In recent years the Republican party has experienced quite a lot of inner tension and shifting in terms of its overall ideology. This has created something of a schism between the more traditional branch of the Republican Party and the libertarian side. The most obvious indicator of an ideological shift has probably been the rise of the Tea Party. However, it does not seem like the GOP’s inner problems are going away anytime soon.
One of the more recent, and controversial issues which has created turmoil for the GOP is the question of domestic surveillance by the National Security Agency. The NSA has been a part of the overall American intelligence network for a long time, in one form or another. The NSA was first established in 1954, but it had predecessors such as the Signal Security Agency of World War II. However, times and technology have changed, and the potential power of the NSA goes far beyond breaking Nazi codes. With the advent of the internet and cellphones, methods of communicating have expanded greatly.
Coupled with the fear of terrorism, this has the potential to bring the NSA and similar organizations into conflict with normal, innocent Americans who simply value their privacy. At least, that is the fear, but the inner workings of the NSA are, of course, poorly known. For a long time, speculation about domestic surveillance has been the realm of movies and conspiracy theorists. However, with the revelations from former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, all that has changed.
For example, the most well known of these revelations is the large-scale collection of phone records. It is not the purpose of this article to debate the value or moral implications of such practices, but it suffices to say that this is not an issue that Americans can easily ignore. The question is, how does the issue of domestic intelligence create tension within the Republican party? For one thing, the GOP has been experiencing something of an ideological shift. In the recent past, civil liberties issues were more consigned to a small, albeit fairly vocal minority within the Republican Party. This was especially true when it related to matters involving security and defense. Now, the political climate seems to be shifting a bit. In recent years the Republican party has experienced quite a lot of inner tension.
After the relative success and popularity of Republicans such as Ron Paul, there is a growing libertarian wing within the Republican party. It is now more in vogue for Republicans to take a stand on civil liberties issues. However, this means that the party as a whole is experiencing a bit of an identity crisis, as there are still plenty of the more traditional, mainstream Republicans. Recently the Republican National Comittee has taken the side of the GOP’s libertarian wing on the issue of NSA surveillance of American citizens. Indeed, it has declared that domestic surveillance is unconstitutional and has called for major changes. This is, of course, diametrically opposed to the party’s stance immediately after 9/11 and through most of the Bush years. Needless to say, there is a large element within the Republican party and like minded individuals within the American bureaucracy who are opposed to the RNC’s recent stance. Indeed, in a recent letter to RNC chairman Reince Priebus, several of these former officials heavily criticized the RNC. They challenged the RNC’s claim that collecting telephone metadata was unconstitutional, saying that the Supreme Court had stated that such data was not protected by the Constitution.
They also implied that eliminating the phone metadata program could make the United States vulnerable to attack and even go so far as to state that a similar program could have prevented the 9-11 attacks, had such a program been in place. The signees of this letter included former members of Congress, as well as past officials for the Department of Justice, Homeland Security, and the like. For what it is worth, Republicans in the House of Representatives approved of the infamous “Patriot Act” by a margin of 211-3. In the Senate, there was only one dissenting vote from both parties altogether. It seems that the political winds are shifting in America, particularly in the Republican Party. Whether this inner tension ends up positively or negatively effecting the party remains to be seen. With the Republican party having experienced such inner tension and shifting in terms of its overall ideology in past years, what is to come remains to be seen.
By Zach Kirkman