In the wake of Massachusetts' stunning special-election results - filling Ted Kennedy's Senate seat, safely in Democratic hands since 1953, with Republican Scott Brown - all attention is fixed upon the Democrats' national health care proposal. Indeed, the Massachusetts election was almost certainly a referendum on that albatross legislation. And "Republican Senator #41," as Scott Brown should be titled, has shattered the Democrats' all-important, filibuster-proof, 60-vote majority and will likely derail the entire health-care bill.
President Obama and the Democrats thus find themselves in a no-win situation: they can attempt various procedural tricks to force the bill through Congress (shady, desperate tactics which would show an utter contempt for prevailing public opinion), they can scale back the bill to lure a Republican defection (infuriating a liberal base which would consider this tantamount to failure) or they can simply accept defeat (conceding an incapacity to govern on behalf of the people). Though the ball is still in their court, Democrats are on the defensive and damage-control is likely vying with legislative success as the highest priority on their agenda.
On the other hand, Republicans are in a position of flux. Voter rejection of the Democrats might promise an incidental boon to the only other viable alternative - but it does not yet translate into approval for the GOP. Americans are starving for leadership attentive to their will. They thought they had found it in Obama, and their retribution for having been fleeced was apparent in Massachusetts. They'll give Republicans a chance to show them a worthy alternative, but they aren't going to hold their breath.
So, Republicans can either be satisfied with the detritus of the Democrats' disintegration, or they can seize the unmanned reigns of leadership and try their hand at governing.
First, they must present a unified, principled and populist resistance to the current health-care bill. The American people want health-care reform, but reject the Democrats' solution. Republicans must reflect the peoples' opposition to the latter while assuring their commitment to the former. While embracing the Democrats' spur as "the party of 'no,'" as applied to their stance on the current bill, Republicans must emerge as a party of idea, cleaning up the mess of a failed Democratic end-run.
Should the health-care bill founder or Democrats begin to show signs of retreat, the GOP must immediately - in full view of the public - seek bipartisan support for a handful of broadly-popular, practical and achievable health-care measures. Options on the table include: tax credits for low income families purchasing insurance; resource pooling by states and businesses to lower premiums; dependents under 25 remaining on a parent's insurance; tort reform; facilitating the purchase of out-of-state insurance; expanded health savings accounts; mandatory coverage for pre-existing conditions; policy security in the event of serious illness; closing the Medicare Part D prescription drug "donut hole;" and an appeals process for grievances against abusive insurers.
Again, these measures should be limited to select, popular reforms. The GOP mustn't overreach - that was the Democrats' doom - but rather they should target specific reform measures appealing to a broad majority of Americans. A certain amount of debate and controversy will accompany even the most popular of proposals (the Devil's in the details, after all), but such bi-partisan negotiations and compromises are expected by the public and construed as the product of a healthy democracy. Proposals might even be submitted as individual bills, so that poison pills cannot be shoved into a bundle of proposals to complicate matters.
The GOP would potentially claim victory regardless of the ultimate outcome. If the measures pass, Republicans have (at least partially) usurped a centerpiece of the Democrats' policy platform, boasting a success (as a minority party) in providing at least a few common-sense reforms to the system (with the promise of more to come if vindicated at the polls in November). If they fail, the GOP have further evidence that an ideologically-paralyzed Democratic party is simply unwilling to compromise and have prioritized the government's control of medicine above the health-care needs of the country.
The essential element of this strategy is a Republican party offering sensible, practical ideas emanating from the public. Resistance posturing must swiftly evolve into proactive and energetic leadership. The GOP must listen to public sentiment - as they have in opposing the Democrats' plan - remaining flexible and responsive to shifting public concerns and opinions. Then they must demonstrate the practical competence to translate what they hear into achievable goals. A bit of competent leadership over the coming months would go a long way in November, and Republicans may not see a better opportunity to define themselves - to the country, and themselves.