Papers, Please

When I was a teen, I did what many children of a certain age did. I bought a fake ID in Times Square that would allow a kid, well below the drinking age, to enter the Metropole Cafe, buy a beer and watch women dance without their clothing. Times Square had not yet been turned into Disneyland at the time.

The ID was, in retrospect, pretty awful. It had a photo and some typed words that included my name and a phony date of birth that said I was old enough to be there. A few years later, when I was in high school and went with my buddies to the Tumble Inn to sample their finest Olde Frothingslosh, a police officer entered and demanded to see my ID.

I showed it to him. He studied it for a few seconds, then handed it back to me and said, “okay,” proving he was either a moron or didn’t care. Back then, everyone of drinking age had a driver’s license, and failing to show it to prove your age was pretty much conclusive proof you were lying.

I got my first driver’s license in 1975. It was primitive in comparison to licenses today, with neither image nor hologram, but just some typed words on some official paper stock. It included my height and weight, which was close enough to assure that its holder was the person named in it. For all they knew, I could have been Elvis.

Over time, things got fancier. We were required to go to the DMV to get pictures taken. Cards became cards rather than pieces of paper, and then cards with holograms as opposed to the fakes one could still buy in Times Square. But for someone who held his license from the old days, the worst of it was that we would turn in our old license to get our new one. The rest was mere annoyance, having to wait for our number to be called by some taciturn clerk whose job it was to make sure our picture would be awful.

An email(?) arrived from the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles the other day informing me that my license was soon to expire. This usually signified that they wanted money, but since I wanted to drive and they owned the franchise, it was just another cost of being a New Yorker. But as I went to click on the internal link, I saw that the words were unfamiliar.

Enhanced License
Real License
Standard License

Since when were there “choices”? It was a driver’s license, for crying out loud. Ah, the good old days when that was all they were. Now, I was informed, I had to appear at the DMV where I hadn’t been in years since they were able to collect their money and send me a new license with my old picture and we all got what we wanted from each other. And not just appear, but bring with me my social security card, a bank statement or utility bill, my passport and, of course, my old license. Because all these years later, I might not be me?

The three choices came with explicit threats: The enhanced license would allow me to fly domestically, enter federal buildings and re-enter the United States from the Caribbean, Canada and Mexico. The Real one would do all but re-enter the US from our neighboring countries. The Standard, however, would not allow me to fly within the United States. Because flying is a privilege. There is still the option to use a passport, but now a passport would be required for domestic flight.

My gut reaction was that this was some wet dream by Stephen Miller to thwart those states that gave driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants, formerly known as illegal aliens as set forth in certain federal statutes. But it wasn’t, exactly, as the Real ID Act was enacted in 2005 in our zeal to find a solution, no matter how inapt, to terrorism. Extensions were given by the Department of Homeland Security, but DHS has “inexplicably” decided enough is enough, ending the neglect of this misbegotten 2005 law.

So in my frustration at having to gather my papers, including my social security card that my dear mother ordered for me when I was about five years of age, bearing the official legend  that it was for social security and tax purposes only not to be used for identification, and which I signed in crayon at the time because I was only five years old, I twitted.

Much to my surprise, my twit apparently touched a nerve. Some took the rhetorical question for real, and offered their “explanation” to me. Some used it to note their ironic concern that no identification was needed to vote, though they failed to consider that voting is a right, whereas driving and flying are privileges.

Some just bemoaned the trend toward government control over every aspect of our lives, as this Real ID Act was intended to create a national identification card, which was an understandable goal when the nation was in a frenzy over terrorists, willing to sacrifice whatever it takes for transitory safety. Some were all for it, because why shouldn’t law-abiding Americans please their government?

The Metropole Cafe is long gone, as are the fake ID shops in Times Square. Teens are more concerned about being called complicit in someone else’s offense than who won Olde Miss Frothingslosh. And no one wears a tie and jacket to fly anymore. Progress.

30 thoughts on “Papers, Please

  1. phv3773

    And if, by chance, the names on all those ID documents don’t match exactly, you may find that they won’t issue the new license with the name that you consider to be your name and which you have used as your signature since ever.

    1. SHG Post author

      There will be massive problems, especially for women with married/hyphenated name choices over the years. The burden involved in “fixing” names to align will be grossly disproportionate to the supposed benefit.

  2. Guitardave

    I think they should have a ‘super enhanced’ version….. you only have to add a custom embroidered initialed flannel shirt to the 5 forms of I.D. to get it… then you’re good for trips from anywhere in the solar system……then! you can finally land that huge retainer from Darth Vader.

            1. Guitardave

              No. Wonderful job…..the phrase just didn’t ring a bell. ( plus I’m an idiot that only butchers one language.) I looked it up…found the SNL vid, and quickly got distracted by this…

  3. REvers

    It’s going to be interesting when someone called to jury duty in federal court can’t get into the building because they don’t have the right kind of ID. I’ll bet that will be fun to watch.

  4. Luke Gardner

    This all brings to mind the old joke:

    Q: Why don’t bureaucrats look out the window in the morning?
    A: They’ll have nothing to do in the afternoon.

    Bureaucracy is death.

  5. Patrick Maupin

    “Enhanced” has long been a euphemism for “not real,” but I’m not sure where “standard” fits in.

  6. Kurt

    If voting is a right of citizenship, should not you have to prove you’re a citizen?

    Should not the standard for exercising a function so fundamental be set at a reasonable minimum?

    As for driving and flying, why is ID required at all? You pay the price, either in gas taxes (or tolls) and gate fees, and why should anyone care if you have a card?


    1. SHG Post author

      If someone says they’re a citizen, who is the state to question it, to presume citizens are liars who have to prove themselves to the state? Do citizens don’t have to prove themselves to the satisfaction of the state? Do you pray to the all powerful government god to allow you your rights?

      1. Kurt

        Who is the state to question it? Perhaps a bit more direct – why do we have the state at all? Putatively, the state is organzed to protect its citizens, am I correct?

        If I am, then one of the things that the state must do is protect its own integrity. Ensuring that only citizens vote would seem to be fairly fundamental to that.

        The process of changing from non-citizen to citizen is pretty clear, as is the Constitutional provision that all native born individuals are citizens by birth. There might be some fuzting around the margins as to whether an individual born of citizens but not on American soil is a citizen, but that’s something I have no problem with.

        And certainly, for those lacking birth certificates or other supporting documentation, if they can come up with testimony, from other well-known citizens, as to their citizenship, then by all means get them the relevant documents supporting their claim.

        But I only want people with (as Nassim Nicholas Taleb says) skin in the game occupying voting booths.

        Or, we can take a page from Heinlein, and require proof of service, and ounce or two of gold, or the ability solve differential equations to vote.

        The point is to raise the stakes, and to prove commitment. For native born individuals, keeping and showing a birth certificate (or other good and sufficient documentation proving citizenship) seems a low enough bar.

        And, if you don’t have the required documentation, that’s a remediable condition, though trying to gather it the day before the election seems less than reasonable.

        Lastly, no, I don’t pray to the government for my rights. My rights (though not God-given), pre-exist the government, or rather, they inhere in me.


  7. Gregory Smith

    Whilst I agree with your views concerning those who have trouble understanding the difference between demanding ID in order to exercise a right vs. obtaining a privilege (“you have to show ID to cash a check, why shouldn’t you show one to vote?”), and that driving is a privilege, flying (or using other forms of common carrier transportation) is not. Requiring ID for air travel would impair the 1st Amendment right to assemble, so it is not considered a privilege.

    1. SHG Post author

      Courts have already ruled on the question, even though I disagree with the ruling. Flying is a privilege. It’s fine for a non-lawyer to disagree with the law. It’s not fine for a non-lawyer to wrongly state what the law is.

    2. MelK has been covering the issue for years, ever since the Gilmore decision pretty much said that yes, flying is a privilege, and no, we don’t have to show you the text of the law.

      Hey, I’m pressing my luck even providing a domain name. Don’t ask for links.

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