Why do I bring all of this up? It's not just to point out how demented, partisan and dishonest so much of this nonsense was. But I will note that President Obama and the Democratic Congress extended the major provisions of the Patriot Act for yet another year last month, and while the ACLU worked the fax machines, it'd be a stretch to say that any of the usual suspects made much of a fuss about that.
No, the real point of this trip down memory lane is to put the conservative reaction to the health-care bill in some context. Patriot Act hysteria consumed American politics for years, even though the bill was reasonable and the number of those affected by it comparatively miniscule. No libraries were searched. Terrorists were caught. Inconveniences and mistakes surely transpired, but not on some grand scale. American privacy endured.
Now consider what the left-wing magazine Salon calls the conservative "freakout" over the health-care legislation passed by Congress and signed into law by Obama. Unlike the Patriot Act, which passed with overwhelming, almost unanimous, bipartisan support, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010 was passed narrowly, against the public's wishes and in the face of bipartisan opposition. It will cost trillions of dollars we do not have. It gives the government greater say in the most intimate areas of your life, far more private than your library record. It is based on dubious constitutional assumptions.
Lots of liberals opposed the Patriot Act on slippery-slope grounds, but it's worth noting that very few conservatives said the Patriot Act was just a "first step" or a "down payment" toward an even more aggressive police state, while many hoped it would be a temporary measure. Lots of liberals insist health-care reform merely begins the process of pushing for full governmentalization of health care.
And yet the woman on that train, and those like her, were treated by the mainstream press as not merely sane and serious, but as the conscience of the nation. Those of us justifiably freaking out about this far more massive and far more outrageous expansion of the government into our lives are treated like crackpots.
Better to be a called a crackpot than be one, I say.