When considering the damage done to the GOP and the conservative movement by the ill-fated defund Obamacare/government shutdown gambit, it is critical to consider what was missed while pursuing an unattainable goal. It’s not just important to inventory the full scope of the injury, but it’s important to determine which topics can be addressed again when this is all over.

Let me start with a “small” story first. It was discussed in limited circles on Friday, but Campbell Brown took to the op-ed pages of the New York Post to tell us about Howard Edelman, an arbitrator for the New York City schools:

In 2008, Edelman found that a teacher who rubbed the back and neck of a student in an empty classroom while speaking in threatening sexual innuendo — “I can make you do things you don’t want to do” — should get a mere two-month fine. The teacher had twice before been cited for improper touching.

Edelman’s terse rationale: “A teacher rubbed a student’s back. He did not have sex with the student or ask the student to have sex with him.”

In 2010, Edelman found that another serial abuser should be returned to the classroom after touching the bare shoulders and neck of a student while telling her she could strip for him.

She went on to document more Edelman cases as well as those of other arbitrators, concluding, “The union needs to stop claiming there’s a zero-tolerance policy for teacher sexual abuse. The arbitrators disagree.”

The point is not that all arbitrators or teachers are bad, but that the Democratic Party, similarly, has not managed the institutions of government well and has not acted in the interests of those it is supposed to be serving. This is true in schools — not only in teacher discipline but also in educational success — as well as, for example, Medicaid (a fraud-ridden program that gives substandard care to the poor). The left often acts to block alternatives for those served, as when it tries to block school choice or refuses to give governors discretion to reform health care for the poor.

This can be attributed to the power of special interests (e.g. unions) or simply to slothful neglect. But this is a place where Republicans — if they are not destroying themselves and convincing the voters they are a bunch of crazy people — can offer better alternatives. The GOP can be the party of school choice and excellence, of improved health care for the poor and for upward mobility for all Americans. But it cannot fulfill that role if the party’s “stars” keep busy with nonsensical endeavors and destroy what is left of the party’s brand.

And so we come back to Obamacare. It is an outrage that the government did not take care to launch a usable, workable and secure system after three years and billions of taxpayer dollars spent. This is what they have to offer as a great boon to the uninsured? Consider also the people whose spousal coverage has been dropped and whose work hours have been cut. Not only must the GOP focus on these issues, but it also can no longer avoid putting forth its alternative. The ideas may be small (delaying the mandate) or large (replacing the mandate with a system of tax credits), but the alternative to Obamacare — like the alternative to unsafe, rotten schools — has to be something significant.

That is the true damage wrought by Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), Heritage Action and the rest. The silver lining of this episode may be that more Republicans see their efforts as destructive and turn instead to offering alternatives to Democratic mismanagement and abuse of the poor and powerless. If that happens, it will have been worth whatever temporary havoc the zealots created.