May 10, 2007

The Overton Window

Demosthenes has an excellent discussion about the Overton Window and why it is so good at explaining what's happened with our political discourse since FDR. One very astute point he makes is what the job of the pundits is when the Overton Window is used to move public opinion.

Most importantly, though, it's about those who are deciding what "acceptable" is. That isn't the participants, that's the moderators or commentators; in other words, the media. The reason why I like this idea so much is because the Overton window explains precisely what the role of the media, particularly opinion writers, is in politics. They really aren't good at directly swaying the public; look at the Clinton thing. And while they may have an impact on the nuts 'n bolts of lawmaking, by and large that's the realm of lawmakers themselves and their helpful lobbyist pals, not opinion writers. What opinion writers mostly do is try to define the Window by constantly pronouncing on what is acceptable and what isn't, and to the extent that they can get the political actors to break away from (or cohere with) other political actors, they set the agenda. The media at large also sets the Window by choosing what to report on, of course, but let's face it- popular opinions among both the public and politicians get underreported all the time, and the subject of non-opinion coverage of politics is more the horse race than the substantive debate to begin with.

This week's example of this phenomena at work can be seen here where Greg Anrig, Jr. finds the WaPo declaring John Edwards' poverty campaign hopelessly out of the mainstream.

Demosthenes' essay does an outstanding job of explaining the Overton Window and how the extremes can push the middle further right (or left).

The other aspect that I think is extremely important in understanding the success of the Conservative Movement has been the tactic of actively undermining of people's sense of trust that the government can solve problems. Because while they employ the Overton Window to introduce their ideas into the public marketplace, they also apply outright scams like the No Child Left Behind act that sounds so good, but which has a nasty bite at the end. The results of this particular policy has been many more people believing their own schools are failing and so they are significantly more receptive to school vouchers. It's almost like the conservatives purposely designed that program to sell the free market message of privatization. Oh wait!

Via The Sideshow

Posted by Mary at May 10, 2007 12:21 AM | Philosophy | Technorati links |

Well put on the "undermining people's trust in government" bit. I hadn't thought of that, but it's key to the whole thing. Massaging perceptions of reality in order to benefit your argument will help your argument, (and your party) but it still changes perception of reality with all that that implies.

Thanks for the link, by the way.

Posted by: Demosthenes at May 10, 2007 07:30 AM

Thomas - I apologize for losing your comment - we were struck by a massive spam attack and I was too fast in deleting that last 50 and unfortunately that group included yours.

Here's what Thomas said (via Demonthenes' site):

I often feel that this might be the deliberate purpose of right wing talk radio and other such outlets. If people like Imus, Rush and Ann (with whom I am only a bit sexually infatuated) can spout ultra far right wing, bigoted, anti-American effluvium, then the rest of their ilk seems that much more reasonable.

Posted by: Mary at May 10, 2007 11:00 PM