If he were governor of Maryland, the man said–instead of the Republican who is, Bob Ehrlich–he’d give Pepco, the local utility, 24 hours to get power restored, or take over and do it himself. The woman agreed, but said President Bush was also to blame, for caring more about spending billions to rebuild Iraq than needs here at home. Bush is more interested in invading countries, she said, and killing people. The Republicans were “incompetent” and “idiots,” they loudly agreed.

Thus provoked, a man sitting directly across from the woman joined the debate with an opposing view. “You can find idiots anywhere,” he muttered. “Even riding a bus.”

This, the woman responded, was precisely the kind of thing she expected to hear from “the right wing.”The second man told her to just shut up. She declined, citing her “First Amendment rights” and inclination to exercise them.Her interlocutor was not convinced, insisting that she did not have the right to offend a bus filled with people, and that there were better ways to express her opinion.

At this point, the argument took an uglier turn. The man, identifying himself as Irish American, told the woman, who herself spoke with an Irish accent, that he was “ashamed” to share ancestry with her.

He intimated that perhaps she was responsible for some of the violence there. She’d never set off a bomb there, the woman replied, “but now I wish I had.” The other passengers began looking around for exit doors, as the man continued to needle her with ethnic slurs.

Finally, the man told the woman to express her opinion where it counts, at the ballot box. But he, too, was frustrated by a lack of power. As the bus pulled up to the Metro train station, he issued a parting shot: Until a few months ago, he carried a badge, he told her. If he had one today, “you’d be under arrest.”