New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer is the Democrats' Rudy Giuliani.
Ideologically, he's a liberal. But he's one tough SOB of a liberal, which means he has considerable crossover appeal, especially to blue-collar white men -- a demographic the Dems normally hemorrhage.
Gov. Spitzer fits Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield's definition of manliness with "confidence in a situation of risk." So why is Eliot Spitzer, his popularity nose-diving, plowing ahead with plans to offer driver's licenses to illegal immigrants?
Already, as of Sept. 24, under Spitzer's orders, the state's Department of Motor Vehicles has ceased stamping legal visitors' licenses with the word "temporary." By April 2008, even illegal immigrants will be able to walk into the DMV with a foreign passport and emerge with a driver's license indistinguishable from yours or mine.
The outcry from New Yorkers has been instantaneous and negative.
The New York State Association of County Clerks voted 30-3 to oppose Spitzer's plan, and so have at least 12 county legislatures. "License issue driving debate in races statewide," runs the headline in one local newspaper. An Erie County clerk candidate's TV ads promise: "I'll stop illegal aliens from getting driver's licenses, even if I have to go to jail to protect you."
But will the governor's plan play in Poughkeepsie? Dutchess County this week became the latest county legislature to vote against the plan. During the debate, Democrats who supported Gov. Spitzer accused opponents of bigotry: "This is racism, pure and simple," said Democratic legislator Joel Tyner, according to local press accounts. Democratic legislator Fred Bunnell equated that using the word "illegal" to describe undocumented immigrants was the moral equivalent of using the "n" word.
Gov. Spitzer also responds (much as another manly man, President Bush, did under similar circumstances) to public criticism by attacking his electorate:
"What has happened is that the politics of fear and selfishness has replaced the politics of common sense and responsibility," Spitzer said at Fordham University, according to the Niagara Gazette. "We are witnessing knee-jerk reactions to sound policies that have no business being politicized or polluted by fear-mongering rhetoric."
Both he and state Democratic Party Chairwoman June O'Neill have proudly said that the governor doesn't govern by polls. "He does what he thinks is the right thing to do," O'Neill said.
President Bush tried that one, too. To voters it sounds a lot like: "I don't care what you think."
An Oct. 7-10 Siena (College) New York poll found 72 percent of New York voters -- including 59 percent of Democrats -- opposed to the governor's plan.
Maggie Gallagher is a nationally syndicated columnist, a leading voice in the new marriage movement and co-author of The Case for Marriage: Why Married People Are Happier, Healthier, and Better Off Financially.
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