Hurricane Opal created the worst storm people in east Alabama can remember. Trees crashed through houses, power lines fell like confetti, and cars were crushed like bugs.
Yet even as Opal passed over our town, the federal government was butting in with promises of aid. It's not enough that we have suffered terrible damage. Now the rest of the country will be taxed to clean it up.
Who will end up with the government's money? People who don't need it, but know how to get political pork. The rest of us will get by through hard work and enterprise, and cooperation with family, friends and neighbors.
After the storm, there was no time to waste waiting for Bill Clinton's generosity to come through. People began cleaning up their houses and neighborhoods at daybreak. They checked on the weak and vulnerable and brought food to those in need. Local government cleared essential streets and repaired water pipes damaged by uprooted trees. Downed electric lines were up again.
By the afternoon, large crews of volunteers were busy clearing roads and repairing houses. Men with chain saws went house to house to cut away trees blocking driveways.
Insurance offices opened their doors to take claims as the storm subsided. They processed them quickly, so as not to risk losing future customers. People who want to do more than mere repairs will go to the banks for home-improvement loans.
We were fine on essentials, thanks to local grocery and hardware stores. They fired up their generators and worked at low light to make their stock available. That creates loyal customers. Free enterprise, not government, makes it possible.
Private life went on unimpeded. Radios were tuned to local news to hear tips and damage reports. When it became too dark to work, people gathered with their neighbors to tell stories of the day. Adults read by candlelight and children learned that you don't need a television to be entertained.
All this took place without a central plan. When we work to pursue what's in our interests and show natural generosity toward others, we are doing what's best for the whole community. Not even 100 m.p.h. winds can brush away the miracles of the marketplace and voluntary charity.
In many ways, we are fortunate that employees of the Federal Emergency Management Administration didn't reach our town before the repairs began. Federal bureaucrats only add to anxiety by forbidding people from entering their homes and offices and harassing people who disregard their dictates.
The lesson our town has learned from this disaster is that we can govern ourselves pretty well, even in the midst of devastation. We can do it without presumptuous Washingtonians telling us what to do. If this is true in trying times, how much more so in normal times?
By offering aid, the feds are doing everything possible to keep us from learning this truth. Just for once, wouldn't it be nice if Washington would let local problems generate local solutions?
Just the other day, Gov. Fob James got a check from Washington to implement the centralizing Goals 2000 education program in Alabama schools. To the shock of many liberals, he sent it back. It was a principled decision in the tradition of true federalism.
Now we should set an example by doing the same with disaster relief. As in education, the federal government can't possibly know enough about our plight to help. The money ends up causing distortions and empowering politicians.
Last year, the federal government started giving "disaster relief" for snow removal. The year before, the feds dumped $6.6 billion on 58 disasters.
Natural disasters have become yet another excuse to tax more, spend more, control more and trample on the constitutional principle of states' rights and localism. The money is merely a bribe for voter loyalty. The bureaucrats and politicians want to appear indispensable to citizens. The government will then take credit for the rebuilding from those who have actually done the work.
So, Washington, keep your aid and your hands off. Opal survivors want a federal government that leaves us alone, in good times and bad.