Government could use dose of Davy Crockett's common sense

I used to love Davy Crockett when I was a little boy. That was back in the '50s when Walt Disney reintroduced the legendary frontiersman to the American public and a Davy Crockett craze swept America. I was as caught up in that craze as anybody. I knew every word of every verse of the ballad that accompanied the Sunday night serial about the hero of the Alamo, and I used to beg my parents to take me to Tennessee to look for the mountaintop upon which the great man was born.

And I was really ticked off when I turned 6 because I still hadn't seen a b'ar - much less killed one - and my hero had done it by the time he was only 3. I took things quite literally back then, understand. I finally got my own "coonskin" cap and I wore it for days at a time. Again, I loved Davy Crockett and everything about him.

Later in life I learned that David Crockett was a real person, a flesh-and-blood man, with the same flaws and weaknesses that most men have. But I still greatly admired and respected him, and throughout my adult life I still read everything I can find about my boyhood hero.

I recently ran across a reference to him in the Congressional Record which I found interesting. Yes, I read the Congressional Record from time to time - whenever I am in the mood for a little light reading.

It seems that a bill had been introduced in the House of Representatives, the purpose of which was to appropriate money for the widow of a distinguished naval officer. David Crockett, of Tennessee, rose to speak against the bill.

He said, "We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money." He went on to say, "I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

The bill did not pass and later a friend took Crockett - my childhood hero - to task for causing its defeat. In answer, he told about an incident that had happened when he was campaigning for re-election back in the hills of Tennessee. It seems an old farmer had confronted Crockett for supporting a bill to appropriate $20,000 to rebuild private homes in Georgetown that had been destroyed by a fire.

Crockett responded, "Surely nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give such an insignificant sum to relieve suffering."

The farmer explained that the amount was irrelevant. His position was that the money in question did not belong to the members of Congress and therefore was not theirs to give. He pointed out, quite accurately, that the money belonged to the American people - not Congress.

Crockett got the point and saw the constitutional error of his ways. He promised the farmer that if he were re-elected he would die and go to hell before he would make the same mistake again.

Now I told you that to tell you this. It has been a long time since Congress had any qualms whatsoever about spending the public's money on charity. Nobody could stand up to the barrage of criticism that would come his or her way if it were suggested that we go back to such simple times and such a simple interpretation of the Constitution.

However - and, yes, you just knew a however was coming - it might not be a bad idea to remind Congress and all other government agencies exactly whose money they are so freely spending.

Let me give you just one for instance. In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, FEMA signed a contract with Carnival Cruise Lines to rent three luxury cruise ships for six months. The ships were to be used, of course, to house refugees of the storm. The bill? $238 million. If the ships were filled to capacity - which they are not - that would amount to about $1,275 per person.

They could take the evacuees on an actual cruise cheaper than that. The ships are less than half full, which means the cost per person is even more. Nobody has made a move to renegotiate the contract or house the displaced people in more economical surroundings.

Understand, I am all for helping folks who need help, and I have contributed substantially to hurricane relief. But I can't afford to take my family on a six-month cruise, and I don't think that we as a nation can afford to house storm victims on luxury cruise liners, either.

Oh, well. It's only money. Our money.

Where's Davy Crockett when you really need him?

Darrell Huckaby is a Newton County native and the author of six books. He lives in Rockdale County, where he teaches high school history. E-mail him at DHuck08@bellsouth.net .