New York Governor Eliot Spitzer has decided to withdraw his plan to offer drivers licenses to illegal immigrants. The decision comes too late for both his approval ratings and Hillary Clinton, who both defended and distanced herself from the plan within a two-minute span during the last Democratic presidential debate:
Gov. Eliot Spitzer is abandoning his plan to issue driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants, saying that opposition is just too overwhelming to move forward with such a policy.
The governor, who is to announce the move formally on Wednesday, said in an interview Tuesday night that he did not reach the decision easily.
“You have perhaps seen me struggle with it because I thought we had a principled decision, and it’s not necessarily easy to back away from trying to move a debate forward,” he said.
But he came to believe the proposal would ultimately be blocked, he said, either by legal challenges, a vote by the Legislature to deny financing for the Department of Motor Vehicles or a refusal by upstate county clerks to carry it out.
“I am not willing to fight to the bitter end on something that will not ultimately be implemented,” the governor said, “and we also have an enormous agenda on other issues of great importance to New York State that was being stymied by the constant and almost singular focus on this issue.”
The issue has not received singular focus. New Yorkers have still debated Spitzer’s staff’s use of the state police to target political opponents. Since his election last November, Spitzer has provided his constituents with plenty of debating points.
It didn’t help that Spitzer went off half-cocked on this proposal from the beginning. When he first announced his plan to issue licenses to illegal aliens, he hadn’t bothered to consult with legislators from his party or even his DMV. When the state erupted with anger about diluting the value of their primary identification document, Spitzer abruptly modified his proposal to create three classes of license — multiplying the costs of management and complicating enforcement. Two weeks later, he has to admit defeat.
Of course, Hillary Clinton has already gone on record supporting this proposal. Spitzer’s retreat leaves her all alone on the front line of this battle. Spitzer tried to offer a last, desperate assist to Hillary by claiming that the debate had not been based on “thoughtful discourse”, but in fact Chris Dodd had asked the question that neither Hillary nor Spitzer could answer in anything other than sound bites. If driving is a privilege, then why give licenses to people in the country illegally? Why give any government ID to people who do not legally belong in the US?
Neither Spitzer nor Hillary have any “thoughtful discourse” to explain that. No one has a right to drive; laws in every state make that perfectly clear. It’s a privilege that one earns by passing a test, and maintains by obeying the laws and not being a menace to other drivers. People who have broken the law too often have the privilege withdrawn, such as with chronic DUI cases. They might still drive, but they don’t have a license. Does the fact that they still drive — the argument used by both Spitzer and Hillary — mean the state should issue them licenses anyway? Of course not!
Spitzer could not bring himself to admit that he bombed, both substantively and procedurally, with his three-tier license plan. Hillary will almost assuredly issue the same kind of “You don’t understand my genius” post-mortem on this plan. Neither will recover what they have lost in this debate as long as they refuse to acknowledge their basic error in supporting a plan to provide government documents to illegal immigrants.