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."