Change has Always Been Bloody, Yo

History suggests that major social policy unfolds on a continuum. The Social Security Act of 1935 disappointed liberal New Dealers because what was called “old-age insurance” covered only about half the adult population. It excluded farmhands, domestics, employees of small businesses, and most blacks. That was because FDR needed the votes of Southern Democrats, the Blue Dogs of their day. (The bill cleared the House Ways and Means Committee with only one Republican vote.) Similarly, the Civil Rights Act of 1957, immortalized in Robert Caro’s Master of the Senate, was weak tea. It had to be strengthened by the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the later bills, Lyndon Johnson betrayed Southerners he had made deals with in 1957. If Nancy Pelosi can’t break Rahm Emanuel’s promise to Big Pharma’s Billy Tauzin this year, she can try to break it in the future. And Tauzin will lobby for more favors as the all-important new regulations are issued. Nothing in Washington is ever set in stone.

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