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Roger’s Rules

The DMV as an Allegory of American Decadence

June 22nd, 2013 - 7:03 am

Another thing. While I was frittering away that summer morning at the DMV, I wondered about all those important people in Washington whom our tax dollars support.  Do you suppose that Barack or Michelle Obama stands in line to get his license renewed? How about your congressman or senator?  How about other members of the nomenklatura that run the country, that is, that run your life (which is not quite the same thing as running the country)?  Do you suppose that a Supreme Court justice, say, or a cabinet member, or a senior aide to any member of the political elite, do you suppose any of them wait in line for hours and then find they are insufficiently credentialed to deserve a “verified” license?

The question answers itself and qualifies that “nearly” with which I began. More and more, alas, this country is dividing into two groups, us horde of lumpen worker-bees (many of whom, of course, do not actually work) and a political elite who live by very different rules. They do not wait in line at the DMV any more than they are subject to Obamacare or the usual rules that the SEC applies to insider trading. They make they laws. They are not subject to them, not, anyway, in the same way the rest of us are.

You might have been surprised by the word “decadence”  in the title of this column.  Most people, I think, can see how the DMV is an allegory for unpleasant, not to say insane, bureaucratization.  But decadence?  A society is decadent when the forms of its institutions survive but the substance or purpose of those institutions has been perverted, hollowed out. The United States still has many of the forms of representative democracy, of that republican form of government that Benjamin Franklin paid homage to in his famous “If-you-can-keep-it” comment. But how many of those institutions are but pale shadows of their former selves?

My little trip to the DMV may strike you as about as important as life was to Macbeth at the end of his tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow speech.  What, after all, does it signify? “So you spent more than two hours on line at the DMV. So what? You didn’t get the license you wanted because you didn’t have the forms required to get it. Big deal.”

In fact, I think it is a biggish deal. Just now the public is exercised, and rightly, by the cataract of revelations about the NSA and the FBI hoovering up information about ordinary citizens.  A couple of weeks ago, it was the IRS targeting groups whose political beliefs were at odds with the Democratic gospel of government unlimited.  It wasn’t so long ago that we saw in the movies minatory bureaucrats barking out the demand “Papers, please!” They were the bad guys. They lived in squalid totalitarian societies where the government ran everything. We in American were different. Land of the free, home of the brave.

Now those bureaucrats yelling  “Papers, please!” are our guys.  “Communism,” said Lenin, who knew about these things, “means keeping track of everything.” How he would have envied our databases and supercomputers, our face-recognition technology and DNA testing!  A society where surveillance is universal, where every move is tracked and docketed, is a society where everyone may be guilty and certainly is a suspect. Black boxes in your car that track where you’ve been and how fast you drove to get there, cameras in taxi cabs that snap your picture every time you take a ride, drones aloft that the FBI uses to keep an eye on us. Where does it end?

(Artwork created using multiple Shutterstock.com images.)

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Top Rated Comments   
My experiences with government functionaries have been consistently positive and, at 46, I know where my social security card is.

But to your real point, these things are inevitable when the people making the laws don't have to follow the law, when the people who write the regulations have never had to comply with the regulations. What we've lost, to our detriment, is the concept of the citizen legslator, of equality before the law.

And why do we have to show an ID to fly domestically? Travel is a right and my use of a plane is the business of me and the airline and nobody else.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (45)
All Comments   (45)
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Bravo Roger. No need to theorize about it - a bureaucracy in which the means are the end and the process the punishment, is invariably one from a failed or failing state, or at least a state where the executive is in a condition of permanent disarray - think India or Italy. How ineffably sad that this can happen in the US.
That said, I guess the idea is a response to the deadly threats the country faces.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I have needed to produce my social security card everytime I got a job. While the passport is SUPPOSED to be good, tiny little offices don't know what to do with it. BTW, you shouldn't keep your social security card in your wallet, in case it gets stolen. Keep it in a safe place, with other important papers, and only get it out when it is needed.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
My thought is that this definitely makes getting a ‘federally acceptable’ ID a challenge for MANY people, and just feeds into the progressive trope about how DIFFICULT it is for the poor and barely franchised to get ID’s to use to vote!” How clever! Make it harder and harder to get ID’s so it supports your claim about why people shouldn’t have to need ID’s to vote.

It reminds me of the trick of shooting the arrow, and then painting the bullseye around it.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Tell my why the state needs to license drivers? Test drivers as a safety initiation at the first application to drive; yes. Thereafter whenever some safety criteria are breached. But lice sure and regular renewal? A license is a permit to do what otherwise would be illegal. How is driving and traveling in and of itself illegal?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Since the DL is the universal identification in this country then I want to make sure that everyone who has one is entitled to all it implies. I have lived in the SW most of my life, and I YEARN for the day that illegals can't take a simple test and have the DMV take them for their word that they are who they say they are.

And my state has come up with a solution for the multi-hour wait: private competition. We have the old fashioned DMVs, but we also have full service private companies that can do anything on behalf of the DMV and then they charge a fee (typically ~$10). Most of them guarantee 15 minutes or less and their people are friendly and helpful.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I went thru the same thing last Friday but with regard to getting my concealed carry license. It seems the only people who suffer and get abused by the system are the law-abiding taxpayers.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
Roger, dont mean to rub it in, or be a lacky for the state, but in Texas, I actually renewed my license BY MAIL.....
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
In Alaska you have to personally appear to renew a license and take the eye test at every renewal once you're over 60 or 65, but you can do pretty much everything else online except get the initial registration or title. I've renewed registrations, gotten new tags, ordered ego plates, etc. all online.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It took me over two months to actually look at my driver's license closely and see that my full middle name was spelled wrong. By the DMV as it turns out, not by myself. I brought this up the next renewal period and was told that a full sheath of forms, thirty-five U.S. dollars and 90 days would be needed to sort that out. So I left it at that to look like a bint on my official identification to this day.....'>.......
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's Colonel Olds, not Odds.

I am aware that the Civil War ended in 1865.

"For what it's worth, I don't recall the eventual outcome of this situation; any number of things could have happened. But having to acquire sufficient storage for two new copies of each existing record and the existing records themselves is obviously massively counterproductive to the needs of the requesting organization."

How do you know what was sufficient?
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
I just renewed my license last week. Surprisingly, I actually had all the requisite documents. I still have the original, stamped with a seal birth certificate my parents obtained when I was born (those people never threw anything away.) I got married about 5 years ago, so I had my marriage license and social security card. If you were MRS. Kimball you would have been required to bring your marriage license as well to show your name change! I was actually surprised that I was in and out in about an hour on a Saturday morning. That's about as efficient as my county government ever gets.

I do have one sincere question: other states are busy passing laws to allow illegal aliens to obtain driver's licenses. What's going to happen to them when all the states are required to adhere to these regulations?

I know this procedure is a hassle. I'm uneasy about the government obtaining all of this information (my husband is kicking himself for using his Visa bill when he renewed his license as it is now scanned into "the system.") But a driver's license is our de facto government ID card. Most of us do not have passports. With terrorism, illegal immigration and identity theft all being serious problems in our country, this new requirement is an attempt to curtail all 3.
42 weeks ago
42 weeks ago Link To Comment
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