A GOOD DAY FOR A DICKENS REFERENCE…. Paul Krugman today urges progressives to “congratulate themselves” on the success of the health care reform effort, in what he described as “a big win for them — and for America.”

And to that end, Krugman borrows from Dickens.

Indulge me while I tell you a story — a near-future version of Charles Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol.” It begins with sad news: young Timothy Cratchit, a k a Tiny Tim, is sick. And his treatment will cost far more than his parents can pay out of pocket.

Fortunately, our story is set in 2014, and the Cratchits have health insurance. Not from their employer: Ebenezer Scrooge doesn’t do employee benefits. And just a few years earlier they wouldn’t have been able to buy insurance on their own because Tiny Tim has a pre-existing condition, and, anyway, the premiums would have been out of their reach.

But reform legislation enacted in 2010 banned insurance discrimination on the basis of medical history and also created a system of subsidies to help families pay for coverage. Even so, insurance doesn’t come cheap — but the Cratchits do have it, and they’re grateful. God bless us, everyone.

O.K., that was fiction, but there will be millions of real stories like that in the years to come.

Krugman also identifies the groups of the legislation’s opponents, most notably the “crazy right, the tea party and death panel people.” The problem with this contingent, of course, is not just the total absence of coherent policy objections, but also that their wild-eyed madness now overlaps with the concerns voiced by the Republican mainstream.

“In the past, there was a general understanding, a sort of implicit clause in the rules of American politics, that major parties would at least pretend to distance themselves from irrational extremists,” Krugman said. “But those rules are no longer operative. No, Virginia, at this point there is no sanity clause.”

Man, I wish I’d come up with that one.

Steve Benen

Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.