LESSONS LEARNED. He makes some good points, but I think E.J. Dionne's column on the lessons of failing to achieve universal preschool in California misses some important structural issues. As he writes, one lesson here is that even in California it's hard to enact a gigantic ambitious new government program. But one should also remember something important here: Had California enacted the gigantic ambitious government program in question, it likely would never have been repealed. Universal programs are very expensive and, therefore, very hard to establish. But whereas, say, a modest, means-tested preschool tax credit aimed at the poorest Californians would have been easy to pass and equally easy to roll back next time an economic downturn or a spate of Republican tax cuts created a budget crunch, a universal preschool program would have been almost impossible to get rid of or even seriously scale back.
That, fundamentally, is the reason why it's worthwhile to think big even though the odds of big-think are always going to be long. Universal programs -- think Social Security, Medicare, or Europe's various health care schemes -- are extremely sticky and for all intents and purposes alter the basic terms of political debate in a way that more modest endeavors don't.