21 July 2009

The 'Real ID' debate turns surreal

The op-ed page of the Washington Post is nothing if not provocative. This morning's tiny little piece signed by four of the staunchest Republican congressmen on the Hill provides a case in point. (The honorable members are: Lamar Smith, Jim Sensenbrenner, Peter King and Darrel Issa.) It shows that no amount of unadulterated spin and invarnished hypocrisy will keep a well-connected contributor from sharing his or her views in a venue supposedly draped in professionalism and journalistic integrity.

And if Beverly had read this prime example of political piffle, she would be scowling and stamping her feet in frustration and anger, itching to write a reasoned rebuttal.

How did the signers of this piece, titled "A Dangerous Retreat on 'Real ID,'" try to lead us trusting readers astray? Let me count me count the ways. For those who follow the language of power (whether in politics, business, academia or entertainment), the recipe for this sort of "fudge" is familiar. For the rest, I offer a small lesson in political fudge-making, to use a relatively polite euphemism.

1) First, protect your narrow, partisan, contentious issue under the umbrella of a noble cause. And so, the congressmen begin thusly:

When the independent, bipartisan Sept. 11 commission issued its report in July 2004, an alarming fact was emphasized: Terrorists need valid identification to board an airplane.

[Ahh, why not use the widely respected "independent, bipartisan" umbrella of the Sept. 11 commission to give cover to the highly partisan pro-Real ID cause? Never mind that Sensenbrenner nearly singlehandedly derailed a monumental piece of legislation implementing many of the commission's recommendations. (I believe Beverly's hypocrisy-meter, which was unfailing, would be spinning wildly over that one. She was sending almost daily emails to me expressing her dismay back in the fall and winter of 2004 when Sensenbrenner and Duncan Hunter were spearheading the Republican effort to sink 9/11 reform legislation.) Oh, and the honorable members may be "alarmed" to learn that everyone needs valid ID to get on a plane, not just terrorists, and this fact was not "emphasized" by the report, just noted, along with many, many other facts. But back to the fudge-making recipe...]

2) Take a quote from a respected source (say, p. 184 of the 9/11 Commission Report), and use it totally out of context to apparently support your claims.

The commission asserted that "for terrorists, travel documents are as important as weapons."

[Yes, but... this quote refers to international travel documents, such as passports and visas, not drivers licenses, which are at the core of the Real ID program. Oops.]

3) Give your issue a pure pedigree, even when it doesn't have one. And say it had wide support, when it didn't.

Congress subsequently passed the Real ID Act, which was quickly signed into law by President George W. Bush. ... Despite the fact that a unanimous Senate -- including then-Sen Barak Obama -- passed the Real ID Act, several senators recently introduced legislation known as the Pass ID Act, which promises to return the nation to pre-Sept. 11 dangers.

[The op-ed makes it sound like Real ID flowed directly out of the 9/11 commission, when in fact the truth is much more complicated. In fact, the signers take us back to the old-style partisan politics which helped enable the many pre-9-11 mistakes in the US, and which sought to squash an independent commission to investigate the attacks, and later to implement any politically unappetizing reforms recommended by the commission. Like the USA Patriot Act, the Real ID Act was a partisan creation, because it implemented immigration reforms held dear well before 9-11 by a core of mainly Republican members of congress. Sensenbrenner, et al, want to make it seem now that Real ID was a result of the 9/11 commission, which it wasn't. In fact, he originally opposed the commission, and then was willing to scuttle legislation implementing many important commission reforms when the bill failed to include his pet anti-illegal immigrant provisions. Readers can check their own hypcrisy-meters now. Oh, and about the "unanimous Senate" thing? Real ID was attached to a bill authorizing funding of the Iraq war, what politicians in power do when they want to force their opponents to swallow something they oppose, and when they want to pass legislation that would fail on its own. So much for "unanimous."]

No one is saying that the system of immigration in this country is not broken and needs fixing. Beverly herself supported reforms in this area. But the way to get things done is through a reasoned, accurate presentation of the facts, and a truly bipartisan effort at consensus, not by presenting stale political fudge and pretending it's something sweet and tasty.