The Overton Window, Illustrated
Definition and discussion of the concept is below. The main points I want to convey with this image:
- There is, or there should be, a constant tug-of-war on the edges of the Overton Window on any issue.
- There is a place for everyone and anyone along the Left side of the rope, as long as we're all pulling in the same general direction.
- The current location of the Overton Window is so far to the right of any objective political spectrum, that what are now considered Extreme Left Positions are really not extreme at all.
This is old hat to a lot of folks in the blogosphere, but defining terms is a good thing. Wikipedia:
The Overton window is a concept in political theory, named after the former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, Joe Overton, who developed the model. It describes a "window" in the range of public reactions to ideas in public discourse, in a spectrum of all possible options on an issue.
The lower line with various notches represents this full spectrum in the chart above. The black brackets represent the Window itself, which contains the smaller range of policy that is acceptable to the public at any given time.
Overton described a method for moving that window, thereby including previously excluded ideas, while excluding previously acceptable ideas. The technique relies on people promoting ideas even less acceptable than the previous "outer fringe" ideas. That makes those old fringe ideas look less extreme, and thereby acceptable.
Delivering rhetoric to define the window provides a plan of action to make more acceptable to the public some ideas by priming them with other ideas allowed to remain unacceptable, but which make the real target ideas seem more acceptable by comparison.
The way to shift the Overton Window is by moving the edges, by pushing ideas that are even more extreme than what is actually desired.
As the Overton Window shifts along the spectrum, a specific policy (a notch in the graph) goes through the following phases of public acceptance:
Here is a specific example of the Overton Window in action as it relates to public school policy.
The Importance of "Extremists"
Responding to "progressive conventional wisdom" that says the Democratic Party plays too much to the elusive Middle, Kos Diarist Thereisnospoon:
On the contrary: the GOP knows that the middle DOES matter. They know that by playing to their base in very well-crafted ways, they can shift the very definition of what the middle is. By introducing radicalism into the public discourse (and taking initial heat for it), whatever used to be radical within this context becomes moderate by comparison.
Eliminationist Right-Wing Blogs and Fox News screechers may look like clowns, but that is their function. To stretch the Window so far to the Right that anything short of nuking the Middle East seems acceptable.
Or take the Abortion issue. The prominence (way out of proportion to their actual numbers) of Fundie Whackaloons who want to outlaw abortion completely, has made it acceptable that some procedures have now been, in fact, outlawed.
So non-insane fundy voters can say to themselves "Well, at least abortion isn't completely illegal. Phew!" As if it were even something a modern society that believes in a woman's right to control her uterus would even consider!
The truth is that we need to do both. It is not an either-or scenario. We cannot achieve victory by playing to the base and ignoring the middle, nor can we win by playing to the middle and ignoring the base. We need to do both--and the GOP understands this. ...
To win, we must sway the middle by playing to the base--and we must understand that this is a difficult and heavily calculated process that requires time, money and manpower.
I'm not sure if I agree completely with Spoon, but they're on to something.
The discussion of the Overton Window is completely abstracted from Reality. It assumes that anything can be made acceptable through this technique.
While the Bushies and the Neocons have done a smashing job of proving this point, recent events have shown that Policy which is not based on Reality, and that goes against the best interests of the country tends to fall apart at some point.
More on that and more colorful pictures in another post.
[Welcome, Wonkette readers! The irony of Glen Beck adopting a term for a book title that was propagated in the blogosphere by -- lambert blushes modestly -- the left is almost to great to bear, but then it must be admitted that the right has done far, far better job moving the Overton Window their way than we have moving it ours. Of course, the right, through both legacy parties, is running the country, so they have it easier.. -- lambert]
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