There is something about the federalization of police authority that causes discomfort among those who adore America’s traditions. Whether it is from the perspective of such Hollywood films as “The Good Shepherd” and “Syriana” or the sort of critiques emanating from organizations like the John Birch Society, both ends of the ideological spectrum are wary to one degree or another of secretive federal organizations.
Unfortunately, the ultimate outcome of a threat like terrorism is, without fail, the enhancing of police powers wielded by central governments. Though the devastation caused by loss of human life as a result of terrorist acts is without equal, its second undesirable contribution to society is the mind set of surrendered liberty engendered among the broader population. Most of us recognize that we are far more likely to fork over freedoms to the government during times of crisis than times of tranquility.
All one needs to do is look at what happened to Russia after the 2004 Beslan School Crisis in North Ossetia. Although freedoms in the country were nothing to write home about beforehand, skirmishes with Chechen separatists have given birth to the sort of police state mentality terrorism fosters and men like Vladimir Putin have little ideological disposition to limit.
Looking at the United States after September 11th demonstrates the aftershocks destructive acts of terrorism generate. Since that day, such massive intrusions as the Patriot Act, invasive TSA pat downs, the introduction of pricey bureaucracies such as the Department of Homeland Security (a $40 billion plus annual budget and north of 200,000 employees), and the floating of such ideas as the Orwellian 2005 REAL ID Act have alarmed those who take personal privacy seriously.
Many senators and congressman have been puzzled as to why any citizen might balk at the notion of a national ID card. “It is disappointing to me that the Obama administration has chosen to put Americans at risk by having another delay in implementing Real ID,” Republican congressman Jim Sensenbrenner noted. Apparently forgetting to update his circa-2004 Republican National Convention talking points, Mr. Sensenbrenner appears intent on emerging victorious on “Survivor: Police State Conservative.” Surely he must recognize such fear based rhetoric, post-Tea Party, no longer works like a charm at getting conservatives to fall into line.
This act, which would have amounted to a federalization of national identification cards and storage of personal information, has been met with vigorous opposition in many states. States as politically diverse as South Carolina and Oregon have rejected it, and my home state of Louisiana became the 11th state to pass anti-REAL ID legislation in 2008. Americans feel something is a little off about even more centralization of power by an institution not immune from abusing it.
But one of the few good things about REAL ID has been this opposition shown by state legislatures and governors. Additionally, the revulsion toward it by groups on the left and right has been encouraging; some strange bedfellows were made during the course of advocating against its passage. We see the wisdom of our Constitution and Founding Fathers demonstrated when such steps are taken; citizens of an entirely consolidated nation (which we are not quite as of this writing) would have had little recourse to turn back what the central planners were bent on getting through. But, by utilizing de facto nullification of federal laws, enough resistance has been generated to throw a wrench in the implementation of this act.
The most recent extension of its compliance date to 2013 is an example of the government kicking the can down the road. Unwilling to tackle this issue now, they will simply delay the fight for a later date. Surely it is no coincidence that 2013 is just after a presidential election and happens to be the off year for congressional elections. Maybe we can hear more promises from allegedly civil libertarian Democrats to fight invasions of privacy, only to watch them fall into statist line afterward (see Obama-Guantanamo as well as Obama-Patriot Act. Case settled.)
Up to this point, this specific measure of statism has proven a bridge to far. Sadly, it likely would now be in effect had the states rolled over and refused to push back (this same willingness to fight is now producing hope for those of us who want to see Obama’s health plan overturned). Apparently Washington will do whatever it can get away with in the absence of sufficient protest; not exactly a glaring endorsement of our public officials’ integrity. Apparently they can produce a million regulations for us while simultaneously having zero regulation on their own appetites.
A reasonable person cannot help but ask if 95% of those in Washington are even familiar with the notion of state sovereignty or Jeffersonian republicanism. Watching CSPAN, it appears they might not be. Fortunately, at least a few in state legislatures and governorships still are.
(Editor’s Note: The RLC is helping you fight back against REAL ID; see this post.)