If Democrats were serious about preventing terrorist attacks, there wouldn’t be a basis for an article like this.The fact that there’s a basis for this article should be a warning sign to voters.

A growing clamor among rank-and-file Democrats to halt President Bush’s most controversial tactics in the fight against terrorism has exposed deep divisions within the party, with many Democrats angry that they cannot defeat even a weakened president on issues that they believe should be front and center.

The Democrats’ failure to rein in wiretapping without warrants, close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay or restore basic legal rights such as habeas corpus for terrorism suspects has opened the party’s leaders to fierce criticism from some of their staunchest allies, on Capitol Hill, among liberal bloggers and at interest groups.

The Nutroots are going to be exceptionally upset with Democrats when the FISA law that President Bush signed comes up for renewal. Despite Ms. Pelosi’s charge to John Conyers and Silvestre Reyes to rewrite the FISA reform bill, it won’t be a big enough change to satisfy the Nutroots because they’re totally opposed to warrantless intercepts regardless of what intel is gleaned from them.

At the Democratic-leaning Center for American Progress yesterday, panelists discussing the balance between security and freedom lashed out at Democratic leaders for not standing up to the White House. “These are matters of principle,” said Mark Agrast, a senior fellow at the center. “You don’t temporize.”

Mr. Agrast is wrong. It isn’t a matter of principle. It’s a matter of survival. If we don’t have the capability to intercept known al-Qa’ida terrorists’ communications without a warrant, we will get hit. It isn’t a question of if; it’s a matter of when and how big of an attack it’ll be. You can’t sell it that you’re serious about protecting us from future terrorist attacks at the same time that you’re preventing the NSA from intercepting al-Qa’ida’s communications.

The question now becomes whether they are enough adults in the Democratic Party to tell the Nutroots to take a hike on this issue. Frankly, I don’t see it happening because they contribute too much money to their campaigns and too many workers for their GOTV operations.

Reid and Pelosi promised last week that they would at least confront the president next month over his wiretapping program, with Pelosi taking an uncompromising stand in a private conference call with House Democrats. When lawmakers return in September, Democrats will also push legislation to restore habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects and may resume an effort to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

But conservative Democrats and some party leaders continue to worry that taking on those issues would expose them to Republican charges that they are weak on terrorism. And advocates of a strong push on the terrorism issues are increasingly skeptical that they can prevail.

It’s safe to say that Democrats have to tread lightly on this issue. They can’t push too hard lest they lose alot of seats in the moderate to conservative districts. On the other hand, not pushing means that the Nutroots takes their money and energy and goes home. Simply put, they’re to the east of the rock and west of the hard place on this issue.

That’s what happens when a political party lets its fringe dictate the direction of the party.

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Cross-posted at California Conservative

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