TAUBE: A breach on Obama’s left flank

Liberal anger over the NSA scandal leaves an opening for the GOP

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It’s not a big secret that most American conservatives don’t support President Obama. Yet it’s interesting to learn some liberals are now beginning to turn on him, too.

As Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn wrote Friday, “A club of Capitol Hill liberals made life hell for George W. Bush in his second term. Now the gang is back — and they don’t care that this time the president is their guy.”

This liberal Democratic collective, including Reps. Henry A. Waxman and Edward J. Markey and Sens. Mark Udall and Ron Wyden are “demanding answers from the White House on civil liberties, privacy and regulations.” The whole line of questioning is based on the National Security Agency’s (NSA) mind-boggling breach of privacy and security involving the reported wiretapping of millions of Americans.

To be sure, wiretapping isn’t an issue that registers on the political and ideological divide. Privacy is something all Americans want to protect, regardless of who is sitting in the White House. That’s why liberals, conservatives and others are furious — and should be furious — at the slightest notion that telephone records may have been examined and monitored by the NSA.

Meanwhile, Messrs. Waxman, Markey, Udall and Wyden are obviously trying to save their own necks. This is the sort of issue that could cause a political firestorm and crush the Democrats in next year’s midterm elections and beyond, and they know it. Therefore, it’s best to cut the cord with Mr. Obama, protect their political futures and eventually re-establish friendly relations with the president.

While internal party strife isn’t anything new and likely won’t have any lasting effect on Mr. Obama’s tenure in the White House, the NSA brouhaha provides an early indication of what could be occurring within American liberalism.

If liberal Democrats are either unwilling to defend a fellow liberal Democratic president or keep a somewhat neutral position, this could mean there’s a growing gap in the party’s ideological soul. More to the point, a short-term or long-term break with liberal Democrats would be a real concern for centrist Democrats. There are still a few of them around, and they could have real trouble keeping their established progressive coalitions together in various states.

For the next round of Democratic presidential campaigning — which is still three years away — the situation could be even worse. If the president’s two terms in office can’t be used to their political advantage, they would have to start from scratch. As any experienced political strategist worth his salt will tell you, going back to square one after being in power for so long isn’t the most desirable option.

No matter how you slice it, this scenario is exactly what the doctor ordered for the Republicans. The GOP needs to start shifting political thinking away from Obama-style liberalism and back to modern conservatism. If liberals keep turning away from Mr. Obama, conservatives need to start devising a winning coalition to help take back the White House and control of the two houses.

Is it doable? Yes. Will it be an easy task? No.

As the Canadian philosopher Marshall McLuhan famously wrote in “Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man,” “The medium is the message.” In this particular case, the medium — which would be the silent transformation in the average American’s thoughts about politics and economics — is a message that Republicans need to either reform, reclaim or revise.

Alas, a sizable number of Americans have lost faith in the Republican Party in recent election cycles. Part of it is certainly the result of the misrepresentation of conservative ideas and values in the media. The other part of it, though, has to do with the GOP itself.

The twin messages of fiscal conservatism and moderate social conservatism haven’t been sold properly to the general public by Republican politicians, strategists and supporters. Instead, the GOP has been caught up in petty ideological disputes and has touted hot-button issues (immigration and abortion) more often than safer policies (lower taxes, smaller government and private enterprise).

It’s time for the GOP to get back on track and establish a strong and well-defined politically and economically conservative agenda. Otherwise, Democrats will have enough time to patch up the broken trust in the progressive coalition between Mr. Obama and his fellow liberals.

Michael Taube is a former speechwriter for Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and a contributor to The Washington Times.

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