Shortly after the end of World War II, a pair of allergists gave some medication to a patient suffering from hives. Surprisingly, the patient reported her lifelong battle with carsickness had disappeared. After follow-up testing, Dramamine quickly became standard issue for fighting motion sickness.
This is one of many unexpected discoveries highlighted in "Happy Accidents," a fascinating book by Morton Meyers, M.D.
But the world of medical care is not the only place where the outcomes often baffle the careful planners.
In the 1920s, Republicans controlled all branches of the government and passed significant laws dramatically reducing immigration. However, that policy success had an unanticipated side effect. Millions of immigrants at the time were routinely going back and forth between the U.S. and their homeland.
The new laws eliminated that option, and so they had to make a choice, and many opted for U.S. citizenship. In the 1930s, they became a key part of the New Deal coalition that gave political control to the Democrats for a generation. That certainly was not what the Republicans had in mind.
Today, the chattering class in D.C. is virtually unanimous in declaring that the Democrats have won the political battle over the so-called government shutdown. But it's hard to see the overheated rhetoric of the past few weeks having a major impact on the midterm elections. Substantive issues like the economy and the president's healthcare law are far more likely to determine the outcome.
That could be a problem for Harry Reid's team. The Democrats won the current news cycle by lashing themselves ever more tightly to the president's healthcare law.
Talk about a high-risk strategy!
Perhaps some Democrats still believe the law will work and someday become popular. They may agree with conservative Pat Buchanan who wrote, "If Obamacare is funded, the subsidies starting in January will constitute a morphine drip from which America's healthcare system will not recover. If not stopped now, Obamacare is forever."
The "morphine drip" view that the public will get hooked and vote against their own interests is wrong. In fact, implementation of the law may turn out to be the best thing politically for its opponents.
The problems with the law are much deeper than the widely publicized glitches of the government website. The sticker shock from the new insurance premiums and deductibles will create 2014 problems for the president's party.
The fact that millions will lose their existing coverage and their doctor despite promises to the contrary will be another problem. Employers already are dropping coverage and dropping workers to 29 hours a week because of the cost burdens imposed by the new law.
Even where the system appears to work, it will encounter problems. The simple fact is that most Americans would be better off with more take-home pay and less comprehensive insurance. The president's law pushes them in the opposite direction. You can be sure that employers will point to the president's law as a prime reason why pay raises have become so small or nonexistent.
So, the enduring story of the shutdown debacle may be that the Democrats in Congress failed to grasp their last chance to delay or ease the pain of the president's healthcare law. That failure could haunt the party for a long time to come.
Scott Rasmussen is founder and former president of Rasmussen Reports. He is the author of “Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement Is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System,” “In Search of Self-Governance,” and “The People’s Money: How Voters Will Balance the Budget and Eliminate the Federal Debt.” Read more reports from Scott Rasmussen — Click Here Now.