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Our Civil Liberties on a Slippery Slope

The opinions expressed by columnists are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of Townhall.com.

President Obama wants more tourists at Disneyworld.  Mitt Romney wants the race for the nomination to be done already.  And Newt Gingrich wants us to ignore his second ex-wife who claims that he once wanted an “open marriage.”

The headlines of Election 2012 are packed with entertainment value. But here’s something that the American people should want– and demand – from a prospective new President:  some fresh ideas on protecting our civil liberties.

As the campaigns twist and turn with promises to ignite “job creation” and to eliminate Obamacare, very little has been said in this election cycle about a resource that is increasingly in short supply for U.S. citizens - civil liberty.  One might have thought that President Obama’s signing of the National Defense Authorization Act in December, complete with its “indefinite detention without a trial” provisions, would have ignited some debate about the liberties of citizens.

To his credit, Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul was quick to condemn the new law and note that it signals a “descent into totalitarianism” (Congressman Paul has now introduced legislation to repeal the law).  Yet Mitt Romney offered his approval of the law when asked about it, and stated that had he been President, he would have signed the bill into law himself.

So while the dominant news media focuses on allegations of adultery and cultural insensitivity among the candidates, the tentative nature of our liberty mostly gets ignored by both the candidates and the press.  Worse yet, Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney is now championing another liberty-crushing policy as a means of controlling illegal immigration: the mandate of a national I.D. card for all U.S. citizens.

The idea of a national I.D. card has been around for decades.  Over the years Democrats have most often proposed it as a mechanism for easily determining one’s citizenship, and one’s eligibility for government-funded healthcare services.  Republicans, on the other hand, used to consistently oppose the idea, on the grounds that in order to issue federal I.D. cards the U.S. federal government had to collect more private personal data about individual citizens. And the rendering of one’s personal information, Republicans used to say, was a violation of one’s civil liberties.

But Republican opposition to big brother began to fade in the mid-2000’s. With growing concerns about domestic terrorist threats and the pain of illegal immigration becoming more impossible to ignore, President George W. Bush signed into law the federal “Real ID” Act in May of 2005.  The law was intended, among other things, to impose specific “standards” on the individual states regarding the issuance of driver’s licenses and other state I.D. cards, as a means of tightening-up domestic national security.  Yet despite the approval of the Congress and the President, well over half of all the legislatures in the individual states passed resolutions opposing the Real ID Act.

One of the states to oppose President Bush’s Real ID Act was – not surprisingly – the libertarian-leaning Arizona.  Yet at about the same time that Arizona officially rejected Real ID, the state was also on the verge of becoming ground zero for the nation’s debate over illegal immigration. And this is when Republican elected officials seriously began to waiver on concerns about intrusive government.

Despite its opposition to Real ID, Arizona’s Republican-led legislature forced a “crackdown” on business owners that employed illegal immigrants, by requiring employers to register their employees with the federal “e-verify” website.  Signed into law by then Democrat Governor Janet Napolitano, Arizona began forcing citizens to allow their federal government to collect even more personal data on them, in exchange for the privilege of interviewing for a job.

This is to say that many of the same elected Republicans in the Grand Canyon state who were horrified at President Bush’s violation of civil liberties, nonetheless had no problem pushing a statewide program requiring the fed’s to collect more of people’s personal information.  And it wasn’t just Arizona – heavily Republican states like Virginia, Alabama, Utah and Georgia have all followed Arizona’s lead, and have adopted similar statewide laws.

Of course, nobody with a healthy skepticism about the “good intentions” of government believes that a national I.D. card system would solve our illegal immigration problem.  Those of us who are not so enamored with the quick-fixes of politicians recognize that illegal immigrants would likely figure a way to illegally obtain the I.D. cards, and the system would thus be compromised.

But equally as important, imposing I.D. card and “e-verify” requirements on the citizenry is an unjust, and logically flawed means of policing the problem.  In stead of focusing on the origins of illegal immigration – a porous border, an inept immigration system, and people who flagrantly violate our nation’s laws – such policies focus instead on law abiding citizens, and make them “pay” for the failings of others.

In 2003 Republicans were outraged when then-U.S. Senator Hillary Clinton proposed a national I.D. card program.  Today, the Republican presidential frontrunner is campaigning with the idea.

Can America – and our civil liberties – exit the slippery slope?

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