The Overton Window is Wide Open

And it’s getting drafty in here. 

The Overton Window theory postulates that for a particular area of public policy, at any given time only a narrow range of policy options are acceptable.  The acceptable policy positions aren’t just those currently in effect but also those that might be considered tolerable.

Outside of the range of the “window” are those policies which are considered unacceptable; policies that even though a politician may wish to promote, would likely lead to his downfall because they are considered unthinkable or radical.  But, with a shift in societal attitudes towards those policies, choices which were untenable may shift to being acceptable, sensible, popular, and finally, policy. 

This concept informs public policy thinkers on both the right and the left.  Frankly, though the Overton Window theory was developed by Joe Overton of the Mackinac Public Policy Center in the mid-1990s, and creates a good visual tool for policy wonks, the concept of shifting societal values is nothing new.    

Depending on our perspective, these shifts may be good or bad, they may move to where we want to be or leave us behind.  When I joined the Army, there was still a Soviet Union, so to find someone who self-identified as a communist made them a potential enemy agent, and not just someone exercising their free speech.   At the same time, I thought it cool to put “No Religious Preference” on my dog tags and because of my choice every drill sergeant let me know in the kindest possible way what particular religion they were.

Today, Michael Moore can call for the forcible taking of the wealth of others because that money is a natural resource and belongs to everyone without even a, “You’re joking, right?” from the guy interviewing him.  And, the next thing we know, Moore’s call has become the mantra of marchers from Madison to St. Paul and very few media intellectuals are asking, “When did we all become communists?”  Meanwhile, at work today I could inadvertently refer to God while talking to a caller, without any mention of a particular religion, and I could easily lose my job – or at least face political re-education.

If we’re wondering how this happens – look out the window.  Those at the top of the social heap, on the fringes, right in the middle, and even at the bottom; the entertainers; the intellectuals; the elite; the rulers; the politicians; and, all of us, have been pushing the window up and down as suits our fancy for millennia.   Public policy makers commonly follow where the window has shifted but they also attempt to shift the window overtly.  Overton just happened to put into theory how the proactive policy maker can get the window to move without waiting on the numerous vying interests to decide how much air should be allowed in. 

So, we can accept that what society views as its norms shifts over time – that those things which range from tolerable to standard practices, or from fringe to prohibited, will change.  As a man, I’m no longer expected to wear a cod piece because somewhere along the way society noticed how silly those were.  At the same time, I’m no longer sanctioned to berate the wife with impunity if the mutton is too stringy (or because my cod piece is too tight).   It is understandable that these shifts occur, naturally, through human interaction.  What is not natural is the covert action taken by policy activists to shift what we as a society, should consider acceptable. 

I know, this is what politicians do with policies that may not be totally favorable.  They push for reasons why the policy should be favored or they give us examples of why a legislative need exists or they trot out those who would benefit from the policy change and say, “Don’t you have any compassion?”  Yes, that is what politicians and their parties and their political action committees do.  I’m not saying they shouldn’t. 

Because, as they do this we can challenge their statements, we can point out why their arguments are wrong.  We can exercise our free speech in the finest tradition or vote for policy makers who will argue on our behalf.  But when the unelected, unaccountable, policy wonks and the deep social thinkers start seeking policy change by first manipulating the direction of public thought a little bit at a time; or when they pay over-the-top demonstrators to shout out for a cause, they are attempting this shift without the benefit of honest debate.  Often they are doing it under the guise of social welfare or public education.  It is the Media Matters model of creating a biased story and getting that bias into the hands of main stream journalist so that the viewing public hears the bias without ever knowing it is coming from a group dedicated to changing the way we think about something.  Or it is the MoveOn method of raging in absurd ways over social injustices so that, even though we may not be able to stomach their acts, they have you wondering if there is some common ground we can come to.   Consider the recent debate over education reforms, surely some of us have heard a reasonable person discussing the debate say, “Some reform is needed but perhaps it shouldn’t be at the expense of public employee collective bargaining after all.”  Ah, that would be the window opening farther.

On one hand, these organizations are exercising their right to speak and advocate for their causes (and the causes of their donors), so perhaps there is nothing to concern ourselves with.  But when looking at this issue from a perspective of what is equitable, there is an argument against them doing it in the way they do.  That is, these organizations enjoy a special status among us.  Specifically, I am pointing to the many organizations that are exempt from tax regulations we are forced to comply with.  They are treated as educational or social welfare organizations doing socially beneficial things, as if their activities benefit all of society.  As individuals, we don’t generally receive a tax benefit to discuss or do the things we believe in.  The individual writing to the editor about zoning issues can’t accept tax-free contributions from his neighbors.  The time I spend writing inane blog posts is not deductable this year (unless I am missing an itemization – let me know). 

If nothing else, the rules regarding these types of organizations and their activities should change.  They and their benefactors should not enjoy special tax benefits.  There should be no tax exemption for manipulating political discourse.  Just imagine the additional revenues our oh-so-benign government would have.  As it stands now, those with money and power, with agendas that benefit only their interests, have the advantage and are pushing the window wide open.

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Categories: World Events

5 replies

  1. Let’s put some hard thief-deterring stops on that open drafty window of yours, shall we? In your case, they’re called FACTS.

    It is the FAUX SPEWS model of creating a biased story — or more often, a blatant far-right lie — and pushing that bull so constantly that the so-called mainstream media, the corporate whores-for-ratings, will parrot it so uncritically that the ultra-stupids that make up most of the slack-jawed drooling viewing public swallows the bias without ever knowing, OR CARING, that it is coming from a secretive group dedicated to making the morons believe idiocy against their own best interests. (“Tax handouts for billionaires creates jobs! Never mind that they didn’t for the past ten years, and never have at any time before that! Government spending is bad! Never mind all that stuff like roads and the CDC, or that teabaggers vote themselves raises! We’re gonna go with that story about the black woman who keeps popping out babies for welfare checks, and never mind that every single word of it is a provable lie! We don’t like n******, so it’s gotta be true! And Obama is a Muslim, and we hate his preacher too!”)

    It is the KOCH BROTHER’ ASTROTURF TEABAGGERS, and their paid-whore organizers, who have made it a defining characteristic to rage in absurd ways (fat old men in spandex and a cape and a seam-burst speedo screeching “Not One Inch!”), ignoring real social injustices in favor of stupid slogans (“Keep your government hands off my Medicare!”) so that, even though we may not be able to stomach their acts, we HAVE to try to find SOME common ground (“We’re going to shut down the parks and museums, and not pay the troops in the wars we keep demanding, and not pay any government employees except ourselves and the ones we might need, unless you take every penny away from Planned Parenthood because they might help some black broad get an abortion instead of popping out babies for welfare like we said, and take every penny away from NPR because they might still report a fact every once in awhile instead of the pure we’re-always-reich propaganda we want everybody to be forced to hear!”), JUST TO KEEP YOU FROM DESTROYING THE COUNTRY.

    Damn straight, churches that push religio-whacko political BS should NOT be exempt from FULL taxes, including property taxes on the golf courses and hospitals they shelter. Hell no, Murdoch and Ailes and Halliburton and GE and Bank of America and Citicorp should not be allowed to shelter their profits from taxes by basing their trading offshore. Right on, the lip-flappers who contribute nothing — the Limpdicks, the Faux Spewers, the Caribou Barbies and senile Grinches — should not be able to write off their dis-info-tainer goodies under the guise of “education” or “public service.”

    Let’s put your skewed-to-the-bottom “window” up against a simple test of facts, shall we? Restore, and enforce, the Fairness Doctrine. For every minute of Hannity blathering, Maddow gets to rebut him. For every mindless O’Reilly moment, Olbermann gets equal time. For every second of low-band-radio manure, Alan Grayson gets to compete, complete with paper-rattling.

    Watch that yawning opportunity for your mind control of three-quatriles of the bell curve narrow in from the bottom like tossing out the outliers on a Palm Coast butterfly ballot.

    Still think Nixon would be the center of your yardstick? Then let’s close the opportunity for burglars to enter your window just a few inches more. Repeal the Bush tax handouts, remove the cap on taxable Social Security income, and restore the 50% tax rate on all take-home above $500,000. Maybe, if they have a choice between upgrading efficiency and paying attention to their job description, or buying another mistress and another key of coke, THEN we’ll see more companies hiring and fewer “too big to fails” taking the money and running.

    “As it stands now, those with money and power, with agendas that benefit only their interests, have the advantage and are pushing the window wide open. ” All too true. Now, let’s see your definition of “those with money and power” and “agendas that benefit their own interests.”

    Come on. Find us just one of those Media Matters biases. Point to a single MoveOn absurdity. Teachers and firefighters shouldn’t have unions? But it’s okay for the AMA and the Bar to protect their incompetents and set obscene minimum fees?

    “Money and power, and agendas that benefit their own, personal, profit interest.” Yep, exactly right. Except that you conservatards can’t seem to grasp that it’s the polluters, not the environmentalists, who have money and power and a personal agenda at stake. It’s the fatcats in the posh back rooms, not the activists for equal pay and equal rights, who have money and power and a profit-driven agenda.

    It’s the owners of touch-screen computer voting machines (all, by the way, heavy donors to the party of tax-handouts-for-the-wealthy), who have been PROVEN to RIG the voting programs, whose “tamper-proof” computers have been WITNESSED flipping D votes to R (and, note this FACT, NEVER the other way around, so it isn’t a “random computer error”), NOT the people like ACORN volunteers, who are simply encouraging voter registration, REGARDLESS OF PARTY, and having NOTHING TO DO with whether that application for registration is accepted or not — who have a vested interest in putting their puppet in office.

    WHO has the money and power? WHO staged and heavily falsified intercut videos to try to discredit volunteer, non-partisan organizations? WHO has an agenda? HINT: Breitbart , despite a long history of personal scandals and outright lies, is a multi-millionaire on the reichwing payroll. Community organization volunteers handing out registration forms have no dog in this fight except making it a little easier for people to send in their applications to the government to exercise their right to vote, and DO NOT, IN FACT ARE SPECIFICALLY FORIDDEN TO, ASK ANY QUESTIONS ABOUT PREFERENCE OR AFFILIATION.

    You’re so completely twisted from reality that it’s PERFECTLY OKAY in your book for YOUR people to divorce their wives because they’re sick or “not pretty enough for a candidate,” for YOUR people to claim they can see Russia from their back yard and yet not know that Africa is a continent, not a country, for YOUR people to concoct an illegal invasion and kill millions of people based on FLAT LIES, but let one “liberal” — with the backing of most police — advocate decriminalizing marijuana, and suddenly “Liberals want all our kids to be hooked on drugs!”

    Bottom line: regressives are LIARS, because you have nothing else going for you. An “inadvertent reference to god” has never, ever, gotten anyone fired. In fact, most bureaucracies are bloated with Jesus posters in every other cubicle. But whistle-blowing against crimes committed by the bushdicks got a great many of us fired.

    (And liberals, unlike you regressives, can back up everything with FACTS. In this case, the former is exemplified by the military officers who FORCED subordinates to attend THEIR services, and the latter by, for example, Bunnatine Greenhouse.)

    Rightwingnutism, facism, is a mental illness. Its appeal is to the very stupid, the paranoid, the narcissitic-disorder losers who need someone else to blame for their failure. And since you, plural, are stupid by definition, otherwise you wouldn’t BE preaching against your own best interests at the behest of your lying puppet-masters, you can’t understand that there are no quick fixes. You are only all too happy to play the lotto-mentality. When the lucky ones tell you to just do what they did, then you, too, will be rolling in dough, you fall for it every time.

    Reality, though, has a way of putting a hard stop on that window you’re trying to move. Palin is not going to have sex with you just because you vote to drill, baby, drill. You have to have money FIRST. Boehner is not going to make you rich if you vote for tax giveaways to HIS buddies. You have to HAVE money, first.

    Torture is NEVER tolerable, no matter how much it becomes “standard practice” under your lot. A civilized society will NEVER survive 10% free to do whateverthey want and 90% in indentured servitude, no matter HOW much those who can’t remember how many mansions they married into want to believe otherwise.

    A window can only move so far before either it breaks, or the foundation does.

    [Note from RDS – The original comment contained the full version of the “n” word in the second paragraph, which I edited during moderation. Though I’m certainly not one to censor speech, it was changed in this post by me because I do find the word offensive when used in conversation, including debate, and the significant number of my family members who are black tend to believe its use is offensive as well.]

    • Quite the little screed. The Left lives in a world of make-believe filled with a variety of monsters and goblins. Their hate is palpable and disturbing. I am convinced more and more each day that progressivism is the result of a disturbed mind. Perhaps we should just get it over with and label it a mental illness.

      • I began to respond to his comment yesterday, then began to write an article regarding some of his assertions, and only then realized what a waste of time it would be.

        I guess I’ll take it that he was interested enough at least to have read my post and spend, what, maybe a day or two trying to find a fitting response. But I can’t accept that there is some immovable mental wall between him and I. Truth has to seep in somewhere – his own rant suggests projection on his part, which is generally associated with recognizing some truth in the counterpoints against which he rails. There is hope, I have to believe it.


      • A wise choice Regalo. You must have really gotten under his skin.

  2. Interesting reply, TDH –

    Though it is rife with ad hominem, false generalizations, and a host of other shameless logic fallacies and fact challenged statements, I sure admire your writing style. You should get your own blog. I think there is an ever growing market for the product you’re pushing. I’d like to note that on my editing your post – without apology – that is one word I will not allow on my threads as long as I have the moderate button.


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