The Overton Window
December 31, 2009 § Leave a Comment
Something not out of the paper today but that’s been on my mind for awhile. I sometimes feel like I’m nuts; like I’m the only one who’s still clinging to the past with my old fashioned notions of working hard, saving money, living within your means, treating people fairly, not eating with my elbows on the table. I’m physically very happy engaging in my own little urban renewal on the West Side but somehow my brain is still on the far Northwest Side and it’s still 1985.
Well it turns out that society (I, you, we) has been manipulated over the years by forces beyond our control. And for whatever reason I have a personality that I guess is just slow to change.
The Overton Window is an interesting concept named after a guy you’ve never heard of called Joe Overton. Perhaps it’s fate I like this because Joe and myself share a few things in common. We’re both guys who have engineering degrees, went to law school, but really love political science. Maybe Joe was a genius; maybe I’m just eating fruit from my own tree.
Anyway, a brief explaination of the concept is this:
Imagine, if you will, a yardstick standing on end. On either end are the extreme policy actions for any political issue. Between the ends lie all gradations of policy from one extreme to the other. The yardstick represents the full political spectrum for a particular issue. The essence of the Overton window is that only a portion of this policy spectrum is within the realm of the politically possible at any time.
Let me put it another way: on the spectrum of ideas on any topic there is a range of acceptable ideas and people with thoughts and ideas outside of that range on either end are considered nuts. Now sometimes the window is moved in a good direction. e.g. racial integration. And sometimes the window is moved in a bad direction. e.g. prohibition.
The reason I’m explaining this now is because this is going to be a standing topic. I will point out examples of where I think politicians and the media are trying to move the Overton window. And I will need you to tell me if I’m right or if I’m outside of the acceptable range, a/k/a paranoid.
Maybe you can think of a few examples of your own.