The pernicious and blatantly unconstitutional REAL ID Act has met with strenuous objections from many state officials, and, to their credit, some states have actually taken legislative action to forestall the program's implementation. Even so, as the Associated Press reported on March 21, 2008, only Maine, Montana and South Carolina have not "sought extensions to comply, or already started toward compliance with Real ID." New Hampshire has asked to be exempted, but the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has deemed that request "not legally acceptable." So thus far, out of fifty states, only four have had the courage to tell the federales to go jump in a lake.
Now, I understand that, by filing requests for extensions, other states may be trying to drag the issue out until after the general election. Some state lawmakers don't want to comply, but they're afraid they'll be accused of being "soft on terrorism" (or, even worse, breaking party ranks — horrors!) if they oppose it outright, so they'd rather stall in the hope that a new Congress and a new administration might repeal REAL ID and thereby solve the problem for them. But this solution, while pragmatic from a certain political point-of-view, is exacerbating the overall problem of federal usurpation. By filing for a compliance extension, states are playing by the federal government's rules, and in doing so they are tacitly acknowledging the legitimacy of those rules (and the supremacy of those making them). On the other hand, the non-complying states are sending an entirely different message to Washington. They are denying that the federal government has any rightful authority to impose this program at all. In the process, they are also tacitly arguing that states have a right to interpret the Constitution for themselves, and to decide when the federal government has overstepped its bounds.
Enter Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer.
Schweitzer is not your typical Democrat. Indeed, he has been called the "antithesis of the Democrat stereotype." In a 2006 article in the New York Times, it was said that Schweitzer has "seized the heartland imagery generally monopolized by Republicans," and represents a new "Democratic brand of libertarian-tinged prairie populism" that may threaten the GOP's traditional hold on the western states. I can't support Schweitzer on every issue but I'll take his brand of Democrat over Hillary or Obama anytime. For instance, on the topic of guns, Schweitzer has remarked that he owns "more than I need but less than I want," and says, "In Montana we think gun control is hittin' what you're shootin' at."
It's hard not to like a man who thinks that way.
Schweitzer is also a leading opponent of REAL ID, which he has called "another harebrained scheme, an unfunded mandate to tell us that our life is going to be better if we'll just buckle under on some other kind of rule or regulation." Among America's governors, he is easily the most outspoken on the issue, and has promised that Montana will not yield. Regarding the powers-that-think-they-be in Washington, Schweitzer recently told NPR, "We usually just play along for a while, we ignore them for as long as we can, and we try not to bring it to a head. But if it comes to a head, we found that it's best to just tell them to go to hell and run the state the way you want to run your state." After hearing Schweitzer on NPR, Matthew Dunlap, Secretary of State for Maine, commented: "We were pretty impressed. We hadn't heard rhetoric like that in many a year."
Schweitzer's impressive rhetoric stems from the fact that he possesses qualities that have become increasingly rare in American politics: namely, principles and guts. He has the courage of his convictions, and, God bless him, he's doing what he can to inspire others to cultivate brains and backbones of their own.
On January 18, 2008, Schweitzer sent a letter to the governors of seventeen states, appealing for their help in stopping REAL ID. The following are some excerpts from the letter:
Last year, the Montana Legislature unanimously passed, and I signed, a bill to prevent our state from participating in Real ID…We recognized that Real ID was a major threat to the privacy, constitutional rights, and pocketbooks of ordinary Montanans…
Today, I am asking you to join with me in resisting the DHS coercion to comply with provisions of Real ID…I would like us to speak with one, unified voice and demand that Congress step in and fix this mess…
[DHS] Secretary Chertoff's remarks yesterday, albeit about WHTI, not Real ID, reflect DHS continued disrespect for the serious and legitimate concerns of our citizens. I take great offense at this notion we should all simply "grow up." Please do not accept the Faustian bargain of applying for the DHS extension. If we stand together, either DHS will blink or Congress will have to act to avoid havoc at our nation's airports and federal courthouses.
According to the Associated Press, as of March 14, Schweitzer's office had been flooded with a grand total of two replies, "both simply acknowledging receipt of the letter." Tragically, this fact upholds my long-standing suspicion that, among America's elected officials, the women aren't the only ones wearing panties.
For his part, however, Schweitzer continues to soldier on.
On March 21, Montana's Attorney General, Mike McGrath, sent a letter to DHS Secretary Chertoff, informing him that Montana's licensing requirements are already "one of the most secure in the nation," and that he cannot authorize implementation of REAL ID because the Montana legislature has forbidden it. McGrath also asked that DHS not take any steps that would "penalize Montanans' ability to use their valid Montana drivers licenses for federal identification purposes and commercial air travel." DHS replied that it would have to treat McGrath's letter as "a request for an extension," to which Governor Schweitzer responded, "I sent them a horse and if they want to call it a zebra, that's up to them. They can call it whatever they want, and it wasn't a love letter."
Principles and guts, ladies and gentlemen. Principles and guts.
The battle over REAL ID is one that we cannot afford to lose. Its implementation would mark the beginning of a new era in America's decline, and not just because it would limit the average American's ability to board an airplane or enter a federal building. REAL ID will do far more than that. If successful, it will very quickly become the standard for identification purposes in every area of life and business where the federal government is involved, and there are precious few areas where it is not involved these days, thanks mainly to the war on drugs and the People's glorious income tax system. You may be required to produce a REAL ID if you start a new job; open a bank account; buy a gun (and most likely ammunition, too); or even to purchase certain over-the-counter medicines, as DHS Assistant Secretary for Policy Stewart Baker recently told the Heritage Foundation. I can even foresee a time when you may not be permitted to vote without the Mark of the Bush on your person.
REAL ID will also become a patriotic shibboleth test and a law enforcement red flag. The Department of Homeland Security, working closely with law enforcement officials in collaborating — er, cooperating — states, will instruct officers to be on the look-out for vehicles with tags from non-complying states. Drivers of such vehicles will be pulled over more often, searched more often, and generally harassed and subjected to thuggery more often. Count on it. DHS and state officials may deny it — or not, in this age of brazen police-state tactics and intimidation — but, either way, it will happen. These people are on a witch hunt, and anyone who dares to challenge their methods is automatically under suspicion of having a broom and a pointy hat hidden away in his or her closet.
In a nutshell, REAL ID will, for the first time, give the federal government real power to destroy the lives of political dissenters; not by direct means, as this would assuredly spark a rebellion, but by indirect means. By simply denying an individual the ability to live a normal life. By blocking them in at every turn. By treating them like outcasts, if not virtual traitors. If you doubt that such things could ever happen here in America, I would encourage you to research civil liberties under Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt, and particularly under Abraham Lincoln. There was a time in this country when it was considered the height of patriotism to harass and imprison those who criticized the government, to burn the towns and fields of dissenters, and to steal food from the mouths of women and children in the name of the flag. Our leaders are openly following in the ideological footsteps of the tyrants of the past, and, sadly, some in the highest courts in the land are prepared to excuse their abuses.
Not only can it happen here, it already has happened here. And it can and will happen again unless those in positions of responsibility, like Governor Brian Schweitzer, stand up to tyranny, look it in the eye, and call it what it is, even when it comes wrapped in red-white-and-blue packaging. Furthermore, such brave men and women will need the support — the very loud and public support — of every single American who cares enough about freedom to do something more than complain about its decline. The Washington establishment must know that people like Schweitzer have our active support, and that we will do everything in our power to oppose the overthrow of this republic. Write and call your elected officials. Let them know that REAL ID is an affront to the principles of American liberty and that it must be repealed. Give them the example of Schweitzer. Ask that they not let him be the lone voice for sanity and freedom among America's governors where REAL ID is concerned. Encourage them to stand with him. Point out that REAL ID was never even debated by Congress, but was attached as a rider to an "emergency" war-funding bill! Remind them that states do have the right to oppose unconstitutional federal edicts. In fact, I would go further than that — remind them that they are sworn to uphold the Constitution of the United States, and thus that they are obligated to oppose its violation. And above all, let them know that, if they will stand for you, you will stand with them.
There stands Schweitzer like a stone wall. Rally behind the Montanans!
April 2, 2008
Robert Hawes is the author of One Nation, Indivisible? A Study of Secession and the Constitution. This article, along with his past writings, can be found on his blog. He lives in South Carolina with his family, and is working on a career as a freelance writer.