WASHINGTON - After 9/11, there were no shades of gray. There are plenty now.
The vigorous debate over the collection of millions of Americans' phone records, underlined by a narrow House vote upholding the practice, buried any notion that it's out of line, even unpatriotic, to challenge the national security efforts of the government.
Democrats and Republicans, conservatives and liberals, joined in common cause against the Obama administration's aggressive surveillance, falling just short Wednesday night against a similarly jumbled and determined coalition of leaders and lawmakers who supported it.
It's not every day you see Republican Speaker John Boehner and Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi facing off together against their own parties' colleagues - with an assist from Rep. Michele Bachmann, no less - to help give President Obama what he wanted. But that's what it took to overcome efforts to restrict the National Security Agency's surveillance program.
After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush warned the world "either you are with us or you are with the terrorists," period, and those few politicians who objected to anything the U.S. wanted to do for its national security looked like oddballs.
That remarkable political consensus cracked in the bog of the Iraq war, and argument returned, but the government has had little trouble holding on to its extraordinary counterterrorism tools.
The passage of time, for one thing, and the absence of another attack on the scale of 9/11. Americans have also discovered, through Edward Snowden's leaks, that surveillance doesn't start at the water's edge or stop with terrorist plotters in the homeland, but sweeps in the phone records of ordinary people indiscriminately.