Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Something to Keep in Mind: the Overton Window

I'm half posting this here so that I won't have to hunt for it again, but it's something that everyone, especially liberals, should be aware of.

The Overton Window, as explained by shystee at Corrente, is a political science concept describing how ideas enter and leave the realm of acceptable discourse. The general idea is that as ever more extreme ideas are presented, the center shifts towards that extreme, as the milder forms of that idea pale in comparison. (There's also a nice picture in the post that illustrates this point nicely. Go look.)

The conservative movement has been engaging in this for decades - see pretty much all of the posts over at Orcinus for examples.


Extreme Wisdom said...

This isn't really rocket science.

The limits have always defined the center, and the only real difference in this internet age is that the "limits" have more access to the "meme pool" and the society is more atomized/fragmented.

Instead of focusing on the simplistic "left/right" continuum, why not focus on the quality of the "idea?"

Is a personal account for Social Security a "bad idea" or is it bad because a putative 'conservative' came up with it?

For my part, there are too many good ideas that don't get discussed because of the childish "Dem/Rep - Left/Right" axis that creates the sideshow debate over party and other worthless labels.

Your point about the conservative movement engaging in "this for decades" is accurate, but the fact is that they were in reaction to liberal absurdities that were just as "extreme."

(i.e. Robert Taylor homes, Cabrini Green, pre 1996 Welfare, a Social Security system destined for bankruptcy since its inception, etc etc.)

If we all got past the insipid labels, we could get down to the value of actually debating the ideas - each of which has some merit beyond their source.

The Squire said...

I'm no expert on public housing or welfare, so I'll leave those be. I can say, however, that Social Security isn't broken, and unless the economy tanks, it will pay out. The trust fund will run out, but it's designed to do that - it's the mechanism by which the Baby Boomers got to help pay for themselves, instead of the money-in money-out system.

Privatizing Social Security is a conservative option because it'll add administrative overhead that'll go straight into corporate pockets. Also, in order for private accounts to be beneficial and attractive, one has to assume a good economy - but to say that the current Social Security system won't be able to pay out requires one to believe that the economy sucks and will for a long time. Not only is privatizing Social Security a solution in search of a problem, but believing that it is worthwhile requires one to hold two contradicting views of reality.

Also, the thing with this spectrum is that, starting with the New Deal and then followed up with the implementation of the Southern Strategy by the GOP, is that the vast majority of Republican/Conservative ideas can be fit into two broad categories: allowing corporations to operate according to their own shortsighted interests, the public good be damned, and capitalizing on divisive social issues to drive large segments of the population to the polls to support the GOP against their own economic interests (e.g. same-sex marriage). A recent, third category has been the accumulation of power in the executive branch, above and beyond anything described in the constitution or remotely envisioned by the Founding Fathers (e.g. the Unitary Executive, the Vice-Presidential "Fourth Branch," and signing statements contradicting the laws themselves). None of these three categories are themselves especially good for the population at large. The Democratic/Liberal side has been fractured among numerous smaller progressive interests, but these generally all have the interests of the population itself in mind. The dichotomy it there and rather stark, to deny it or the partisan nature of government is to be naive or to want to move to that ever-rightward-heading center.

Extreme Wisdom said...

Well, that is an interesting response, and would make for an interesting debate.

You make some valid points re: Soc. Sec., but on balance, a personal account system would be superior for most people.

A few comments come to mind.

Re: Divisive social issues...

Who drove marriage and abortion into the battlefield of ideas and politics anyway?

One could argue that Roe alone is responsible for recent Republican majorities, and the left simply brought that on themselves. The same goes with marriage. Absent that issue driven by the extremes on your side of the aisle, the moderate to extremes on our side would not have gotten all those ballot initiatives. Ohio alone cost Kerry the election.

Re: Corporate power...

Here we agree, but probably for different reasons. While I'm a fan of free enterprize, I'm smart enough to know that Corporations are not fans of anything but profits. For my part, corporations are nothing but another form of collective, and all collectives exist to any destroy individual initiative that might threaten them.

I see Corporate America as dangerous as Union America (unions are corporations too, BTW), and they abuse their constituencies where they can.

I'll maintain that the biggest danger isn't left or right, but collectivism v. freedom, and big Corp, big Gov. and Big NGOs/Labor/Public Unions have far more in common than most perceive.

Just wondering (and on a different topic) what is your position on the Illinois Constitution Convention vote? I'll be presenting on it in Urbana next Thursday. I'd enjoy hearing your views.

The Squire said...

Who drove marriage and abortion into the battlefield of ideas and politics anyway?

One could argue that Roe alone is responsible for recent Republican majorities, and the left simply brought that on themselves. The same goes with marriage. Absent that issue driven by the extremes on your side of the aisle, the moderate to extremes on our side would not have gotten all those ballot initiatives. Ohio alone cost Kerry the election.

A couple points:

First off, the GOP social platform since the mid-'30s has been against modernity in all its forms: marriage, civil rights, actually achieving a separation of church and state, etc. As soon as something gets brought up that changes established institutions, the Republicans are against it. This meshes well with the Fundamentalist Christians they like to cultivate as their voter base, as prominent Fundamentalist preachers and talking head care only about sex: Gay Marriage, Abortions, and Abstinence-only Sex Education. The assault on marriage started when the Divorce rate skyrocketed in the 1950s, but as that's rampant in suburbs and the rural areas of the country, places where the GOP likes to cultivate votes, they don't talk about that.

About Unions: they have never been powerful enough to seriously destabilize or harm the country. Corporations definitely are, and have the capability to throw much more money around to further their political interests (hobbling union organizing, keeping the minimum wage low, and not paying income taxes).

I view the purpose of government as the tool of the people to act in the public good, so I don't think you and I are going to see eye to eye on a lot of this stuff.

On the Constitution Convention vote: that's the first I've heard of it.

Extreme Wisdom said...

As Will Rodgers said...

It ain't what you don't know that scares me, it's what you do know that ain't so.

This isn't intended as an insult, as all of us suffer from this in one regard or another.

To me, a "fundy liberal" isn't much different from a "fundy Christian," as people who care about things are generally more "fundamentalist" than those shallow souls who don't care about anything.

If you are going to make the case that some on the right loosen their grip on some of their long-held beliefs, it is only fair that you remain open-minded enough to do the same.

As for government being a "tool", I'll agree, but it is rarely suuceeding at doing things for "the people". Destoying liberty and individual freedom for some (often misperceived) "public good" isn't in the poblic good.

Where it IS capable of operating in the "public good", perhaps it can do so with out creating things like permanent underclass or a greedy patronage armies.

Agree or disagree on things, I believe it is much better to keep the lines of communication open.

Like your side's bumper sticker says, "Hate is not a family value."

The Illinois Constitution Convention vote is automatically on a seperate ballot next Nov.

For IL citizens, it is by far the most important vote - dwarfing the choice for President or School Board drone.

I'll be presenting on it in Urbana next Thursday. (Urb. Libr. at 7 PM)

The Overton Window post is quite good, and thanks for finding it. Though we will disagree on a great many things, keep in mind that it might not be about left and right, but the quality of the idea(s).

I know it may be hard to believe, but the march of the right over the last 2 decades MAY just be due (in part) to some of their ideas being more in tune with American voters and the American "worldview" than those of the left.

The Squire said...

Yes, governement is a tool, and like all tools, the federal government has been in many ways subverted in its intended use. I admit that, since the GOP took power in congress in 1994, the government has been a tool mostly for those with way too much money and an interest in making themselves richer and everyone else poorer. The Dems who took power in early 07 could have, and should have, done a lot more to set our government back on track, including issuing Articles of Impeachment, but alas this hasn't happened. Maybe if we get more than 60 Dems in the senate they'll get off their asses and pass stuff.

So, WHY is the constitutional vote so important? You haven't explained anything about it.

As for "being more in tune with American voters", the polling data shows the Dems winning on issues nearly every time. The problem is, as Chris Hayes points out, that the undecided voters who can tip election don't realize that "the issues" have anything to do with politics. Hence we have a president who you might like to have a beer with (if you drink such swill) and a vice-president who who may be crazier than Aaron Burr.

Redleg said...

It has NOTHING to do with party (Democrat vs. Republican) or faction (liberal vs. conservative). Those things are just a false dichotomy that have been used by the powers that be to keep us divided and squabbling amongst ourselves while they continue to carve up America and implement their agenda. It has EVERYTHING to do with freedom. Freedom is the litmus test that MUST be applied to all of the legislation and regulation coming out of Washington. If it restricts freedom it should be rejected. I know that some on both sides are true believers and they put party over principle. There were those on the right that always defended Bush II in spite of all of the crap he foisted on the American people and now there are those on the left that think Obama walks on water despite solid proof to the contrary. Obama has been nothing more than a continuation of the Bush II policies on steroids. Both of them have been leading us down the road to serfdom and tyranny. True believers are enemies of the American people.

America needs to reacquire its regard for EVERYONE’s inalienable individual rights, even if they happen to be rights that you may not appreciate or find particularly appealing. I for one am tired of having mine trampled upon daily and I am tired of having people vote my freedom away. I don’t care how good people think their idea is or how nice it would be to provide or do _____ (you fill in the blank) for others it is not very nice or good when it is done at our expense and is FORCED upon us AGAINST our will. It is the height of arrogance to assume you know what is best for us. What ever happened to peoples’ respect for the free will of others and why do politicians now feel they have the right to legislate everyone into the type of existence that they want regardless of what the people may desire? I just want to be left alone to live my life in peace and tranquility and to raise my family. Unfortunately that is no longer an acceptable avocation to some these days. For those of you who are apologists for excessive government rule and power when your party is in office I recommend that you take a good long look in the mirror and ask your self whose side are you really on, the people or the government? I don’t know what any of you were taught in American Civics but I was taught that the government was supposed to be the people itself and it was supposed to rule with their consent. Ponder that for a while. Is that what we currently have? Does anyone here really disagree that our current manifestation of government is out of control and deleterious to the goals of the common person? If so I would really like to hear your opinion.

The Squire said...

Redleg, your comment is nearly incoherent. Would you please re-edit it and reorganize it to make it relevant to this TWO YEAR OLD thread?

Redleg said...

My comment may have been off topic from your original post but it was related to the follow on comments left by Extreme wisdom where he discussed the "left/right continuum” and the "Dem/Rep - Left/Right" axis. He made some valid points. I continued down the path which he pointed to. Also there was much discussion of government programs. Rather than debate the value or lack thereof of any particular program I took an alternate and completely different third approach by which to judge its validity. I am tired of the traditional approach and I have decided to forego it. It is obvious that that approach no longer works.

The point is this, both the left and the right, Democrats and Republicans, Liberals and Conservatives spend more time trying to prove the soundness of their ideology and defending their party and politician than they do advocating real liberty. They spend more time attacking one another than advancing the cause of freedom. They are far more concerned with trying to impose their worldview on everyone else using whatever tactic will further their agenda such as the Overton Window discussed here or the Cloward Piven strategy than they do removing the shackles from their countrymen’s necks. Instead they try to fasten those shackles ever tighter to prove how right they are. The bottom line is that they are both wrong, they have both lost focus of the real purpose of the struggle. They have been blinded by hatred and they have turned this into a grudge match to the death between two bitter enemies. The fight itself has become more important than the outcome. The contest should be between two parties both of which are struggling to limit government and ensure freedom for all. Instead we now have a struggle to impose control over one another and despite all the platitudes and promises the continual result is that the people are always the loser at the end of every election. You have turned the goal completely on its head and instead of achieving liberty you impose tyranny.

The people are tired of the partisanship. We are tired of you constantly blaming the other side for the woes of our nation when you are both equally guilty. Instead of studying, debating and planning how to impose your will on the other side how about expending all that energy and using all that education for a positive solution? How about burying the partisan hatchet, focusing on what is really important for a change and championing freedom and liberty again?

DC Wright said...

Squire, I would be interested in hearing your definition of what you call the "public good."

Then, if you would, please tell me how that squares with what the Founders had in mind when they wrote: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness-- That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the CONSENT OF THE GOVERNED, {emphasis added} that when any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it..."

You know, of course, the source document for this quote. I presume that you also know that our Republic was established in order to be the embodiment of the Declaration of Independence. (Note well that I am not trying to pick on you; I have the exact same arguments with many allegedly on the Right.)

The primary issue I have with many of you is that pesky thing about "consent of the governed." Here's how I see it (and how the Founders saw it, according to their writings): Our government at each and every level derives its authority from We, the People. We must give our informed consent to any governmental activity. But the main caveat here is that we CANNOT consent to have someone do something in our names or on our behalf that we, each and every individual of us, may not legitimately DO FOR OURSELVES. You may not, for example, legitimately and properly kill your wife for any reason that I can think of; her life is not yours to dispose of. Therefore, it must follow that you may not hire someone to kill her for you, nor may you CONSENT to having government do it for you.

Likewise, neither you nor I may legitimately attach a lawful demand on the purses of others, in order to pay for having government do such things as provide for retirements, welfare (whether corporate or individual) or any other unConstitutional or extra-constitutional power grab. We ONLY may consent to having it do what WE may do, that is defend ourselves from either criminal activity or foreign invasion or encroachment on our sovereignty. At the state and local level, the definitions may be a bit broader but the principle is the same: States may provide for punishing wrong-doers (that is, people who violate the rights of others, such as committing fraud, murder, rape, robbery, etc., not people whose "crime" is, for example, the ingestion of certain substances). Local governments may properly regulate such things as where and when someone may discharge a weapon in a NON-EMERGENCY situation or prescribe punishment for someone who is naked or lewd in public or who appears in public while under the influence of whatever. Otherwise, we as a FREE people are pretty much supposed to be left alone to perform the miracles our society performed when it was left alone by government.

Again, I have the same argument with many who call themselves "conservative," so it's not that I want to hammer you. I classify myself as a Constitutional Originalist, which means that I believe it is government's place to only do what we originally gave it the authority to do and otherwise LEAVE US ALONE. That would once more leave us free to grow and provide prosperity to virtually ALL Americans willing to do their part and not live and mooch off others. And if this model were followed, it would also raise the standard of living for any people, anywhere in the world.