We understand why some Republicans are frantic about their party chairman, Michael Steele. The Republican National Committee can finance only so many trips to strip-and-bondage clubs under his watch without, uh, losing the family values vote.

But whether the party should dump Steele isn’t its biggest issue. After all, there’s just so much interest voters have in either party’s chairman. (Quick: Can you name the Democratic National Committee chair?)

The bigger issue is whether Republicans can shirk their “party of no” image. As Congress returns to work this week, lawmakers will move from health care to regulating the financial industry, overhauling immigration laws, crafting a climate change policy and rewriting the No Child Left Behind Act. On these issues and others, it’s boiling down to whether Republicans will follow the lead of John McCain or Lindsey Graham.

That’s an odd-sounding choice, considering the two senators campaigned together in the fall of 2008 as McCain sought the White House. But today, they represent alternative paths.

McCain has drawn a William Travis-like line in the sand, declaring Republicans shouldn’t work with Democrats on much other than national security. He points to the insular path Democrats took on the health care bill as his evidence that Republicans should just steer clear.

Indeed, some Democrats shunned Republicans and made cooperation impossible. But Graham nonetheless has co-authored an immigration plan with Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer and is working on a climate change alternative with Democrat John Kerry and Joe Lieberman.

Graham, too, has complained that the process Democrats embraced to pass health care would jeopardize their chances of getting many Republicans to cooperate on future legislation. Still, he has been willing to at least try to negotiate on the next lineup of issues. You could say he is the new John McCain.

Graham is taking internal heat over his stance, but we’re glad to see him risk his political capital to pursue these larger goals, much as the old McCain did on reforming campaign finance and immigration laws.

First, the collegiality is good for the country. We need more consensus so the parties don’t spend the next few years trying to repeal laws the other side passed. We had one civil war; we don’t need another.

Second, Republicans should want to work with Democrats so Democrats don’t take the wrong turn. Consider immigration: Democrats could pass a bill that could prove too friendly to labor, including limiting the number of guest workers allowed into the country. Why Republicans would let that happen is beyond us.

Third, Republicans eventually will return to power. Stiff the Democrats now, and Democrats will stiff them later. Do Republicans want that? More important, does that serve the rest of us?

We’d love to see John McCain return to his senses. Until that happens, the Lindsey Graham path makes far more sense, both for the Republican Party’s future and for the sake of the nation.

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