Look, I realize that because Michelle Bachmann is, in fact, completely round-the-bend cuckoobananas, it’s tempting to mock her when she defends her freakout over the census by alluding to the historical use of census data to help round up Americans of Japanese ancestry for internment in World War II. But I’m not sure why it’s intrinsically risible to bring it up to establish that, in fact, our government has in the past used census information to deprive people of their liberties. TPM’s Eric Kleefeld considers it absurd because “the Japanese internment was a long time ago and we haven’t had such abuses since then.”
Why you want to harp on all that old stuff, Michelle? No one would suggest anything like that in our enlightened modern era! Well, not for Japanese anyway. If you’re Arab or Muslim immigrant, on the other hand, you might be one of the 82,000 the government “registered” and monitored after 9/11, or one of the 5,000 who were subject to “preventative detention.” Nor was it quite such a long time ago that daffy-but-prominent conservative pundit Michelle Malkin wrote a profoundly confused book titled “In Defense of Internment: The Case for ‘Racial Profiling’ in World War II and the War on Terror.” No, of course, if there’s another major terror attack in 2011, it would never even occur to the government to, say, pay a visit to households where there are males under 40 who speak Arabic at home. That’s just crazy talk.
Sadly, the best reason not to fear abuses of personal census data is that it’s probably unnecessary: We know the NSA has been conducting a massive and elaborate data mining program that hunts for complex patterns across telephone and credit card records. Getting coy on your census form isn’t going to throw a wrench in the works at Ft. Meade. Still, I find it extraordinary that at the very sites where, not too long ago, one used to read routinely about these abuses as carried out by a Republican administration, it’s suddenly considered utterly batty to imagine such a thing could happen again—or at least, it’s considered batty for a Republican to imagine it. I wish I were as sure.