The House had another opportunity for progressives to do a little piñata-beating on a bill last night — but curiously, it passed with little note or controversy.  The extension of the Patriot Act sailed through the lower chamber with almost no one noticing, following a similarly quiet passage out of the Senate earlier in the week:

The House of Representatives reauthorized the Patriot Act for one year Thursday.

The vote was 315-97 .

Many liberals in the House opposed the controversial act, saying it tramps Constitutional protections and civil liberties.

During George Bush’s term in office, every renewal the Patriot Act became grand theater, with newspapers inveighing against the overreach of Bush and the danger to American liberty in the bill, which wasn’t an entirely vacuous argument.  Protesters would fill streets, and reporters would demand positions from various members of Congress.  So what happened this year?

First, Barack Obama took most of the wind out of the critics’ sails when he voted to extend the Patriot Act in the summer of 2008, reversing a pledge he had made just a few months earlier.  This shocked the New York Times, but it acknowledged that actual, principled opposition to the Patriot Act was among a small minority, as opposed to the majority of critics who used it as a political bat to beat Bush.  Even at that time, the filibuster that Obama promised to join had only a baker’s dozen committed to it, far short of the 41 votes needed to hold up a critical piece of wartime legislation.

That brings us to the main point.  Republicans have mostly supported this bill because they believe it a necessary tool for counterintelligence and counterterrorism.  Democrats mainly opposed it as a way to rally political opposition to Bush and the Republicans.  Now that they’re in charge and responsible for preventing attacks, that Patriot Act looks pretty darned good to most of them.

I (mostly) disagree with the 97 who voted against the renewal of the Patriot Act, but at least I respect their integrity.