Confehr: The group doing it when it can't be done alone

Friday, September 18, 2009

It's time to retell the story of Bobby and Howard.

Howard was the mayor of a town like Lewisburg. Bobby was the fire chief.

When the fire alarm sounded, Howard knew there was no stopping Bobby who'd lead his men beyond the town line if necessary.

Bobby was like a Dalmatian. You couldn't stop him and you didn't want to because if Aunt Mabel's house was on fire, everybody wanted her safe.

There's a fly in the ointment, though. The town had insurance to protect firefighters and others when fire trucks raced to the scene of an emergency. Most of the time the calls were what's known as a "car far," and folks laughed when Mabel's niece, Betty, had a car fire because she'd put her foot down. It was on the gas pedal too long and something blew out. It seemed incongruent at the time.

Anyway, Howard got a notice from the town's insurance agent. The company didn't want to be responsible for events beyond the town line, so Howard had to talk to Bobby about his Dalmatian ways.

They got their heads together at the City Cafe, decided to confer with others, and in about a year, there was an agreement between the cities and the county about drawing different taxing districts. The county raised property taxes all over the county, but not so much in the cities that had paid firefighters.

The additional revenue from the county's higher tax rate was directed to the rural volunteer fire departments and the city dwellers could sleep well at night knowing that Aunt Mabel's house was safe and that Betty's motor fire would be extinguished, too.

The somewhat happy ending to this true story, other than an increase in property taxes, is the moral that deep down inside, people want to help one another. It's a concept known across all walks of life. Farmers will help each other pull a calf one week and swap places the next as they artificially inseminate a horse, or fix a tractor. City folk will form carpools to save gas money, hire the neighbor's kid to mow their lawn after the older daughter's at college or married and doesn't have to baby sit a budding landscaper.

People are sociable. They do better when working as a team that cooperates to overcome something the community faces. Such communal work doesn't make folks Communists, nor is it socialism.

However, government is a way people can do something together that they couldn't do for themselves alone.

How far that should go is part of a raging debate in America today. Some might stop at national defense.

Still, it's a good, self-defensive move to have a quality public health program. It's a good idea to have inoculations against the flu available to everybody. It doesn't just protect the patient. It protects everybody.

Public education is also a good idea. It provides a trained work force for industry and the employees earn income to support their families. Government regulation to curb excesses of greed in the business world is also a good idea.

Public support for police and fire departments is a way to protect us from others among us and the ravages of combustion.

Public works helps us cross rivers and creeks and drain stormwater.

America has already selected many public options and it's still a democracy, however perpetually experimental.