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FREEMEN! NOW THERE is a true oxymoron. The Freemen in Montana and a lot of other so-called patriots reject the United States gov-ern-ment and consider themselves above the law. Are they free? Hardly.

As of 1990, I was one of about 250 million people living in the United States. If we were all like the folks in Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon, where all the men are good-looking, all the women are strong, and all the children are above average, we could manage with fewer cops. But even Lake Wobegon needs a government to give some protection against such things as infectious disease, faulty bolts and flood and fire. And like it or not, somebody has to pay for it.In the course of 70 years of adulthood I have lived through four wars, a major social revolt, a lot of presidents and congresses and have paid a lot of taxes, many of them for things I loudly disapproved of. But for all the faults of the United States government - and they are many - I think it has been a very good investment. The vision of 250 million people living without government and without taxes is way out there at the end of the yellow brick road.

OK, government has gotten nearly out of control and politics has gotten dangerously dirty. Right now I'd like to take all of Congress and the various presidential candidates, shake 'em up together and tell 'em to grow up and behave like adults. Even so, the existence of "a" government is the alternative to anarchy.

You want no government? OK, let's get rid of it and save all those taxes.

The Freemen who holed up for weeks in "Justus Township," Montana, reject government authority, but the electricity they were using before the feds cut it off was delivered to them courtesy of the Rural Electrification Administration, which brought electric power into the state many years ago. The roads to their ranch were built with government money. Wonder who they think paid for them?

Recently, a ValuJet plane went down in the Everglades, killing 110 people. Immediately, the cry went up that the FAA was at fault for not inspecting the plane more carefully. The Transportation Department's inspector general, Mary Schiavo, says, "I keep seeing holes in the safety net, gaps in regulation." Obviously we need more, not less, safety inspection.

When I was young, smallpox was still with us. When my children were small, we were faced with polio. Government-funded research helped the medical profession eradicate those diseases. Thanks to President Reagan, government-funded research into of AIDS was delayed 10 years and funding is still being argued over, but research is going on. Is this a great time to get rid of government?

There are some other areas where we could save money. Maybe it's time to get rid of the public school system. That would save a bundle. We could save money on new cars and just stay home if we got rid of federal, state and local road departments and quit building new highways and maintaining old ones.

Unlike the Freemen, who think they're free, I can drive to the grocery store in my car, which contains government-mandated safety features, buy my milk that comes from government-inspected dairies, select my food items by consulting government-mandated labels giving me information I want, come home and use tap water for my coffee, and be fairly sure I won't get typhoid. Then I can swear at the government for costing so much.

Frankly, I'm getting awfully tired of the no-government, no-taxes people. I'd like to see Americans spend their energy on fixing what is wrong with the system instead of trying to tear it apart. I'd like to see an election where more than half the citizens bother to vote. Maybe Pogo had it right. We have met the enemy, and he is us.