal health insurance program modeled on Medicare.

"As a physician, I can attest that nothing has had a greater negative effect on the delivery of health care than the federal government’s intrusion into medicine through Medicare," said Price, who was an orthopedic surgeon before running for political office.

"I will not be a part of driving Americans to a government-run health care system that we can’t afford," Isakson said.

The congressmen, like my Libertarian colleagues, are clear about it: government has no role to play in helping its citizens.

As one internet pundit expressed it: "The free market always can solve problems and produce what people need better than government. There are no exceptions."

I thought of these folks as Georgia was being inundated with a series of rainstorms that dropped a record amount of water on the northern part of the state: 20 inches or more in some counties.

The historic floods that overran the state and killed at least nine people were a leading story for the national media, which broadcast stark images of bridges and subdivisions under water, roads buried under muddy runoff, and schools that would not reopen for a long time.

There were heart-warming pictures as well of courageous emergency workers who piloted their boats through the most dangerous areas to rescue people from the rising waters.

Many of these rescue workers were government employees like police and firefighters whose salaries are paid with taxpayer funds. I didn’t hear any of the rescued flood victims protesting that government ought to keep its nose out of their affairs.

In Georgia, as in New Orleans after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, the situation was the same. When you’re standing on the roof of your house and the water is lapping at your feet, there isn’t much chance that the forces of the free market are going to magically come to your rescue. You’re not going to complain if some government-paid employee in a government-provided watercraft saves your life.

It is interesting to me that the same politicians who oppose the expenditure of government funds for health insurance were clamoring for boatloads of federal dollars to help the areas that were ravaged by the flooding.

Said Johnny Isakson: "I fully support the governor’s request for federal disaster assistance for communities in Georgia affected by these devastating storms and floods, and I hope the president will approve this request quickly."

Said Saxby Chambliss: "There are many areas that are going to need a helping hand and it is imperative that the president approve this request."

Even Tom Price, who opposes government funds for a program like Medicare, wanted those taxpayer dollars: "Governor Perdue has asked President Obama to expeditiously declare a major disaster in Georgia. Today, I, along with Georgia’s entire congressional delegation, sent a letter to the president in support of Governor Perdue’s request. It is essential that the appropriate resources get to where they are needed so the recovery process can begin."

It’s one thing to have an abstract debate about the feasibility of eliminating taxes and government, but real life tends to be a lot messier.

In real life, people get sick and need medical care. They need roads to drive on, water that is safe to drink, and sometimes they even need to be rescued from floods.

I understand why people feel aggravated by the government. I feel the same way whenever I try to renew my driver’s license or pay my property taxes. As the flooding showed, however, there are times when we all need a helping hand that only government can provide.

Tom Crawford is the editor of Capitol Impact’s Georgia Report, an Internet news service at www.gareport.com that covers government and politics in Georgia. He can be reached at tcrawford@capitolimpact.net.

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