The 55 Mile Per Hour Question
In late summer of the year 1912, after much heated debate, Congress finally passed the comprehensive 'Aquatic Safety Law.' The legislation was developed in response to the horrific sinking of the British steamship Titanic after it collided with an iceberg in the North Atlantic. The bill outlawed all icebergs in the shipping lanes between North America and Europe. Thereafter, thanks to the efforts of heroic lawmakers, safety on the high seas was assured for all subsequent trans—Atlantic voyagers.
My historical jest is an illustration I often used with my children to describe how liberals, and surprisingly, not a few conservatives, think the world works.
Pages and pages and pages of laws are produced by legislators each year to provide the illusion of decisive action. To serve the public, to fix problems, to, above all, do something, is the call of all elected representatives. Lex promulgatio ergo sum. ( I make law, therefore, I am.)
The public buys into this, again and again. Back in 1948 President Truman ran an entire election cycle (successfully) on the evils of a ' do—nothing Congress.' The observant media, in fact, often measures Congresses by the amount of legislation they produce with each session. Good Congresses, the reasoning goes, make more laws than bad Congresses. Yet after 219 years of law making, problems still exist.
Law then, of course, is most often not the measure. Enforcement of the law is.
Which brings us to the border. And to the current travesty in Congress. Senate Immigration Bill, House Immigration Bill, it is all truly much ado about nothing. We have all the necessary 'comprehensive' laws on the books now. They are not enforced. That is the problem.
Creating and debating new laws is but a chimerical fancy, a device to create the illusion of substantive change. But of course nothing will change regardless of which Congressional Bill eventually becomes law. Because no one will enforce it. There is no will.
This pathetic state of affairs should not surprise us. Consider.
Within just the last ten years, a sitting President, a man charged with the incomparable authority to appoint judges, is allowed to admittedly lie to a federal grand jury, and remain in office. The law was not enforced. Why? Because our institutions, collectively, agreed to let him slide. It was a personal matter, about sex, not risible to the level of, what? Impeachment? And they never even found a good or even plausible reason for their inaction.
Remember, the inimitable Senator Arlen Specter comically invoked Scottish law to cover his shameful tracks. But of course there was no legal justification for the pass. They simply didn't want to do what the law required.
Sadly but incontestably, we no longer live by rule of law but of whim, of consensus, of polls, of men.
And so the situation is this. Our border is a porous joke. Our immigration bureaucrats so overwhelmed with existing paperwork that they issue legal papers to dead 9/11 terrorists months after the fact. Entire industries are reportedly incapable of continuance without cheap undocumented laborers. And Congress dithers; fine—tuning laws everyone knows will be ignored.
President Bush, happily accepting the mantle of the modern imperial presidency, disregards his title as Chief Executive, a title requiring him, under oath, to execute the settled law of the land, to enable millions to break federal statutes with impunity. You see, he is doing right, as he sees it. The good hard—working folk of Mexico, looking for a better life, need a champion. And the Chief Magistrate will take his quasi—spiritual title of leader of the free world a little too seriously and decide which United States laws to enforce and which to ignore. And who can stop him?
So we are captive to the caprices of our elected and non—elected executive officers.
But it is not all bad news. The current focus on illegal immigration serves to dramatize a reality few previously perceived. Think of the more mundane examples of our experience with law. Ask yourself while you zip down the interstate. What is the real speed limit? The answer, of course, is whatever the state trooper decides at that moment. Isn't it?
Andrew Sumereau is a frequent contributor.