Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Spitzer backs down on license plan

Bad news from the NY Times today:

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.

. . .

“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.”

. . .

Opposition to the proposal sent his poll numbers plunging and stalled his broader agenda.

The decision is likely to be a relief to many of his fellow Democrats in Albany and in Washington, who feared the issue could haunt them into next year’s election season.

The primary reason immigration might stem Democratic gains in New York would be if the NY Times predicted this in its pages every day as it has done since the proposal was mooted.

To me, this represents a failure of the progressive community to identify and promote convincing arguments on immigration. Progressives failed on this issue because the other side has laid the groundwork for success in the public debate and we have not.

The outcome in New York represents the future of immigration policy at every level of government: acrimony, deadlock, and, ultimately, perpetuation of the status quo. The restrictionist lobby can’t produce the votes to implement significant new policies; it can only obstruct action intended to resolve the situation.

Democratic politicians cannot be relied upon to act on principle; they have to be shown that they have more to fear from pursuing a Rahm Emanuel/James Carville-approved “restrictionist lite” policy than from working towards sensible, humane immigration reform. This requires educating progressives about why immigration matters and how to combat misinformation from restrictionists. But first, progressives must not buy into the restrictionist point of view, as so many have done.

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