But now it's suddenly OK
for the White House to gather the e-mails of those who oppose his radical health care proposals.
And to have neighbors snitch on each other's political views.
It sounds like something out of the 20th-century Soviet Union, but it's happening today in America.
The White House actually asked supporters to send in e-mails of any "fishy" arguments against the Obama health care plan - essentially asking Americans to spy on each other.
"We're not keeping a list," insisted Linda Douglass, director of the White House Office of Health Reform. "What is being said - not who's saying it - is what is being looked at. It's simply information that is out there."
There, now. Feel better?
You shouldn't. This country was constructed on an intense distrust of government, and this episode is a prime example of why. The notion of an administration compiling personal information on political opponents is nothing to be shrugged off - or trusted to dismissive denials.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, accused the White House of compiling an "enemies list."
"Nobody's compiling a list," replied Douglass. "I bet you that Sen. Cornyn knows that."
We'll just take that bet, Linda. We're game, for two reasons. One: How could Cornyn or anyone else possibly know what use the White House will make of Americans' personal information? Two: Why should Cornyn or anyone else trust the government not to use it?
Moreover, even the American Civil Liberties Union is opposing an Obama administration move to start collecting data on Americans who log onto federal Web sites.
The government has long banned the use of "cookies" and other data-collection techniques to amass information on computer users who surf federal sites. But the Obama administration is lifting that ban, and will be collecting the personal information.
Obama promised transparency - and perhaps for the first time, he's being transparent.
Distrust of the government is as American as apple pie and twice as crusty. Our founders so distrusted the very government they were creating that they wove checks and balances into the whole thing - including three separate but equal branches of government.
Even that was not enough. They immediately set about amending their own Constitution with a Bill of Rights to further protect American citizens from the government.
What do you suppose our founders would say - after they awakened from their faint - to the notion that citizens should spy on their neighbors for the government?