Beware the IDs of March

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"Father Abraham" Lincoln may be the patron saint of today’s federal officials, but his descendants have come a long way from sending the U.S. military to suppress brutally any thoughts of independence on the part of the states.

Within the last month or so we here at LRC have celebrated the fact that Maine has flatly refused to comply with Washington’s dictates in the REAL ID Act, which mandates that state driver’s licenses comply with federal standards, the effect of which would be to create a de facto national identification card. Several other states are threatening to follow suit. Thomas Andrew Olson even posited that state rebellions against REAL ID could portend a revival of genuine federalism.

The recalcitrant states have argued that, in addition to violating citizens’ and states’ rights, the cost of implementing the REAL ID requirements is prohibitive, and the federal government is not providing the money to accomplish this. Of course, the only way for the feds to do this is to steal money from the citizens of the states and then turn around and give it back to the states, minus a hefty cut for D.C.

Uncle Sam, having since the days of Lincoln perfected the art of enveloping the iron fist in velvet, has responded to these upstart states (Who do they think they are, anyway?) by extending the deadline for implementing REAL ID until 2009 and permitting states to use up to 20 percent of their federal homeland security grants to cover the cost of implementation. This will surely quell most of the restiveness among Washington’s vassals in the state capitals. The rest can be brought into line with the next phase, which will probably be a threat to withhold homeland security funds from states that refuse to comply.

Thus, by 2009 we will all be forced to obtain federally mandated identification cards, "so that no one [can] buy or sell unless he [has] the mark" (Revelation 13:17), i.e., the national ID card. Think about it. Is there any commercial transaction you can undertake even today without at some point having to show some identification? Try opening a bank account, applying for a job, buying a house, going to the doctor, or flying commercial airlines without being asked to show your ID.

It’s bad enough having state identification cards. However, under REAL ID, your personal information will be kept in a nationwide database, and you will not be able to enter a federal building (no great loss there) or travel by air without the card — and that’s just the beginning. Over time expect greater and greater restrictions on those who refuse to show their papers and more and more requirements, such as biometric identifiers. Congressman Ron Paul has pointed out that there are essentially no restrictions on what the Secretary of Homeland Security can require states to include in driver’s licenses and on what information may be stored in the database. The threat to our freedoms from REAL ID vastly outweighs the threat to our lives from terrorism.

It will surprise no regular LRC reader to learn that the allegedly conservative editors of National Review are entirely in favor of REAL ID and entirely in disdain of its opponents, to whom they refer as the "ACLU and its fellow-travelers on the right [who] have denounced the law as creating a national identification card, with the usual sophomoric references to the Gestapo." They applaud the mild compromise outlined above despite the fact that "[a]ny delay in improving the integrity of identification documents is potentially dangerous."

How do the NR editors answer the charge that REAL ID creates a national ID card? Simply put, they don’t. They merely declare that "[t]he act simply does not create a national ID card," quote Phyllis Schlafly’s absurd statement that REAL ID actually prevents the establishment of a national ID card, and move on to their next point in defense of the government. Well, I guess that’s settled. How could anyone have thought otherwise?

As to the fiscal issues, the supposedly limited-government, budget-cutting conservatives at NR say that if the states need more money to implement REAL ID, well, then, the feds should just dish it out to them. "This would be somewhat unfair to taxpayers in states such as Colorado, New York, and Virginia, which have already come into nearly full compliance," they aver. "But the government’s interest in protecting national security is compelling enough to justify further federal assistance."

Ah, yes. As long as it’s for "protecting national security," any power aggrandizement by the feds is justified, and anyone who raises even the most reasonable of concerns about it is "unpatriotic." As the editors tell us, since the 9/11 hijackers had numerous state ID cards, some of them obtained fraudulently, one of the best ways to prevent future terrorism is to implement a national — er, REAL — ID card. You see, it’s all about protecting us from terrorists! How dare anyone suggest otherwise?

As usual, one prominent individual does suggest otherwise. Here’s Ron Paul on the notion that REAL ID will protect us from terrorists:

One overriding point has been forgotten: Criminals don’t obey laws! As with gun control, national ID cards will only affect law-abiding citizens. Do we really believe a terrorist bent on murder is going to dutifully obtain a federal ID card? Do we believe that people who openly flout our immigration laws will nonetheless respect our ID requirements? Any ID card can be forged; any federal agency or state DMV is susceptible to corruption. Criminals can and will obtain national ID cards, or operate without them. National ID cards will be used to track the law-abiding masses, not criminals.

It would be falsifying history to suggest that today’s editors of National Review are in any way betraying the vision of the magazine’s founder, for it was William F. Buckley, Jr., who called for "a totalitarian bureaucracy within our shores" to protect us from the last bogeyman, the Soviet Union. It would, however, be a welcome change if they would stop referring to themselves as conservatives. Real conservatives, who worry about constantly encroaching federal power, are to be found at such publications as Chronicles and The American Conservative.

Meanwhile, all those of us who value liberty, whether we call ourselves conservatives, classical liberals, or libertarians, need to continue to sound the alarm about REAL ID and other assorted infringements on our freedom under the guise of national security. Let us not be concerned that we may at times sound alarmist, for those on the forefront of defending against encroaching tyranny are usually considered extreme. As Dr. Clyde Wilson, a genuine conservative, put it, "[Tyranny] should always be guarded against and opposed at the threshold. If our forefathers had not observed this rule, there would have been no American War of Independence."

Don’t tread on me, Uncle Sam.

Michael Tennant [send him mail] is a software developer in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.


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