Ruining Sane Conservatism.

Via Andrew Sullivan, Bruce Bartlett wants President Obama to "rescue sane conservatism" by highlighting serious Republicans and dissident conservatives:

In your State of the Union address, single out and mention by name a few Republicans who have taken actions or proposed ideas worthy of consideration. Quote some conservative intellectuals who have been critical of the Republican Party’s lack of a governing philosophy or meaningful legislative agenda. This will raise the status of a better class of Republicans and create a group with whom you can possibly develop a partnership.

What I am suggesting is really just a broader version of a tactic you have already occasionally used. In November, for instance, you invited Brent Scowcroft, Henry Kissinger, and James Baker to a high-profile White House meeting to highlight their support for the new START treaty your administration negotiated. That meeting led to several weeks of press coverage in which Senate Republicans who were resisting a vote on ratification were portrayed as sacrificing national security for partisan advantage. That’s the kind of pressure you’ll need if you have any hope of moving your agenda through Congress in the coming two years.

With all respect to Bartlett, this is the worst possible thing Obama could do for reasonable conservatives. To much of the GOP -- or at least the conservative base -- Obama is a dangerous left-wing radical. Far from raising the stature of moderate and dissident conservatives, an Obama endorsement would render them anathema to most of the Republican Party. If Bob Bennett can be excommunicated for mild cooperation with a liberal senator, then outright support from a Democratic president is more than enough to destroy the credibility and career prospects of any conservative reformer. Put another way, there's almost no way that liberals would have listened to Markos Moulitsas or followed Howard Dean if George W. Bush had praised them in a high-profile speech.

Far from Obama's endorsement, Bartlett should want Obama's condemnation for sane Republicans. Conservative reform is an inside job, and reformers need support from within the party. Reformers can't embrace liberals or condemn activists (in public, at least). If and when change comes to the GOP, it will praise Sarah Palin and the Tea Party while working to undermine their grip on the party.

-- Jamelle Bouie

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