In the United Kingdom, the political party not in control of the parliament is called "Her Majesty's Most Loyal Opposition," a phrase implying that while this party may have a different vision for the U.K., they do in fact have the interest of their citizens at heart.
Such a label is not the norm in America, where only in times of war will the party not controlling the White House embrace the banner of the "loyal opposition." This is the case because, aside from times of national crisis, we Americans have always championed the rights of the minority and never questioned the motives of those dissenting.
Yet a serious distinction does exist between advocating a different course of action for ideology and sabotaging an agenda for political points. The difference is subtle and debatable, but there is no question that some of the Republicans in Congress have been treading a tenuous path between duty to their country and their duty to their party.
The most prevalent instance of this blurring of the lines has revolved around the Democrats' economic stimulus plan, which passed through the House last week without the support of a single Republican. The outcome of the vote isn't a problem. It's perfectly legitimate for Republicans to oppose the stimulus plan because they're fiscally conservative. The gray area was the atmosphere regarding the bill - from its original introduction to the floor debate - and the aggressive media campaign led by Minority Leader John Boehner to smear it.
Let me be clear by saying that this is not a perfect bill, partially because there wasn't a real debate on it. It was pushed through the House by the Democratic leadership - which was wrong - only because they didn't think the Republicans had anything constructive to add to the process. President Obama reached out to Congressional Republicans to rectify the situation and that only resulted in a few concessions, and not some compromises, which would have been the remedy for a better bill.
The Republicans will spend at least the next two years in the dog house as the minority party, and it's up to them when they'll return to the table. Therefore, a voice in policy will be contingent on Republicans recognizing the new power structure and accepting that the American people have given the Democrats a mandate to pursue their vision. At the same time, though, the Democrats need to acknowledge the importance of a loyal opposition and understand that the best policies emerge from a free flow of ideas after a real debate.
The stimulus plan still needs to pass the Senate, and that's where Republicans need to assert their authority as the loyal opposition. The Senate, with its procedural rules and protections for the minority, is a perfect place for the Republicans to demonstrate that they're about governing and not just politicking.
That doesn't mean producing watered-down legislation, but Democrats should reach out to the progressive Republicans who would be amenable to negotiations and design a stimulus plan that can get a rise out of our economy.