To try to boil what Neil Sinhababu says here into something snappy, when a left-of-center legislative idea dies in congress that idea comes to define the impossible — “we tried that already and it didn’t work, next time we need to try something less left-wing.” But when a left-of-center legislative idea is enacted into law, that idea comes to define the center — it’s the commonsense status quo that even the government-skeptical American people can embrace.
That’s why an idea that started as a moderate Republican alternative to Clintoncare in 1994 became Obamacare in 2009. But it’s also why neither Scott Brown nor any other Massachusetts Republicans are looking to repeal Commonwealth Care. It’s how we got from the very limited initial version of Social Security to the program we know today. It’s how we got from the toothless Civil Rights Act of 1957 to the real Civil Rights Act of 1964 and on to the Voting Rights Act.