« What It's Like To Be Poor | Main | Universal Health Care in New Mexico? »

October 31, 2007

Hillary and Drivers Licenses

I can't speak to the early hours of the debate, but I did tune in for Hillary Clinton's answer on driver's licenses for illegal immigrants, and unlike everyone else, I thought it was a damn good answer. She did seek a couple sidesteps and refused to give a flat yes or no, but she defended her reasoning on the issue, accurately explained the forces and pressures behind Spitzer's decision, and refused to offer the truly craven evasive answer of a simple "no." When Dodd challenged her, and she struck back with, "well, if an illegal immigrant hits you in a car, how are you going to identify them," I thought it was one of the night's better moments. But maybe I'm bad at judging these things. Watch it here:

Meanwhile, I wasn't much impressed with Obama. His problem in debates is that he gives answers rather than makes points. On a question about medical malpractice, he began talking about reimbursement rates. That's an interesting policy discussion -- particularly to me -- but it won't win him one more vote, or help him advance an ounce of narrative. It sounds cynical, of course, to say that he should respond in a more politically calculated manner, but he does have white papers and a policy page, he needs to use these debates to raise his profile.

October 31, 2007 | Permalink


I actually agree with you in that I thought Clinton's answer made perfect sense. Edwards and Obama went for the jugular, of course, and as they should, but I don't think her answer was either unclear or contradictory.

Posted by: North | Oct 31, 2007 9:16:58 AM

Agreed with above, especially after viewing the clip, as I didn't watch the debate (studying and all that). She is correct that Gov. Spitzer is simply trying to make sure that all who are driving in the state of New York do so under the color of law. It's not as if this is some backdoor path to citizenship, but an honest attempt to improve the safety of New York streets.

Posted by: eggman84 | Oct 31, 2007 9:22:25 AM

Again, nothing about Edwards - just a Clinton/Obama dichotomy, from our ever independent liberal bloggers. Thanks, guys. Why don't I just watch Hardball and get the same analysis with less pretense to actual thought?

Posted by: Christmas | Oct 31, 2007 9:33:32 AM

"I thought it was a damn good answer."
Judging from the point of a political consultant (no matter how cheap :D), ok. She didn't fumble, she didn't open a vulnerability for the other debaters to exploit. But judging from the point of view of the interested voter, wanting to know what to expect from the candidates, NO. She left the viewers as clueless as before. And I don't know if this really won't backfire when the voters make up their minds. Ok, it's only one topic out of many others, but still...

Posted by: Gray | Oct 31, 2007 9:44:43 AM

Her reasoning is sensible, but that answer was crazy. "It makes a lot of sense." So you support it? "I never said that." Does she oppose it? But it makes a lot of sense... Please clarify--do you support it or not? "It makes a lot of sense."

The answer was maddening and bad because it refused to engage frankly and was so calculated. It insulted her interlocutors by just ignoring their frustration and repeating the talking points.

Posted by: Bill | Oct 31, 2007 9:45:08 AM

Reading the other comments, I now guess what may be the controversial point here: Do you think it is a good answer if YOU understand what Clinton might have meant, or do you think it's a good answer if the average voter, not so muc into politics as we here, gets a clear picture what she stands for?

Hmm, sry, but I really see here a bit of elitism at work...

Posted by: Gray | Oct 31, 2007 9:48:18 AM

I thought the answer was pretty clear:

She doesn't think it's the best way to handle it, but since the federal government dropped the ball, something had to be done.

She thinks it needs to be addressed by congress, and this is an example of what happens when congress chokes

Posted by: North | Oct 31, 2007 9:49:23 AM

It's weird to find myself defending Clinton, since I personally am trending towards Edwards these days. Nevertheless, come on guys, let's not be scared by a slightly complex answer. Shouldn't we be applauding a little nuance after an administration who is certain "the childrens do learn?"

Posted by: North | Oct 31, 2007 9:53:12 AM

Ok, even though I really don't like the evasive manner in which Clinton answered this question, I of course see that this was about a hot topic. Dems need latinos to win, so a hardline stance on immigration is a total no no. On the other hand, this study by democracycorps.com says illiegal immigration and border security is one of the most important issues for independents, and of course the Dems need their votes, too:

Well, damned if you do, damned if you don't, right? But is there really no compromise stance that Clinton could have taken, instead of weaseling around answering? I'm torn...

Posted by: Gray | Oct 31, 2007 10:06:24 AM

So, if it was clear, North, does that mean she supports the governor, or opposes him? Bear in mind that she denied the former to Dodd...

Posted by: Bill | Oct 31, 2007 10:11:55 AM


It means that she supports the governor's action because it was the lessor of two evils, AND that congress needs to not put states in that position.

Did anyone else read this differently? Am I crazy?

Posted by: North | Oct 31, 2007 10:18:22 AM

Wrongo. She said it "made sense" but that she doesn't support it, or she might. Not clear. Not a good answer, especially when your chief rivals have spent two hours charging you with "doubletalk."

We should have seen this coming. It's not her hawkishness or corporatism that will do her in, it's her lack of conviction, her evasiveness, her doubletalk, her dishonesty.

It's the character, stupid.

Posted by: david mizner | Oct 31, 2007 10:20:09 AM

I think Hillary had a good answer and expressed it as well as she could given the time restraints. Her point is that the federal government and the state governments have different priorities on the topic. The federal government is responsible for dealing with illegal immigrants, but since they're fumbling around, New York has to do something with the problems they have. Hillary's running for federal office, so she'll approach the problem from a totally different angle. The answer is "I don't support it" but "it makes a lot of sense" that New York state would be considering it, given the priorities of the New York state government. That's not hard to understand is it?

As for how it will play with the voters, who knows.

Posted by: daveadams | Oct 31, 2007 10:35:54 AM

"That's not hard to understand is it?"

Huh? If it makes a lot of sense, why doesn't she support it? She has a better idea? Why didn't she present it?

No, sry, but this isn't very convincing. She should shave made it clear that Spitzer's actions are not her business, but that she supports them, and then she should have offered her a short statement on what immigration laws she would aim for as president. This would have been possible, even in the short timeslot available.

That she evaded instead is only because she didn't want to say anything that would be hurt latinos or anti-immigration independents. Nobody believes she doesn't have a clearcut opinion on this topic, and her behaviour shows that one group or the other will be disappointed after the election.

Posted by: Gray | Oct 31, 2007 11:00:53 AM


The problem with hiding behind the state/federal distinction here is that's she's from New York. That's how Russert posed the question, and she simply dodged. Do you support your Democratic governor's move, which makes a lot of sense, or don't you? "I'm a Senator, not a governor" is no answer.

The idea that you don't support what "makes sense" for your state is indeed hard to understand, except as a waffling answer of a politician.

Or so I see it.

Posted by: Bill | Oct 31, 2007 11:06:19 AM

"The problem with hiding behind the state/federal distinction here is that's she's from New York."

Good point. She might get away with evading the answer if this was an issue of, say, Alaska. But nobody believes her not having a clearcut opinion in a matter that concerns her home state.

Posted by: Gray | Oct 31, 2007 11:18:47 AM

The fact that there is a huge debate over what she meant on a relatively simple yes/no question shows how bad the answer was. She could've made her point, and then answered yes or no as to whether she supported the decision. Here, she seemed to try to appeal to the immigrant community without opening herself up to being attacked by Giuliani/Romney for being soft on illegals. These type of answers please nobody.

Posted by: Dave | Oct 31, 2007 11:18:59 AM

The question to Obama you refer to at the end of your post actually wasn't really about medical malpractice, at least not explicitly--it was about the decreasing number of people who are pursuing medical careers. Reimbursement levels are actually more relevant to that issue than malpractice premiums, so he was more on top of it than you give him credit for. On the whole, though, the question showed that none of the candidates had a very good grasp on the health workforce issue, which was somewhat disappointing. Edwards really had the best answer of the group.

Posted by: Andrew | Oct 31, 2007 11:22:15 AM

In true Clintonian form, when confronted with a question she clearly hadn't prepared for, she waffled. She looked just like the old Doonsberry Clinton icon of old -- a flapjack with a grid superimposed.

Just think about what the knuckledragging GOPers will do with this. If they can keep a straight face and say a Democratic President will invite Osama into the White House for tea, now they get to say Hillary will issue Ahmadinejad a driver's license.

Awful, just awful. Wrong on the policy and the policy's delivery.

You say, "NO, I don't like it, but I understand why a State may think it's necessary since Washington dropped the ball." It state's her position clearly without the BS factor. Geez, you think after all these years she could triangulate on her feet better than that.

We're left with the idea that, IF Congress were to address this issue, the NY plan would be at the heart of any bill she'd introduce -- which I doubt very much is what she would actually do.

Posted by: Mark Adams | Oct 31, 2007 11:29:41 AM

"The federal government is responsible for dealing with illegal immigrants, but since they're fumbling around, New York has to do something with the problems they have. Hillary's running for federal office, so she'll approach the problem from a totally different angle."

Except that about 90% of the Democrats (and about half of repubs) WANT the fed to be lax against illegal immigration. If INS started aggressively shutting down shops in New York and deporting illegals, Hillary Clinton would be the first bitch in the street with rhetoric about how its "cruel" to hurt these poor latinos.

She cant sell me the lie that she actually cares about immigration control.

States and local governments have interfered with the federal government's ability to enforce immigration at every single fucking turn.

Posted by: joe blow | Oct 31, 2007 12:00:15 PM

She is correct that Gov. Spitzer is simply trying to make sure that all who are driving in the state of New York do so under the color of law. It's not as if this is some backdoor path to citizenship, but an honest attempt to improve the safety of New York streets.

Uh huh. That explains his flip-flop on MotorVoter, changing a policy that would have made it easier for IllegalAliens to vote. There's also a money trail to be followed, but don't expect anyone in the MSM to do it; the NYT is just as much a supporter of illegal activity as Spitzer.

As for Ezra Klein's judgment in these matters, see this:


Then, see this.

Either he has no clue, or he thinks you're gullible.

Posted by: TLB | Oct 31, 2007 12:03:53 PM

I agree with North's broader point re: the role of the fed vs. the state vs. the local in taking responsibility for immigrants in this country. The federal ambivalence and lack of organized leadership on immigration has left states and cities in a very murky, idiosyncratic role to create solutions to deal with immigrant populations. This includes such involuntary schizophrenic approaches as dealing with ICE raids and then providing identity cards to undocumented workers, and negotiating with local police forces to not question immigration status, etc.

I agree that HRC should probably have sounded more clear, esp. given the issue was in her home state, but honestly, this is not a policy area with a clear cut, black and white solution, and I think it's unreasonable for her to somehow have completely reconciled her personal and professional ambivalence about immigration, when clearly the rest of us haven't.

Posted by: Redstar | Oct 31, 2007 12:23:11 PM

I (almost alone in the world, it seems) take a broader view of this driver's license issue - and the related issues of personal identification assurance and financial responsibility for car accidents (the 'uninsured motorist' problem).

Dodd said last night that 'driving is a privilege'. Well, yes, sort of. Except when it is a necessity to work, or when it is a necessity to get a check cashed - or even a necessity to deposit a check in the bank.

A (relatively foolproof) form of personal identification is a necessity in a developed society. We have nothing except a driver's license to provide this. And people rebel at the thought of a national ID card, which is the obvious solution to ID. The social security card is another essential thing if you wish to work or conduct almost any financial transaction, or pay taxes. So the driver's license isn't really a privilege.

On the financial responsibility for accident's topic, for historical reasons car insurance evolved such that the insurance is primarily to pay the other person's damages in an accident, rather than your own. So insurance seeks to find who's at fault and have them pay - except that maybe they can't pay (no money, no insurance) so we added on 'uninsured motorists' features to protect against that scenario. In some states, the state requires proof of financial responsibility (a insurance policy form that is current) in addition to a driver's license (CA and OR being two of those states - there are probably many more). So what started out as a way of proving that you have the skills to drive, the driver's license, has become a much more complicated and interlocking set of requirements, much of which don't have anything to do with skills for driving.

So, a much cleaner system could be put in place, but we avoid the obvious and tinker with the complex.

A national ID card (a short form of the passport or green card or visa) is clearly the right approach for proving identity. It should contain info also on the 'ability to be legally hired for work' or not. This is a federal responsibility, not a state task.

A driver's license should be just that - an indication that you have required skills (and vision) for driving a vehicle, and nothing more. It MAYBE should contain info on proving financial responsibility for the results of of accidents, but the whole question of determining 'fault' in car accidents is haywire and needs to be rethought. The current system relies on a private insurance company to make the determination of fault in regard to their own insured persons and the state rarely is involved unless a civil suit is brought or the police become involved in determining that driving laws were broken. That sounds to me like a backward or unrealistic approach. Why don't we recognize that a great part of the auto accidents should be settled by 'no fault' procedures that your own insurance (not the other party's) should cover?

So, on the poor Hillary and poor Spitzer topic: They are confronted with substantially broken administrative and legal procedures (driver's licenses, proof of identity, proof of legal ability to work, proof of ability to conduct financial transactions and pay taxes (the SSN card), proof of legal residence in the US, and asked in 30 seconds what should be done - all of this colored by legal/illegal immigration issues that have almost nothing to do with driving.

Come on, this is crazy. The system is broken badly.

The 'driver's license' issue is a shorthand strawman for a bunch of comingled problems. There is no 30 second answer except to take the position that anyone in the US who isn't a citizen or doesn't have a green card or visa should be immediately ejected from the country so that our broken systems can continue to function (among other reasons). The ejection solution is not politically or economically feasible, and most people know that is true - particularly in regard to the possibly US citizen children or spouse.

Hillary didn't deftly handle this, but there is no deft answer if you think our immigration system is not workable as it currently is legally defined and de-facto practiced by employers, businessmen, and other agents.

Posted by: JimPortlandOR | Oct 31, 2007 1:12:36 PM

got to love joe blow's civil description of senator clinton as "the first bitch out in the street." real classy.

I'll be the first to admit i have no clue on how to handle the illegal immigration problem, but it doesn't help the right's ideas when they stoop to misogyny and playing the "foreigner groups are out to get us!" card.

To redstar and tlb, what role do you think cracking down on the employers of illegal immigrants should play in the solution? IMO, this side of the problem has to be dealt with too, since they're the ones demanding this type of labor.

Posted by: verplanck colvin | Oct 31, 2007 1:20:59 PM

The other confounding factor for Hillary was this: does she directly critisize the embattled Democratic Governor of her home state? Clearly, the answer here is no. She can understand his reasoning, but she thinks this is a job with which he never should’ve been tasked. In truth, she probably does not support the blanket issuance of licenses to illegals, but to say so directly would’ve politically compromised an already damaged Governor.

Regardless of the political etiquette here, on a more meta-level, can we not easily understand how, for a reasonable person, although the logic of a proposal might make sense, with the basic ideas “right, they might still object to the specifics contained within the proposal? Here, Spitzer’s ends were well intentioned–he wanted to find an attractive way to bring illegals out into the open, for all sorts of reasons; the means just required an analysis beyond, “Yeah, sure, I back it.”

Posted by: sean | Oct 31, 2007 1:28:18 PM

The comments to this entry are closed.