You Make Me Feel Mighty Real

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I'm at a bipartisan Cato Institute event with South Carolina Gov. Mark Sanford (R) and Montana Sen. Jon Tester (D), both of them opponents of the REAL ID Act.

Sanford, who turned back threats from the Department of Homeland Security, starts with some throat-clearing quotes from Jefferson about human freedom. "You could look up Locke, you could look up Hume, you could look up Burke. This debate is not about REAL ID—it's about the tenuous balance of liberty."

More Sanford: this represents the "Maginot Line" of the 21st century's debate on freedom. He rejects the scaremongering about what terrorists will do if we don't have a REAL ID. "Terrorists will always be asymmetrical in their attacks."

He goes after Congress: "There have been more debates about steroid use in baseball players than there have been about this issue." The REAL ID is "the mother of all unfunded mandates. If Washington can no longer afford the bill, the last-ditch effort is handing the bill to someone else."

"Outside of the liberty component, outside of the security standpoint, if you care about spending you'd ought to care about REAL ID."

On the time it'd take to assign people their IDs: "Two hours is a lot of time on earth. You can spend it with friends, you can spend it with family, or you can spend it in a DMV line."

Sanford rattles off a list of information abuses, like the passport file breaches of the presidential candidates. "One-stop shopping for every computer hacker around the world is not a good idea for our security."

Tester gets up to speak and tosses down the gauntlet. "When our rights get trampled upon, the terrorists win."

Tester calls the application of the law-"cringe"-worthy, especially the "arbitrary deadline" that states were given to comply. DHS is "using federal resources to bully states to go with the program." He points out that full agreement with the Act isn't mandated until 2017.

"Creating a national ID—make no mistake, that's what REAL ID is—will create countless opportunities to access our information in a way we have not agreed to."

"Just as the warrantless wiretapping issue has prevented Congress from passing actual legislation" to let us prevent terrorism, "so too has REAL ID distracted us."

More Tester: "There's a real tendancy for legislators to overreact because of what happened on 9/11." A modest proposal: "We ought to have some radar on the northern border. On a dark night, if you fly across the border, no one can see you. If they've got a REAL ID in their pocket, who gives a damn?"

Sanford shouts out to Bob Barr: "He's now travelling the country talking about the problems with the PATRIOT Act." He calls federalizing the TSA "a gut-check vote" for real conservatives."

Tester gets an easy question from the audience about Montana's local effort to improve driver's licenses. "You're dead spot-on. If Montana can make a non-counterfeitable driver's license, any state in the union can do it." He has to skedaddle early: "I could talk about this stuff all day!" Sanford echoes him on cost: Jim Harper, the moderator, says the biggest worry is the national database.

One of the questioners asks if nullification is an option for states. "I'm not a lawyer," Sanford says. "What's that mean?" The questioner gives a Jeffersonian example. "Huh," says Sanford. (John Calhoun could not be reached for comment.)

Sanford gets a question about the exact cost. He doesn't mark it, but he notes that the federal money that would come for this would be diverted from exisiting DHS grants. "We don't know if we're going to get hit by a terrorist, but we're going to be hit by hurricanes." So the money they want to spend on radios and evacuation plans would be blown on ID cards.

Sanford pounds home his objection to data centralization. "You can go back to the time of Pearl Harbor and the navy will say, 'I tell you what, it's not a good idea to keep all our ships in the same place." He doesn't have a problem with e-verify, since Social Security numbers are already in the system.

Sanford is asked what he'd do if he was still in Congress and "strong-armed" to vote for REAL ID. He doesn't think it's a huge worry because Congress is so congenial. Hm.

A questions comes about the penalties non-compliant states face. Sanford isn't worried about it, but he mocks "the bizarre legalistic dance" wherein he'll send a letter to DHS announcing South Carolina's non-compliance and "you'd get a letter back saying 'we very much appreciate it and we'll grant you an extention."

A long-winded questioner compares Sanford's fight against DHS to Fort Sumter. "That movie didn't end well," Sanford says.

Sanford tries to make some news by comparing the effort to fight REAL ID to the Obama campaign. "You'd have never have bet against the powerful apparatus" he was up against, but he built a grassroots network. "Talk to two friends, talk to three friends."

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  1. I’m surprised that there’s a politician who knows Locke and Hume. I’d bet a million McCain’s never heard of either one of them.

  2. Enhancing plastic card systems is a very expensive feel good exercise. Either go directly to biometric IDs or forget it.

  3. “Fixed fortifications are monuments to man’s stupidity” – Patton

    Walls, ID’s, x-ray machinges, etc – they’re all static defenses any sensible enemy will just go around.

  4. I’m surprised that there’s a politician who knows Locke and Hume. I’d bet a million McCain’s never heard of either one of them.

    It’s really quite amusing, especially regarding Hume, since if the Christian right wasn’t allergic to all things secular, they would find in him a whole party-bag of fun arguments against scientism and logical positivism.

    It’s kind of sad, really. Once, the church in its many forms was the guardian of learning, knowledge, and philosophy. Now they seem to reflexively just piss all over anything that doesn’t have the Jesus-stamp.

  5. Tester is the guy who, when accused by the Republican incumbent during a debate of wanting to weaken the Patriot Act, said, “I don’t want to weaken the Patriot Act. I want to repeal the Patriot Act.” Thunderous applause from the hall full of Montanans.

  6. Glad to see Senator Tester participating in CATO events.

    “When our rights get trampled upon, the terrorists win.”

    That should be carved in George W Peron’s forehead, backwards, so he can be reminded of it every morning when he looks in the mirror.

  7. As a conservative Christian, I’ve been working against REAL ID since the first time I heard about it. My first thought was, “The Republicans are betraying us.” I expected the Orwellianism to come more from the left…

    I’m against REAL ID because I care about the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the philosophy of Limited Government, etc.

    REAL ID–and any national id card program–is so repulsive to truly American sensibilities, everyone can despise it.

    I thought the CATO Forum was really good.

  8. It’s kind of sad, really. Once, the church in its many forms was the guardian of learning, knowledge, and philosophy. Now they seem to reflexively just piss all over anything that doesn’t have the Jesus-stamp.

    I share your frustration, Elemenope. But this is changing. A generation of homeschoolers and independent Christian thinkers are growing up and absorbing philosophy from all sorts of thinkers. The young Christians I know are more familiar with Kierkegaard, Tillich, even Rand and Epictetus than many atheists.

    I’m not trying to start a pissing war about who’s a freer thinker; just saying that the Christian stereotype is becoming less of a stereotype by the day.

  9. Elemenope,

    To be fair, Hume suffered for his views. He was denied positions with major Scottish universities and had to fight off several attacks based on his atheism.

  10. Can we just scrap the DHS already? What a waste of resources, time, and money.

  11. I want to rush to assure my “libertarian” “friends” that they can have it all! Don’t worry: you can support massive illegal activity, and it won’t be used as a cover by authoritarians to push their schemes.

  12. “We ought to have some radar on the northern border. On a dark night, if you fly across the border, no one can see you.”

    This reminds me of when the holes in port security were all over the news. My thought was always, “should they really be TELLING this to everyone?” That sounds like real a pretty important piece of intelligence for a potential terrorist.

  13. I’m surprised a South Carolinian never heard of John Calhoun and his attempts at state nullification of national tariffs. That seems like a proud spot in an otherwise lackluster state history.

  14. I want to rush to assure my “libertarian” “friends” that they can have it all!

    Ah, is that what it’s all about. You’re hurt because we haven’t been friendly. We’re sorry, we’ll try to get to know you better. I see you like Natalie Merchant. She’s pretty cool. What other music do you like?

  15. Jon Tester is a guy to watch on the national stage. Hes the closest thing–along with Montana Gov. Schwitzer–(note: closest, not actual) to a libertarian-ish Democrat.

    It seems like the rocky mountain west and southwest have some really decent people from both parties (Otter, Flake, Richardson, Schwitzer).

  16. Maybe there’s something in the air, Cesar.

    Frankly, if Obama (or Hillary) don’t look there for a running mate they’re crazy. They could very well be throwing away the election.

    Time was I thought the Dems could run a pet rock and win in 08 now I’m not so sure. The only prediction I’m willing to make is that it will be a close contest.

  17. It seems like the rocky mountain west and southwest have some really decent people from both parties (Otter, Flake, Richardson, Schwitzer)

    Frankly, if Obama (or Hillary) don’t look there for a running mate they’re crazy. They could very well be throwing away the election.

    My prediction stands: Richardson as Obama’s VP. They’d be crazy not to.

  18. You don’t think thats too much “color” politically?

  19. You know what we need? A Cajun VP. Like Justin Wilson, only not dead.

  20. Maybe there’s something in the air

    Bullets.

    I’m available, by the way; and I know at least as much about economics as that crackpot Republican.

  21. Even as REAL ID dies a slow death, it is being resurrected underneath the radar through the Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative (WHTI) and its “enhanced” drivers licenses. If you don’t live in a border state you have never heard of them, but 4 states have already approved them. Washington (state) is already creating these RFID enhanced licenses now, as are their Canadian counterparts on the other side of the border. The feds just repackaged it and name it something other than REAL ID.

  22. You know what we need? A Cajun VP.

    I hear Kathleen Blanco is available. 🙂

  23. Tester gets up to speak and tosses down the gauntlet. “When our rights get trampled upon, the terrorists win.”

    You wanna know when I knew the terrorists had already won? I knew when I read that article that got national attention about an unknown person in an unidentified dinghy that had been spotted putt-putting across the San Francisco Bay at night.

    Knowing that I regularly climb into my unidentified (black!) kayak and quietly lurk around the waters of Elliot bay at night, I figured the game was up. It was done. Stick a fork in it.

    More proof that we lost.

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