REMEMBER WHEN TERRORISM WAS THE EXISTENTIAL THREAT?…. For quite a while after 9/11, there wasn’t much of a debate about the national threat. The greatest danger facing Americans came from terrorists, the conventional wisdom said. The word “but” need not follow.

It’s been interesting in the years since to see conservatives abandon this line. Disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), for example, has a new book out, which argues that terrorists are bad, but Americans he disagrees with are worse.

In the 20th Century, America fought and defeated Nazism, Fascism, Imperialism and Communism — four existential threats to our survival.

In this century, America is facing two different kinds of threats, though no less grave. This time, the threat does not come from nation-state superpowers, but from non-state networks, each pursuing an agenda based upon radical ideologies. The first motivates non-state terrorist networks to kill Americans both here and abroad. But even more disturbing than the threats from foreign terrorists is a second threat that is right here at home. It is an ideology so fundamentally at odds with historic American values that it threatens to undo the cultural ethics that have made our country great. I call it “secular-socialism.”

The Left has thoroughly infiltrated nearly every cultural commanding height of our civilization.

Got that? Foreign radicals who are at war with the United States are a problem, but the “threats” posed by liberals are “even more disturbing.” Such is the world through Newt Gingrich’s eyes.

Of course, it’s not just Newt. Last November, Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.) said Americans have “more to fear” from health care reform than terrorists. Similarly, in October, Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.) said health care reform legislation is more important than the 9/11 attacks.

A few years ago, radical TV preacher Pat Robertson dismissed the 9/11 perpetrators as just “a few bearded-terrorists.” The real threat, he said were liberal federal judges.

It wasn’t too long ago that the right considered al Qaeda and other terrorists the single most serious threat imaginable. It was, they said, the existential threat of the 21st century. Those who downplayed the dangers posed by terrorists were naive fools, not to be trusted on matters of national security.

I guess conservatives’ priorities have changed?

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.