Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What is Glenn Beck's Overton Window?

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The political theory, not the book

The Overton Window is not just the name of Glenn Beck‘s new novel; he took that title from a political theory of Joseph Overton, so named posthumously by Overton’s colleagues at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

Joseph Overton

Overton’s tremendous contributions to the Mackinac Center and the free-market movement were tragically cut  short with his  death on June 30, 2003, in an airplane crash. For Beck he was “a brilliant public policy strategist and ardent free-marketer.

In a special opinion piece to AOL News (the caption to the picture above is a link to it), Beck explains what the Overton Window is and why you should care. In that piece Beck explains Overton’s observation that “when public policies in a given area (education, health care) are arranged from freest to least free, only a relatively narrow window of options will be considered politically acceptable.”

Below is a depiction of Overton’s Window as it applies to energy policy:

The Overton Window

The window itself is the darker shade of blue that moves up or down not based usually upon the whims or strategies of politicians but rather “policy change follows political change, which itself follows social change. The most durable policy changes are those that are undergirded by strong social movements.” [Emphasis added] As Beck explains it, “the window will gradually move over time based on a variety of factors, including truth, facts, arguments, big events and misinformation, to name a few.” The Review has demonstrated repeatedly that Beck’s mission is to move that window using misinformation.

Clearly, the Civil Rights Movement moved Overton’s Window down the scale toward greater government involvement with the passing of The Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prevents businesses from discriminating on the basis of race.

Beck argues in his opinion piece that:

If Obama continues to push, he’ll experience what’s called Overton’s revenge. It happened during America’s banning of alcohol through prohibition in the 1920s. People like to drink, and they especially liked to drink during the Great Depression. Prohibition was finally overturned in 1933. Government overshot the window, and the people responded.

An example of one way Beck misinforms comes right from the opinion piece. Beck asks, “Did Obama overshoot the Overton Window with health care? With cap and trade? With bailouts? Only time will tell.” Bailouts? When Obama voted for the TARP bailout, he was a senator. George Bush didn’t have to worry about overshooting the window; he was a lame duck president then. At the time, Glenn Beck supported TARP!

Lawmakers who support policies outside the window are one of two kinds — true leaders who have the rare ability to shift the window by themselves, or politicians who risk electoral defeat because they are perceived as out of touch. This explains why key lawmakers in 2009 and 2010 were reluctant to support a massive federal health care bill seen as unpopular with the people. Officeholders knew a vote outside the window would subject them to the political Furies, as in fact it has.

The Overton Window doesn’t describe everything, but it describes one big thing: Politicians will rarely support whatever policy they choose whenever they choose; rather, they will do what they feel they can do without risking electoral defeat, given the current political environment shaped by ideas, social movements and societal sensibilities.

Questions from The Review are: 1) Is President Obama one of those “true leaders” who can move the window down by the force of his charisma and communication skill, 2) Are the social movements supporting  government policies away from fossil fuels toward sustainable energy sources strong and influential enough to counter balance the reactionary Tea Party and Glenn Beck’s reactionary push to “refound America?”

Two examples of the former are Repower America:
and the Apollo Alliance, the group that helped write the stimulus bill:

The United States and indeed the world are faced with a choice. Do we continue along the path of the status quo of global warming, oil spills, oil addiction and declining petroleum resources (leading to energy crises); or are we going to make a push toward sustainable energy development? China is moving in both directions; will the United States be left behind?

Freedom is not the issue. No American had their freedom appreciably diminished when the government spent billions during the Cold War to develop weapons. (The taxes that support government spending are rarely an issue for the right when it comes to national security.) Part of that investment went toward the development of integrated circuitry and microprocessing. That same investment needs to drive the transition toward a post fossil fuel world that the Pentagon recognizes as essential to American security.

Glenn Beck and others on the right have made their choice. This November voters in the United States will make theirs. Between now and then, this choice is bound to be articulated clearly by the President and loudly by Glenn Beck. The direction Overton’s Window moves will be decided largely by you.

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1 comment:

Unknown said...

Fascinating presentation!