Critics of the Patriot Act are forced to acknowledge that it was passed by wide margins in the Congress, including by Democrats. Their explanation is that it was passed in the wake of 9–11, which undermined Congress’s judgement. The antiterrorism legislation passed during the Clinton Administration is also explained as having been passed as a response to Oklahoma City. In both cases, the claim appears to be that Congress enacts improper legislation when overreacting to a visible public event or problem.
What is interesting is that this is the same explanation often given for the passage of environmental legislation. CERCLA is passed after Love Canal, the Clean Water Act is enacted after the Cuyahoga River bursts into flames, etc.
Interestingly, although the same phenomonon is at work, liberals and conservatives tend to view these cases differently. Liberals think that the environmental emergency teaches the public about the problem, but believe the terrorist act undermines their judgment. And visa versa as to conservatives.
Of course, I think both classes of legislation are instances of “Do Something” prevailing over good judgment.