Obamacare’s gift to GOP

WASHINGTON — In spite of everything — the GOP’s internal scrimmages, the government shutdown, the party’s transparent attempts to derail Obamacare — Republicans keep getting second chances.

The question is, can they handle prosperity? Do they even know what to do with it?

With the myriad problems besieging Obamacare, this is no time for gloating. Rather, it is time for Republicans to get very, very busy with their own ideas for across-the-board reforms.

The party of “no” must become the party of “we can, too!” This doesn’t mean sacrificing core principles, though some could use a little shelf time. It does mean picking battles Republicans can win and avoiding skirmishes that further alienate centrists and minorities.

Forget building a larger tent, which increasingly looks like a pup for two white guys and a flashlight. Ditch the tent and build a coliseum. Install Doric columns, if you like, and grab an obelisk on your way to redemption. At no extra cost, here’s an inscription for the keystone: Waste not, want less. Waste not this moment; want less than perfection and aim for the possible.

This was always House Speaker John Boehner’s battle plan, but he finally concluded that leading his conference where it wanted to go was preferable to inciting a civil war. Boehner told me he thinks at least some of the better-death-than-compromise caucus had come around to understanding that attaching Obamacare to the continuing resolution, resulting in the government shutdown, was the wrong tactic. Even so, “at least some” may not be enough. And who knows what Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, has up his sleeve as new deadlines loom for budget and debt-ceiling negotiations early next year?

In the meantime, House and Senate Republicans have a small window, while Obamacare is hugging the shoals, to show why their ideas are best. Americans frustrated with Congress and disappointed by the president are primed for someone to pick up the bullhorn and say, “We hear you.”

It’s too bad “compassionate conservatism” has become tarnished because compassion is what is needed in today’s GOP playbook: Compassion for the hungry whose food stamps House Republicans excised from the farm bill; compassion for 11 million immigrants who are prisoners in illegal limbo; compassion for gays, lesbians and others seeking protection against workplace discrimination.

These are not such difficult choices in the scheme of things. How to guarantee that Iran can’t weaponize its nuclear capability? That’s tough. Not so tough: Helping the poor feed their families, finding a path for citizenship along with other immigration reforms, extending equal protections to individuals whose sexual orientation should not be a firing offense.

The Senate also has passed a comprehensive immigration bill with the help of 14 Republicans that contains a relatively strenuous path to citizenship that includes paying back taxes and fines, and getting in line behind others seeking citizenship. Hardly a giveaway. Even so, some Republicans aren’t on board with the path to citizenship. Although Boehner told me he hopes to get an immigration bill to the House floor next year, others say 2014’s midterm elections make this unlikely. Phooey.

What’s really not likely to happen is a Republican White House — ever — without Latino voters. There’s only so much Republicans can accomplish when they control only half of one-third of government. Consider that the biggest states with the largest concentrations of Hispanics — Florida, California, Texas and New York — also convey 151 of the 270 electoral votes needed to be elected president.

Appealing to Latinos doesn’t mean Republicans have to bow to President Obama’s wishes. It means doing the right thing. Even though a slim majority of Americans (53 percent) think immigrants here illegally should be deported, according to a February Reuters/Ipsos online survey, a more recent NBC/Wall Street Journal poll found 65 percent favor a path to citizenship if it requires essentially what the Senate bill proposes.

The draconian option of deportation would be an unlovely sight. Not only would families be torn asunder, but America’s crops would wither on the vine, as they did in Alabama after that state’s crackdown prompted a sudden, mass exodus. Yet again, unyielding principle prevailed over common sense and survival.

Time is of the essence if Republicans hope to refresh their image in the public square. Picking battles wisely, acting compassionately, creating rather than negating is the only way forward. Jar the hardwoods, campers, there’s daylight in the swamp.

Kathleen Parker is a Washington Post columnist. Her email address is kathleenparker@washpost.com.

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