Steve Chapman

Here's Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz, one of the star attractions at last week's Values Voter Summit in Washington, sounding the alarm: "The challenges facing this country are unlike any we have ever seen. ... This is an administration that seems bound and determined to violate every single one of our Bill of Rights."

He declared, "We're nearing the edge of a cliff. ... We have a couple of years to turn this country around, or we go off the cliff to oblivion." And he invoked Reagan's 1961 warning, fearing that "one day we will find ourselves answering questions from our children and our children's children, 'What was it like when America was free?'"

Cruz is blissfully oblivious to the fact that when Reagan issued that jeremiad, he was talking about what would happen if Medicare became law. Medicare did become law -- and yet here is Cruz, 52 years later, telling us that (SET ITAL) we are still free. (END ITAL) So Reagan was wrong then. But he's right now. Or something.

It's not hard to make a case that Medicare reduced freedom in one realm of our lives. But it didn't destroy individual liberty in the aggregate, or even prevent the expansion of liberty in other areas.

It was not a cataclysmic event that turned us into slaves. Neither is anything that Obama has done or is about to do, including his health insurance overhaul -- which, by the way, involves fewer government restrictions and less expense than Medicare.

But somewhere along the way, many conservatives became addicted to the fear of apocalypse. So even when their dire predictions fail to come true, they keep forecasting the worst possible outcome if they don't get their way. They seem to need the perpetual excitement of impending doom.

Cruz and his audience are in the grip of a mania that tells them we are hurtling toward catastrophe. There is no evidence that we're about to go over a cliff, even if some people have gone around the bend.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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