THE LIBERTARIAN ENTERPRISE
Number 382, August 27, 2006
"Government is not the way to get things done."
Special to The Libertarian Enterprise
Those of you who are as concerned as I am about the arrival of REAL ID may be wondering if the program can be defeated, or if we're going to be forced to watch our country descend yet another level into the police state hell toward which George W. Bush and his GOP allies seem to be so gleefully driving us.
First the bad news. . .
Barring the Democrats taking control of Congress with a veto-proof margin in November, and rescinding REAL ID as their way of giving Republicans the finger, I think we're going to have to reconcile ourselves to the program. There are several reasons for this:
1. Many Americans will accept it because it will give them the warm-fuzzies (an electric blanket can do that for you for far less hassle).
I realize that this is a pessimistic view, but I'm also afraid that it is realistic. We are not seeing a national outcry over REAL ID at anywhere near levels sufficient to spur action, such as we have seen with eminent domain concerns created by the Supreme Court's Kelo decision. Nor does any such outcry appear to be forthcoming. Also, with few exceptions, states seem to be moving toward compliance, even if grudgingly. In a recent article in the Casper Star-Tribune, several Wyoming lawmakers were quoted as expressing frustration with REAL ID. For example, state representative Mary Gilmore of Natrona County stated that REAL ID was "just another unfunded mandate" that was taking state and local power away, and that she resents these kinds of things "terribly". Yet, for all of their frustration with the act, none of the Wyoming lawmakers were quoted as suggesting that the Cowboy State not comply with it. New Hampshire, which has been chosen to test pilot REAL ID, had a spirited debate over the issue this past spring and came close to rejecting the program. There is still a chance that New Hampshire may kill REAL ID, but there are strong voices urging compliance, even in the "Live Free or Die" state. Earl Sweeney, Assistant Commissioner for New Hampshire's Department of Safety was recently quoted as saying that the state should participate so that it can help "shape" REAL ID. "We hope that that would place us a little closer to the driver's seat than it would if we were just in the back of the bus," Sweeney commented. It appears that Sweeney is all for letting the state be driven over a cliff, just as long as it lands on only the softest rocks below.
Besides New Hampshire, only Alaska has taken action to oppose REAL ID thus far. A bill to bring Alaska in line with REAL ID requirements was defeated in the state House of Representatives this past May, after having been approved by the state senate. So, for the moment, Alaska has REAL ID on ice. How long that will last once the political arm-twisting begins in earnest is difficult to predict. Most state politicians are worried that non-compliance with REAL ID will prevent state residents from flying or entering federal buildings; and, for that reason, they feel they must comply, no matter how much they hate the idea. This is true country-wide.
Now for the good news. . .
While REAL ID, along with fire ants, will probably be coming to a state near you rather sooner than later, there is at least one potentially pragmatic strategy for defeating it in the long run.
As I mentioned, most state legislators seem concerned about the prospect of their citizens not being able to fly or enter imperial, er, federal, buildings without the Mark of the Bush on their persons, so why not suggest a compromise? If your state legislator feels that he or she must support REAL ID, ask them to vote to allow citizens to choose whether they want the federal uber ID or an old fashioned state drivers license. After all, if a person makes an informed choice, then they can't really complain about the results, and hence the politicians shouldn't worry so much about having their tales set ablaze at the polls. Require DMV to have non-compliant types sign a form acknowledging that, yes, I understand I will be deemed a second-class citizen and that little children will point at me and laugh if I reject this affront to my freedoms; but if this be treason, make the most of it. Or words to that effect. . .
My thinking here is that, not only will this offer you an out, it will also set REAL ID on the path to a well-deserved death by forcing it to confront that one thing which modern Americans will defend with a vengeance: their convenience.
According to the Casper Star-Tribune article referenced above, implementing REAL ID will have (in part) the following effect:
"Along with a new design, the licenses will be much more difficult to obtain or renew. . . People will see an end to renewals by mail. They'll have to go to Driver Services armed with a certified copy of a birth certificate, a Social Security number and, if applicable, a marriage license or proof of legal change of name. That will probably increase the average time it takes a person at Driver Services from about 15 minutes to 45 or even 60 minutes. . . The new cards will also likely increase fees, as the state shoulders a greater financial burden."
Given a choice, most people will side with convenience. Once they hear a few horror stories about long waits, increased fees, and stupid questions being asked at DMV, they are likely to ask for the old driver's license.
In addition to this, other problems are bound to arise under REAL ID (although not in states where residents are not given a choice concerning compliance). For instance, what will happen if you do not carry the Mark and you're called in for jury duty in a federal case? Well, there's a good chance that you'll be able to get out of it, considering that you cannot be forced to carry the ID but cannot enter a federal building without it. At the very least, the situation presents good ground for a legal challenge should a court insist that you acquire the new license and report for duty. Consider also what will happen when those called as witnesses in federal cases are unable to testify because they can't legally enter a court room. Access to the judicial system would present a problem of such glaring magnitude that the federal courts would not be able to hide their eyes from it; thus, this is a scenario where a few people really could have a significant impact on the system.
If Bush and his goosesteppers get their way, ultimately, the federal government will try tying REAL ID into so many things that you won't be able to function without it, just as has been done with Social Security numbers, which you are also -- technically -- not required to have. Eventually, I expect them to enhance the ID requirements to include biometric data and to tie the ID in with some form of taxation, such as a national sales tax. A provision would be enacted whereby you would be taxed on purchases only after you spend X number of total dollars, but the only way you could take advantage of this would be to have the proper machine-readable card, which would, in turn, be tied into a federal database that would track and tally your purchases. This would give D.C. the advantage of collecting comprehensive data on absolutely everything you purchase (and thus where you travel, how you live, what you read, what movies you rent, etc). Anyway, you get the point. Give D.C. an inch and it will literally take a mile (and they get to decide what a 'mile' is, too). The point is to try and undermine the system before it gets that far.
So give it a try. Contact your state representative and, if you can't persuade them to sink REAL ID, ask them to support a measure that will give people a choice as to whether they want it or not, pursuant to their understanding the consequences of not having it. Many state politicians seem like they're asking to be given a reason not to comply with REAL ID. This approach may give them a measure of satisfaction where that is concerned. It's also very difficult to argue against giving people a choice when the new requirements will present such a tangible expense and inconvenience for the average person. More importantly though, it will leave you with a bit more of your freedom than you might otherwise retain, and, over time, such allowances may prove to be the monkey wrench that wrecks the authoritarian machine.