What on earth has happened to the Democratic Party? Even by liberal standards, the policies the left now advocates appear insane. To say they are an order of fries short of a Happy Meal is an insult to McDonald’s.
I’m used to childishness from the Democratic Party, but something is very wrong in the Land of Unicorns and Fairy Dust. Is all of this just the usual hyper-liberal reaction to a Republican presidency, or is there something more insidious and dangerous at work? Tthe latter may be the case, in the form of something called the Overton Window Principle. Let’s recap the last several weeks in Lala-Land.
Consider the “Green New Deal” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez supports. Her resolution before Congress calls for America to entirely divest itself of fossil fuels within ten years. This is such a ludicrous proposal that anyone with a scintilla of common sense or over the age of 25 should burst out laughing when informed of it.
A Frequently Asked Questions page that appeared on Ocasio-Cortez’s website before it was taken down actually said: “We set a goal to get to that net-zero, rather than zero emissions, in 10 years because we aren’t sure that we’ll be able to fully get rid of farting cows and airplanes that fast…” That is a real quote from an actual document posted to a bona fide congresswoman’s real-life website.
Yes, it’s uproariously stupid, funny, and deserving of ridicule by Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Chris Plante, and all the other entertaining commentators on conservative talk radio. Ocasio-Cortez is an endless source of fun, and I hope there’s a microphone nearby every time she opens her mouth. May she be the one Democrat who has a long and voluble career in Washington.
But here’s the concerning part: as of a week ago, 67 adult members of Congress signed on to support Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal. Moreover, her ridiculous plan has been mirrored by a Senate resolution sponsored by a wizened, crusty old Democrat machine politician, Sen. Edward Markey, who has decades of legislative experience and surely knows how absurd the Green New Deal’s provisions are.
The Method Behind the Madness
So what gives? Has Markey lost his marbles? Not only that, have all the other Democrat luminaries running for president who have endorsed the GND—like Bernie Sanders, Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Amy Klobuchar—lost their minds as well?
It’s within the realm of possibility that Donald Trump has finally succeeded in snapping the tenuous hold these leftist politicians have on reality. But it might be explained by the Overton Window theory.
I first learned of this sociological principle several years ago when I came across an entertaining novel by Glenn Beck called “The Overton Window.” Beck’s protagonists are a “radical” band of conservatives who are desperately trying to thwart the socialist takeover of America in a dystopian future. In his tale, Beck’s protagonists have grasped that the evil socialists—the Ocasio-Cortezes of the future—have employed a technique to move society unwittingly further and further to the left, where more and more government control of society becomes acceptable. Although serving as a literary device for Beck in a work of fiction, this technique is a very real theory of mass psychology manipulation.
The Overton Window theory was developed by an engineer-turned-lawyer and political theorist Joseph P. Overton, who tragically died young in a plane crash. His theoretical contributions may long outlive him. He developed his eponymous theory while he was a senior official for the free market think tank Mackinac Center for Public Policy.
In simplest terms, the Overton Window theory—more fully, the Overton Window of Political Possibilities—posits that in a republic such as ours, where politicians are at least partly accountable to their constituents, there is a band, or “window,” of policy options that a politician can propose or vote for in any particular area of social policy. That window is governed by what the politician’s constituents find socially acceptable to consider.
While there may be better or worse policy options outside of that window, the politician won’t risk his career by proposing or voting for them, resulting in a backlash from his voters. The politician will always put his personal political fortunes foremost. Sounds pretty commonsense, right?
Well, here’s what Overton recognized: If you want to effect radical change that politicians will buy into and vote for, what you need to do is not try to convince the politicians directly, but shift the political landscape of what is considered socially acceptable to discuss or ponder. That is to say, you expand the “window” of policy options by getting the “people”—or a large enough proportion of them—to buy into your radical ideas and talk about them. That’s much easier to accomplish today with the explosion of social media.
This Explains Many ‘Rapid Transformations’
Hasn’t it occurred to anyone else that our country witnessed massive sociological change under the Obama administration at seemingly warp speed on many fronts? Take same-sex marriage. The notion that two men or two women could marry one another, thus overturning millennial-old traditions about the basis and purpose of marriage—to procreate—happened virtually overnight. It directly contravened literally thousands of years of biblical proscription and cultural norms.
Barack Obama said as recently as 2008 that he believed “marriage is between a man and a woman.” Hillary Clinton said in 2004 that marriage was “a sacred bond between a man and a woman.” Yet somehow, by 2013 both politicians had discovered their long-held views on the sanctity of one man-one woman marriage were 180 degrees off-kilter and supported same-sex marriage. If one believes Washington Post-ABC News polling data, American support for same-sex marriage flipped in the span of 10 years, going from 59 percent opposing it in 2004 to 59 percent approving it in 2014.
A similarly rapid transformation occurred with the embrace of legislation decriminalizing marijuana use. The percentage of Americans who answered “Yes” to the question “Do you think the use of marijuana should be made legal, or not?” went from 31 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2018, according to Gallup.
The left in America railed for decades against the evils of the tobacco industry, which produced those nasty, cancer-causing “nicotine delivery systems” known as cigarettes. They very successfully waged legal warfare against tobacco, resulting in a decline in tobacco use in America from a high of 42 percent of American adults smoking in the early 1960s to a current low of about 14 percent of American adults smoking.
Yet somehow that same left that demonized tobacco has embraced marijuana, a smoking product that I learned in Drug Enforcement Agency school many years ago is far worse in its health impact than tobacco on multiple levels, from its carcinogenic effects to cognitive damage to neurological impairment. But state houses are legalizing marijuana like it’s the new gold rush.
Saying Crazy Stuff Normalizes It
The list of bizarre social changes occurring with lightning speed in recent years goes on: Grown men allowed in public restrooms with little girls, dubious and subjective “hate crime” laws being passed, and most recently, abortion-on-demand bills being rushed into law. How are these massive societal transformations occurring so rapidly?
Are these lightning-like changes in public policy just society evolving naturally? I don’t think so. They might be explained by a coordinated, sophisticated strategy from leftist shot-callers. Democrats are firing up all their little leftist nonprofit organizations to push Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas, like transforming the entire U.S. economy within ten years to run on “renewable” energy sources (you know, like windmills), eliminating all transportation that emits carbon dioxide (you know, like airplanes and gas-fueled automobiles) and replacing them with high-speed trains and such, and “guaranteeing” a job for everyone. The resolution reads like every leftist’s fantasy. Unicorns and fairy dust galore.
It is eminently mockable, and I enjoy the mockery as much as the next right-wing grouch. But the point is that all the countless new media outlets run by young leftists are prepping the ground for Ocasio-Cortez’s ideas, such as they are, working in concert with the key strategists in the Democratic political machine and the old-line leftist media in order to shift the public debate—to get people to think that a 70 percent or a 90 percent income tax, as Ocasio-Cortez and her fellow socialist traveler, Ilhan Omar, have respectively proposed, is within the realm of the possible.
By pushing these insane ideas and getting a “groundswell” of highly orchestrated political activists to clamor for them, they get everyday Americans discussing them, and thereby expand the Overton Window of public policy options that would heretofore have been considered insane and unfit for public discourse.
Then Just as Crazy Stuff Seems Moderate
What happens next? As a friend astutely observed to me recently, what happens next is that a “reasonable” politician like, say, Michelle Obama, steps in and says, “Wait! A 90 percent tax rate is just too much. Let’s be reasonable and shoot for a 60 percent rate.” Michelle then appears to be the “savior” of capitalism and is hailed as the “voice of reason,” simultaneously taking us a huge leap “forward” toward Venezuela.
That’s how the Overton Window Principle operates. You change the political landscape and shift the discussion of policy options that are considered conceivable. It’s very Saul Alinsky, but then, we’ve had Saul Alinsky’s spirit in the White House before.