License debate shows need for civility

By U-Wire

Last month, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer dropped his plan to give driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants. He stated, “I have concluded that New York State cannot successfully address this problem on its own.” In reality, Spitzer’s proposal met large-scale resistance and it proved impossible for Spitzer to pass the bill through the Legislature.

Unfortunately, a real debate on the topic was not possible because the entire dialogue became little more than a shouting match in which nothing could be accomplished.

The failure to have a substantive debate on licenses for illegal immigrants is emblematic of the larger problem of a lack of meaningful debate in the political arena.

It seems that Spitzer was the only person who actually wanted to have a substantive debate on the issue of licenses. When I saw him in a television interview defending the license plan, I was shocked by the honesty and candor with which Spitzer discussed the issue of licenses. He did not call those that opposed his policies any mean names, but instead tried to lay out a logical argument for the licenses. I am not arguing that Spitzer is the swellest guy in the world, but his approach to presenting his plan was refreshing in a politician.

Spitzer said that illegal immigrants already drive on our roads and it would be safer to make sure that they pass a driving exam. He also demonstrated that his plan would create different types of licenses to make sure that illegal immigrants could not use their licenses for federal identification purposes.

Along with these arguments in favor of giving licenses to illegal immigrants, there are several reasons why giving licenses to illegal immigrants would not be a good idea. Driver’s licenses are a privilege and some argue that people that broke the law are not entitled to have them. There is also the threat that giving a legal document to illegal immigrants may complicate the identification process and allow people who did not enter the country legally to stay.

The debate over these licenses was not dominated by this type of logical analysis of the pros and cons of the proposal; it was dominated by name-calling and hatred on both sides. The dialogue on the Right was dominated by the likes of Lou Dobbs who actually called Spitzer an “idiot” for proposing the legislation and questioned his patriotism and dedication to keeping this country secure.

Many on the Left responded with similar insults calling those who opposed the plan racists and isolationists. The two sides failed to see the reasons and logic behind the other side’s positions.

A meaningful political debate on important topics such as immigration is not possible in this atmosphere of name-calling and hate-filled politics.

There are several causes for the lack of a meaningful dialogue that has so crippled our political process. One possible cause is the rise of 24-hour cable news television such as CNN and Fox News and their political talk shows that feed off this sort of divisive debate. This format that often pits two opposing sides against each other simplifies the important issues that our country faces into sound bites that sound good, but it does not provide a real debate that helps us to decide these issues.

Whatever the cause of the current political debate, it is clear the example of illegal immigration demonstrates the current system does not accomplish anything and leaves the country further divided. For several years all sides have agreed that something has to be done to fix the problem of illegal immigration, but a compromise has never been possible because everyone has been too busy yelling at each other.

What is needed today is a new type of politics that emphasizes bipartisanship and working together in order to achieve real goals. That does not mean that there will not be debates on issues, but it will mean that these debates will be substantive and focus on the issues as opposed to simply destroying the character of your opponents.

We must come together as a nation to reject the current politics of hate and usher in a new era of cooperation to solve the many problems that our country is currently facing.

This is not only a struggle to change the fundamental nature of the political debate in this country, but to maintain our democracy as one based on cooperation instead of resorting to a politics based on opposition.