As mentioned in this post yesterday about outrageous immigration quotes from 2016 GOP presidential contenders, New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie took some heat over the weekend for comparing America's immigrant-tracking system unfavorably to that of FedEx, and proposing that:
We need to have a system that tracks you from the moment you come in, and then when your time is up, whether it's three months or six months or nine months or 12 months—however long your visa is, then we go get you and tap you on the shoulder and say, "Excuse me, thanks for coming—time to go."
Such a system—physically tracking the movement of human bodies upon their legal arrival into the United States, and then connecting that presumably round-the-clock surveillance to some tap-on-the-shoulder expulsionary enforcement—would likely run afoul of Supreme Court precedent, trigger payback-surveillance for Americans who travel abroad, and violate the basic precepts of human liberty. But perhaps more importantly, Christie's authoritarian trial balloon ain't even original: He cribbed it from Newt Gingrich.
Here's the GOP's once and future ideas man, musing aloud during his last presidential run, at the 2012 Conservative Political Action Conference:
How many of you have ever gone online to check a package at UPS or FedEx? I want to drive this home. This is not a theory. It is a practical reality that we have the technology that enables us to track between UPS and FedEx–we track 24 million packages a day, while they are moving, and we allow you to find out where they are for free. That's the world that works.
Now here's the world that fails: The federal government today cannot find 11 million illegal immigrants, even if they are sitting still. Now I have a simple proposal. We send a package to everyone who is here illegally. When they open it, we pull it up on the computer. We know where they are.
Let me say for my friends in the news media: That was hyperbole and we don't need a fact check.
OK, so it was more of a joke (one that Gingrich first drew headlines with in November 2011) than a serious, Chris Christie-style proposal to get FedEx brains on the visa-overstay problem. But at least it was original! Or was it???
Turns out that Mike Huckabee was singing the FedEx song more than four years before that, at the Sept. 5, 2007 GOP presidential debate in New Hampshire. Ironically, as the video will attest, Huckabee's FedEx riff was bookended with the context that he's far less "racist" and "mean" about immigration than his contemporaries. Here's the relevant bit:
The reality is that we track packages from UPS and FedEx every time we order from Amazon.com. And, yet, we've got a government that says we don't know what to do and how to keep up with people.
If necessary, we ought to outsource this whole issue to FedEx and UPS. They seem to have a better way of keeping up with packages than our government does with people.
But I want to be clear: If someone is looking for a president who is going to have a mean spirit toward other human beings, I'm not their guy.
So Mike Huckabee is the font of the immigrant/FedEx tracking system? Not so fast!!!
Three months before that, Gingrich gave a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, from which he hived off a quick and immediately popular video titled "FedEx vs. Government Bureaucracy," featuring his world-that-works vs. world-that-doesn't-work riff:
[N]ow to me that leads to a very obvious proposal, which is that we send a package to every person that's here illegally. UPS and FedEx delivers them, we track 'em on a computer….See if [Department of Homeland Security Secretary Michael] Chertoff would call me we could fix a number of these things very fast.
Watching the video below provides an important bit of context: This was a punchline:
I didn't find any other modest proposals about FedEx and illegal immigrants prior to that.
So in summary: What started out as a Newt Gingrich joke about the superiority of the private sector has evolved into an actual Chris Christie proposal involving the police state surveilling legal visitors and then tapping visa-overstays on the shoulder. All in the course of three Republican presidential cycles.