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Spitzer retreats License issue ends where it started: without any real identification plan

The United States, just about everyone agrees, has a big problem with large numbers of undocumented immigrants. Recently New York Gov. Eliot L. Spitzer came up with a way to use an existing system to document a great many of them. He just about got run out of town on a rail for his trouble and, Wednesday, had to abandon his plan. Go figure.

But that's just what the governor hadn't done: figure.

He didn't figure on the avalanche of criticism, not all of it partisan, that fell upon his plan to allow illegal aliens who were otherwise qualified to receive New York driver's licenses.

He didn't figure on how it would be seized by Republicans, who will grab any club in the bag to make the Democratic governor look bad. He didn't figure on the awkward spot that his fellow Democrats would be put in, whether running for supervisor or for president, either defending their high-profile partymate or abandoning him.

Most of all, he didn't figure on the reaction he'd get from members of the State Legislature, who might have thought they'd have some say in such a controversial decision, and from the state's many county clerks, whose already awkward position of simultaneously being locally elected officials and agents of the state Department of Motor Vehicles would be made completely unbearable by such a move.

And it's all too bad, because something the chorus of critics didn't figure was that Spitzer's plan would have done exactly what he claimed it would. It would have put the names and addresses of a large number of illegal aliens into government databases, many of them for the first time. It would have screened out some who aren't physically fit to drive and encouraged those who did get licenses to get insurance, report any accidents they were involved in and generally be less of a hazard to navigation than they were before.

And, in what might have stood as the Driver's License 2.0, it could have been part of a larger reform that would have offered different levels of licenses for those who do, and do not, qualify for the right to cross U.S. borders, board domestic flights and enter federal buildings.

As the governor rightly said Wednesday in retreat, the failure of his plan won't remove a single illegal alien from New York and won't do a thing to prevent more from coming. It won't make any illegal alien stop driving or create a paper trail that police could follow if a crime were committed.

Those, the governor now sees, are problems that must be addressed by the federal government, or not at all. And, as of right now, not at all is what the feds have chosen.

But a sensible plan doesn't make any sense if there aren't enough people with buy-in. And Spitzer, with the tin ear of a politician who thinks results matter and process doesn't, didn't do anything to give any of the important players an interest in moving forward with his, or any other, plan.

Too bad. Because we could sure use a plan right now.

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