Healthcare reform: As the debate rages, remember Boss Tweed

As we watch the healthcare debate rage on in Congress, it's helpful noting that wholesale change of a flawed-but-longstanding system has happened in the past, despite the odds against it. A good example from the history books: Boss Tweed.

"Everything will fall apart if we change it." "The government will ruin it." "The government could never do it as well as the private citizen can." "Give us a way to opt out."

The refrains from Capitol Hill's healthcare debate may remind us of a past adventure in "socialism": not the time when we switched from private militias to standing government-organized armies (although that happened, too), but the pre-Civil War era in New York City, when the job of firefighting was wrested from the private sector and placed in government hands. It's hard to imagine that anyone today thinks that old system of response was superior. But that's pretty much how our healthcare system works -- and it's a mess, letting a whole class of people fall through the cracks.