The great "what-if" looks like it is about to happen. With all of the media attention focused on Tuesday's midterm election, Republicans are faced with a greater task than winning a majority in the House of Representatives or getting at least close enough to a majority that they will be able to halt or slow the Obama agenda.
And come Wednesday, Republicans could either suffer the political equivalent of a morning-after hangover or find themselves in a position to do more than just say "no" to the administration's policies.
Reversing or cutting funding for some agenda items like mandated health insurance and extending the Bush-era tax cuts aside, Republicans are more likely to earn long-term voter approval if in addition to opposing Obama's policies they also have a positive agenda.
For decades, Democrats have owned the "victim" vote, portraying themselves on the side of the weak and the oppressed. Republicans should accept that as a challenge and begin to empower, not indulge, the poor and commit to the liberation of those who want to be set free of programs that too often enslave them.
Republicans should begin with school choice. Every poor person in every city should be able to withdraw his or her children from failing public schools and place them either in charter or private schools with taxpayer money. More than any welfare program, school choice will free a generation of youngsters from repeating the cycle of poverty. Republicans should re-authorize the D.C. Scholarship Fund, which Democrats allowed to die, despite its popularity and success.
Republicans should put every government agency and program up for examination and work to eliminate the ones that do not meet standards of necessity and cost-effectiveness. Those that meet the necessity standard, but are not cost-effective, should be outsourced to the private sector to see if it can do a better job at less cost.
America used to be a nation that celebrated inventors and the inventive. Today we penalize the productive and subsidize the nonproductive and get more of what we don't need and less of what we require.
The key for Republicans is to not allow Democrats and their big media allies to set the table. Too often the standard has been to highlight what Democrats propose and what Republicans oppose. That template needs to change. Republicans, if they are smart (and this will require some proof) must seize the agenda and demonstrate how and why their ideas are superior to the Democrats' entitlement and spread-the-wealth-around philosophy.
They can do this by going after the Democrats' base, starting with African Americans. Republicans should introduce themselves to African Americans, listen to them explain their hopes and aspirations and then help them achieve those hopes and dreams by employing Republican principles. Former Speaker Newt Gingrich says the election is about food stamps vs. paychecks. Republicans can show the poor how to get off the former and start earning the latter.
Playing against "type" will disarm Democrats and critics in the media. What are they going to say, "You can't help poor African Americans because we would rather they remain poor"?
Newly elected members of Congress should bring their own staffs to Washington instead of the usual practice of employing existing staff. If Washington is to be changed, the insiders who keep change from happening must go.
The Republican Party must also change. The coming GOP success is not a victory of party, but of philosophy. It is the tea party movement that is making it possible for Republicans to regain power. If party leaders in and out of Congress try to quell passions and put out the fire that is burning in so many bellies, they will deservedly lose everything in 2012.
If the Republican Party stokes those flames and adopts a positive and workable strategy, not just to dismantle the Obama agenda, but to establish a new one of smaller, more effective and less costly government, accompanied by a commitment to personal responsibility and accountability, this election wave will become a tsunami two Novembers from now.
Cal Thomas is co-author (with Bob Beckel) of the book, "Common Ground: How to Stop the Partisan War That is Destroying America".
TOWNHALL DAILY: Be the first to read Cal Thomas' column. Sign up today and receive Townhall.com daily lineup delivered each morning to your inbox.