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Moynihan and the Overton Window

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Today’s reminder that Daniel Patrick Moynihan was awful:

Even some Democrats seem to think that Mr. Gore’s attacks occasionally go over the top…Today Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who supports investing some of the Social Security trust fund in private markets, took issue with [Gore’s use of] the word “privatization.”

“That’s a scare word,” said Mr. Moynihan, who supported Mr. Bradley in the primaries but has since endorsed the vice president.

Although, in fairness, it must be noted that after doing perhaps more than any Democrat to make bad welfare reform policy possible Moynihan did cast a wholly meaningless vote against the final version.

This episode illustrates a rather obvious problem with the “Overton Window” concept, the 21st century version of the Laffer Curve (that is, a sloppy cocktail napkin concept with a grain of truth used to make difficult problems conveniently vanish.) The assumption seems to be that if a president (or perhaps other public official) proposes something it shifts the ideological spectrum in that direction even if it doesn’t pass. But Bush’s push to privatize Social Security, to the extent that it affected things at all, apparently had the opposite effect. In 2000, a Democratic senator from New York was running interference for Bush’s nutty Social Security policy. Now, House Republican budgets refuse to propose any changes to Social Security, and the biggest “threat” to Social Security is a bad nominal proposal to slow the rate of benefit growth intentionally presented in a form that have no chance of passing, a pretense that Obama has thankfully given up. There’s no reason to believe, in either theory or practice, that trying and miserably failing to do something will make it easier to do next time.

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  • Davis

    It’s telling that conservatives loved him.

    • Origami Isopod

      Yeah, first thing I thought of on reading this post was P.J. O’Rourke mentioning him positively in (IIRC) Parliament of Whores.

  • Gwen

    I think the Social Security privatization debacle is a useful demonstration of how ideology works practically in American political discourse:

    0.) Antecedent proposals exist and are discussed, and color the later discourse on a proposal, even if there are significant differences between the antecedents and the “main” proposal referenced in step 1 (see for example the Heritage individual mandate and Obamacare).

    1.) A proposal is made, and someone with power promotes it (otherwise the proposal would not be taken seriously). In the case of Social Security privatization, I would say the Pete Peterson crowd, and then later the Bush campaign.

    2.) At first, individual voters and many political actors do not have enough information to determine whether the proposal is a good one (pick your own definition of “good”), or if it conforms to their view of the world, or is politically expedient. During this early period, the proposal may draw cross-party or cross-ideological support based on this limited information.

    3.) As the proposal is taken more seriously, support and opposition begins to polarize along ideological and partisan lines. Information about the plan is filtered into coherent narratives by thought leaders and political candidates/parties.

    4.) The “base” responds to these simplified narratives and then begins to exert upward pressure on their political leaders to conform to the emerging consensus within their party or ideological tendency. If the proposal is serious enough, non-conforming leaders may be removed or forced to retire (through primaries, campaign contributions drying up, etc.).

    5a.) In some situations – Social Security being one of them – polarization along party lines is not complete; for example in some scenarios the proposal becomes so toxic in one party that it “bleeds over” into the other party (I think this happened in part with Social Security). Or, a compromise is reached which allows both parties to claim victory (the farm bill typically).

    5b.) In some other situations, however, the proposal has been fully polarized, and ultimately its proponents win or lose based on the number of votes they have in Congress, rather than whether the policy is good or bad for the country.

    In this model, DPM’s statements in 2000 were somewhere between steps 2 and 3. By 2005, though, we were at step 5 (I’d argue step 5a, since I think the Republicans could have rammed it through if they wanted, but realized it was a ticking timebomb).

  • Wellllll… That’s not the definition of the Overton Window. The window is the range of ideas that are considered politically acceptable. Privatizing or substantially cutting social security turns out to be outside it. Overton never said that trying and failing to achieve an unpopular policy necessarily would make it easier the next time.

    The idea of trying to move the OW is to say something that’s a bit outside it and keep saying it until the punditocracy starts to credit your formerly wacko idea as a reasonable position that a “serious” person can have. Sometimes you can go way outside it and hope that will pull it somewhat toward you, but that’s not necessarily going to be effective — it can also backfire if people are too repulsed. The OW can be more or less mobile in a given case. But I think you have to agree that it exists.

    • Gwen

      I think the mistake that was made with SS, is that the Bush folks assumed that the opinions of an elite group of thought leaders (including DPM) reflected the views of the electorate at large.

      When the people found out what was being discussed, they didn’t like it, despite “even the liberal New Republic” having given the idea props at an earlier point in time.

      The Overton Window may have actually shifted a little toward privatization among the electorate at large (in that some rank-and-file Republicans might have polarized in favor of it). But that doesn’t matter, because the practical consequence of the debacle is that it taught the elite that it was out-of-step with the general population on this issue.

      And as I noted, unless someone in power is willing to risk political capital on an idea, it won’t go anywhere.

      • joe from Lowell

        The recently-reelected President of the United States threw all of his political capital behind Social Security privatization.

        I don’t think they thought it was already popular among the electorate at large; I think they thought they could pull the electorate along with them.

        • The Dark Avenger

          Not to mention the cherry-picking of the people who would come to the ‘townhall meetings’, you can’t fleece the rubes when you’re so blatantly trying to rig the game in the early stages.

          • joe from Lowell

            you can’t fleece the rubes when you’re so blatantly trying to rig the game in the early stages.

            Actually, this tactic has worked any number of times throughout history.

            • The Dark Avenger

              When the rigging got reported on by the NYT and Faux Noise, that pretty much doomed it, IMHO.

    • Lee Rudolph

      But I think you have to agree that it exists.

      Certainly, defined as you have defined it (which is what I too have always taken it to mean), it exists. But unless it has interesting properties that don’t obviously follow from that definition, so what? For instance, it follows from the definition that it can move; and it follows from observations (that I think everyone can agree on) that it does move—which is not a very interesting property.
      But can anything useful be said about how it moves or can be moved? Those are questions that would have interesting answers, but there’s clearly no agreement on what the answers are.

    • Scott Lemieux

      The window is the range of ideas that are considered politically acceptable. Privatizing or substantially cutting social security turns out to be outside it.

      Well, virtually everyone who invokes the concept assumes that the window isn’t static, but that saying things outside the window moves the window in that direction.

      • AlanInSF

        All due respect to your dissing of Moynihan, who may exceed even DiFi for worst all-time Horribleness-Above-Replacement. But I think the Overton Window would refer more to what it was acceptable to debate, not what public opinion will endorse. SS privatization was heartily debated, especially by the Beltway press and the DLC Dems. And, in that debate, it was so thoroughly trounced that the window shifted dramatically away from it. If Single Payer had been as heartily debated as SS privatization, it would have been a good thing, no?

        • joe from Lowell

          And, in that debate, it was so thoroughly trounced that the window shifted dramatically away from it. If Single Payer had been as heartily debated as SS privatization, it would have been a good thing, no?

          Wait a second, why would that be a good thing?

          I don’t want the window to shift dramatically away from single payer, like it did for Social Security privatization.

          • AlanInSF

            Theoretically, a good idea would fare better than a horrible idea.

            • Hogan

              Leaving aside the idea that complex policy proposals can be self-evidently good or horrible, if we lived in that world we’d already have single payer.

            • joe from Lowell

              I want to live in Theoretistan.

              • gmack

                Indeed. We have a test case of this, after all, with Truman’s proposal for a national health care system. And through “debate” of this proposal, various powerful interests defeated it, and helped to set the terms of discussion on this issue that continue up to the present (i.e., it was in the debates over Truman’s proposal that we first see the idea that a single payer system is “socialism”).

              • Malaclypse

                I want to live in Theoretistan.

                That’s because you spent too much time hanging out over at Reason.

                • joe from Lowell

                  Chicken-egg, Mal. Chicken-egg.

                  Lol

        • Scott Lemieux

          I second Joe. Why?

          • Manju

            Well, a debate may help Corporate America come to the realization that Single Payer will save them money. US Healthcare costs are a gazillion times higher than other wealthy countries and that could instead be money in the bank for them.

            Of course, they may still object out of a principled commitment to the free market. Hahahahahahahahahahaha.

            But seriously, no such eureka moment existed for the SS privatization side. With Single Payer, you got a chance at considerable upside. Corporate America will throw Insurance Companies under the bus once they realize they’ve been fooled into voting against their economic interests all this time.*

            *Really, its time to leave the White Working Class alone for a while and consider the possibility that False Conciseness exists among the wealthy. (Andrew Gelman is the point man here).

            • witlesschum

              You laugh, Manju, but look at how our corporate overlords actually behave. They do a lot of things, like pay each other huge salaries, which are not exactly cold economic rationality. Lots of ideology driving things there.

            • Hogan

              Well, a debate may help Corporate America come to the realization that Single Payer will save them money.

              They already know that. It still involves nationalizing an industry that’s making a profit, and once you go down that road, where does it end?

              • Furthermore, what they really care about is not their industry, but their personal wealth. Anything they think will raise their marginal tax rates, they oppose, and then hide behind “it’s bad for jobs and our industry.”

            • The Dark Avenger

              If there’s anyone better-qualified to serve as an educator example of False Consciousness than you, Manju, I’ve yet to here of them.

      • gmack

        Right. There are many problems with the concept of the “Overton Window.” One obvious one is that folks on the left have a long an storied history of developing analyses of different ideas and practices become cast as respectable/unacceptable. So it’s not clear why we would want to adopt the OW–it strikes me as a rather crude theoretical tool. But more importantly, the bigger problem isn’t with the concept as such (which, crude though it is, is usable enough for blog comment discussions), but with the additional assumption that things like Presidential speeches and proposals are the key means of changing/moving it.

        Anyway, just because I’m thinking about this a lot right now, I encourage everyone to go out and read political theorist Lisa Disch’s recent work on representation. Especially her article in Perspectives on Politics, “Democratic Representation and the Constituency Paradox” (2012). Much of the article deals with theoretical issues about what political representation means, but at the end of the piece she uses her conception of representation to hook up with an organizational analysis of American politics. And the result is an interesting sketch of how changes in political organization creates system biases that foster the formation of interests that promote economic inequality while undermining collective action against that inequality. I’m not sure if I’m willing to endorse her specific analysis, but I think it’s a more interesting take on the issue of “rightward drift” on economic matters than most analysts provide.

      • People believe that can happen, as I said, but the concept doesn’t require that it always moves in the same way in response to the same strategems; that’s contingent on a lot of factors. You compared to concept to the Laffer curve, which no, doesn’t have a grain of truth, it’s just nonsense. The Overton Window is a perfectly reasonable and indeed, facially accurate idea.

        • Hogan

          But not a useful one in formulating or evaluating political strategy.

          • Excuse me, it certainly is useable, indispensable in fact. You need to understand where the range of “acceptable” discourse lies before you can frame your own rhetoric, choose policy targets, or target constituencies.

            • Really? Why?

              One problem I have with this sort of line is that it is a mechanism for enforcing discourse limits.

              It’s not like there’s any principled way of telling what the limits are. And many are t purely conceptual. People get identified as outside the mainstream and thus what they advocate is easily targeted as such. A lot of stuff is highly path or situation dependent.

              This practical problem stems from a conceptual problem: this idea of a window is just way to naive to be even a useful heuristic.

              • The Dark Avenger

                Uh, if you’re running a cooking class, does that mean cannibalism is outside of the acceptable discourse limits in that case?

                • If it’s a Halloween treat class and you’re making “finger food”, then I expect it will be acceptable (in a jokey way).

                  But I don’t think it’s analogous.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  Thanks for proving my point: “Acceptable” is a subjective standard.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  I don’t see how Bijan is proving your point, or even showing that “`Acceptable’ is a subjective standard”: he’s giving an example of something that’s “highly path or situation dependent”; for a standard to be “objective” does not mean (and in many cases certainly should not and cannot mean) that it is neither path nor situation dependent. That’s particularly clear in his example, where determining whether the “situation” is or is not a “Halloween treat class” is about as objective as can be.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  That he used a joke as an answer doesn’t make it a valid response.

                  Who determines this ‘objective standard’ of acceptable discourse? If not who, then the question is:

                  How is it to be derived then?

                  P.S. I am not a crank

              • I’m not sure why when you argue with yourself your animosity toward me forces you to pretend you are arguing with me.

                But afaict you are not responding to anything I’ve said. Enjoy.

                • The Dark Avenger

                  No, I’m serious. How do you determine what are the limits of acceptable discourse? How does the Overton Window limit it?

                  Some would argue, (and perhaps on this thread by now) that the Window increases, not decreases the range of possibly acceptable discourse.

                  But you want to make it all about personality, and that I’m arguing with myself.

                  Well, can’t I, like Walt Whitman contain multitudes, none of which are given over to hand-wringing in public?

                • No, I’m serious. How do you determine what are the limits of acceptable discourse? How does the Overton Window limit it?

                  Ok, I’ll take this seriously. What I meant is that people use the concept of the Overton window to limit discourse. As in Cervantes saying:

                  You need to understand where the range of “acceptable” discourse lies before you can frame your own rhetoric, choose policy targets, or target constituencies.

                  Usually when I hear that its someone saying that we shouldn’t consider something because it’s outside the window (as determined by them). So they are using the OW not to help understand, but to shut things out.

                  Since there’s no real methodology for determining the acceptability boundaries (in these discussions), people can just hide their preferences under the psuedo-poly sci jargon.

                  If people use it other ways, then great. And of course there’s value in determining e.g., how well known a policy option is, how acceptable it is to people (under various guises), etc. But, as I wrote below, I don’t see that we are shifting a window over a ordering of ideas, rather than just trying to make a given idea succeed (which involves a variety of tactics in different circumstances).

                  I hopes that’s clear enough.

                • Quick followup: Consider mobilization and countermobilization in response to party and presidential position taking. For loads of Republicans, just the fact that something gets identified with Obama is sufficient to put it into the unacceptable (even if, incoherently, they think it’s key…”Keep government out of my Medicare” comes to mind).

                  I don’t see that the Overton Window idea takes any of that into account or is even compatible with it.

            • Hogan

              But the concept of the Overton window doesn’t tell you where that range is, just that there is one.

              • Lee Rudolph

                Or perhaps several.

                There might also be two, or more, what-people-maddeningly-call-inflection-points-when-what-they-are-is-critical-points-or-local-extrema-or-whatevs on a Laffer Curve.

                A lot of people don’t take their models seriously enough to consider not baking extreme simplicity into them.

        • Lurking Canadian

          There is a grain of truth at the centre of the Laffer Curve, in that revenue from taxation should not be expected to be monotonic with the tax rate. Where the supply-siders got away with palming a card is that nobody made them prove which side of the curve we live on. Recent estimates I’ve seen out the inflection point somewhere around 60-70%.

          And note that that’s a marginal tax rate and applies only to one bracket. A tax rate of, say 95% on incomes greater that $10M would not be expected to bring in very much revenue. (At least not in income tax. The effect from income on wealth is more complicated–too complicated to work out on my phone.) However, the supply siders would claim that earning no money from that tax means government revenue is zero, implying that GDP has also fallen to zero. That part is just bullshit.

      • Defining “the window” is something that’s done on blogs. To my knowledge, there’s no serious social science empirical evidence supporting it, and no rigorous theoretical explanation of it.

        Scott’s example, btw, is key: the “Overton Window” is named after a (now deceased) hack named Overton who was affiliated with The Mackinac Center, a Dow-funded Heritage/AEI-esque hack-tank in Midland, MI, which has been pushing privatization for decades and was the main theoretical underpinning of the DeVos-pushed GOP gutting of union rights in Michigan. Overton was specifically focused on Social Security, and thought that the rhetorical escalation about privatization would one day make what seemed radical then eventually seem normal and acceptable. As Scott points out, it not only didn’t make privatizing SS seem less radical, it’s now perceived as more radical than it was in the late 90’s.

        Overton Window is as helpful a construct as “Obama needs to give a speech” is a helpful way to understand the American legislative process.

        • gmack

          Defining “the window” is something that’s done on blogs. To my knowledge, there’s no serious social science empirical evidence supporting it, and no rigorous theoretical explanation of it.

          I don’t know of any either. There is work done in certain theoretical circles on questions about the “limits of sayability” or how various “distributions/partitions of the sensible” are constructed/challenged/transformed (I even contribute to some of that literature!). But to my knowledge none of it references the notion of the Overton Window, nor do I know of any efforts to use these sorts of concepts to explain specific legislative outcomes. Rather, usually theorists use these concepts as a way to examine the emergence of political conflicts (e.g., emergence of the unequal treatment of women as a political phenomenon instead of just a manifestation of nature).

          • So they don’t use the term. It’s the same idea.

            • gmack

              No, it isn’t. The metaphor of the “window” is quite different than the concepts this literature develops (the notion of the window assumes that there are issues already “there” and that it’s our attention that shifts; this literature, by contrast, is interested in how the issue is invented as such). And again, there is no notion of using speech-making to make certain ideas subject of a common public debate.

              • There is a vast body of political science that looks at the polity as a debating society. I’d say that’s really the mainstream, actually. I don’t agree with that — I think that words are tools in the service of interests — but talking is what politicians do, after all.

                • Malaclypse

                  There is a vast body of political science that looks at the polity as a debating society.

                  Is there really a vast body of political science that completely ignores Marx, Weber, Gramsci, Bourdieu, and pretty much the entire rest of the sociology of knowledge?

                • There’s also the theory in the sociology of knowledge that if you want the public to believe something, you just have to be tough and keep saying it, and eventually all opposition will get out of the way. It’s called the Mannheim Steamroller.

                • Malaclypse

                  It’s called the Mannheim Steamroller.

                  Nicely played. God rest you, merry Cervantes.

                • Lee Rudolph

                  It looks particularly festive with the green lantern hanging on the front!

                • LFC

                  @Malaclypse
                  Is there really a vast body of political science that completely ignores Marx, Weber, Gramsci, Bourdieu, and pretty much the entire rest of the sociology of knowledge?

                  There is a long, somewhat complicated answer to this question (which I cd take a stab at but wd take too long and others cd do it better), and there is a short answer. The short answer is: yes.

                  P.s. Or such is my impression. (Others may disagree, I suppose.)

                • gmack

                  @Malaclypse
                  Is there really a vast body of political science that completely ignores Marx, Weber, Gramsci, Bourdieu, and pretty much the entire rest of the sociology of knowledge?

                  There is a long, somewhat complicated answer to this question (which I cd take a stab at but wd take too long and others cd do it better), and there is a short answer. The short answer is: yes.

                  P.s. Or such is my impression. (Others may disagree, I suppose.)

                  I would say more, “yes and no.” The answer is “no” if the question is whether there is a massive group of political scientists who conceive of society primarily as a “debating society.” On the other hand, many of the predominant rejections of that way of conceiving of society derive from things like rational choice approaches, whose practitioners are not known for their nuanced understanding of Marx et. al.

                  Anyway, the only approach I can think of that would view the polity as a “debating society” would be some of the theories of deliberative democracy. But this doesn’t really count either, since the concept of deliberative democracy creates a normative model of legitimacy (roughly, the idea is that decisions/laws are legitimate insofar as one can see them as the result of procedures of rational discourses). This definition of legitimacy creates a counter-factual model of a polity in which decisions are made via deliberation (and not, say, power). But none of these people act as if this model is empirically accurate (it’s an idealization), and none of them think that public deliberation, to the extent that it can occur at all, is the only source of knowledge/opinion in a society. The point of the theory, anyway, is to develop a perspective one can use to critique, say, the formation of hegemony in the Gramscian sense.

                  Oh, and just for fun, I’ll add that as far as I know, none of the deliberative democrats I know of think the idea of the Overton Window is useful either.

        • This is argumentation ad hominem. Who Overton was or what else he thought is irrelevant.

          • Of COURSE it’s relevant. It’s consistent with the entire rightwing propaganda effort of the last forty years, where conservative hack-tanks put out garbage paid for by their corporate backers, the propagandists then parrot it, and sometimes it succeeds in shaping opinion in ways bad for the country (or in the case of global warming, all of humanity). That’s their view of politics and public opinion. And that’s the assumption behind Overton Window blather, that talking always changes things. It’s a stupid belief, because at times reality it too hard for people to ignore, such as the change in opinion about Iraq from 2003 to 2006.

            The other dumb thing about the Overton window is the failure to account for oppositional efforts to push the so-called window in the complete opposite direction. If it were true, that it’s just a matter of escalating your rhetoric, we’d currently be debating collectivization of the Kulaks vs elimination of any vestige of the state in market transactions.

            It’s also a stupid theory because at heart it assumes most people are stupid.

            • It’s also a great strategy for hack-tank grifting. “We need to keep moving the Overton Window; to do that, help us fund more position papers and talking points and pitches to cable news shows to put our fellows and staff on their shows to keep pushing that window.

              The Overton Window is the Underpants Gnomes’ theory of public opinion.

            • The concept does not say that “talking always changes things.” Although obviously it is necessary to talk in order to persuade people. Otherwise, why are you here?

              • Where does this concept “say” anything? You know, other than stuff you’re just posting here on a comment thread?

                Can you site in academic literature where it’s defined? Can you find any political practitioners or pollsters who have an agreed-upon understanding of it and think it’s a useful construct?

                As for why I’m here, most people here who try to persuade are pretty good at it, and I learn from them. They understand, btw, that just saying crazy-ass shit doesn’t typically persuade anyone other than dupes and people who already believe that crazy-ass shit.

            • I don’t know if most people are stupid, but most people have very limited understanding of public policy. That’s a fact. Rhetoric is extremely powerful in politics.

              • I had never thought of that before now, and certainly have never engaged in political rhetoric before, so thank you for sharing with me the insight that rhetoric is powerful in politics.

              • UserGoogol

                Most people have a very limited understanding of public policy and also rhetoric isn’t very powerful. The same lack of interest which leads people to have limited understanding of policy also leads them to not really listen to political rhetoric all that closely.

            • It’s also a good tactic for keeping the coalition together through failure. The failure just indicates there’s more work to do and some progress was made.

              • The Dark Avenger

                It’s also a dessert topping!

          • joe from Lowell

            what else he thought is irrelevant

            The course of the Social Security privatization debate is not “what else he thought.” It is the very core of his thinking, the operation around which his theory was developed.

            That it went in exactly the opposite direction of his prediction is irrelevant to judging his predictive model’s value?

        • Sometimes Obama does need to give a speech.

          • Yeah, he never does that, Mr Sorkin.

            Or are you Professor Westin?

          • joe from Lowell

            And sometimes I need to do the laundry.

            Neither are going to pass single-payer health care.

            • Lee Rudolph

              And sometimes I need to do the laundry.

              So Dana’s right: the Overton Window really is the Underpants Gnomes’ theory of public opinion!

          • Hogan

            So the theory is:

            1) People talk, especially politicians.

            2) Things change.

            3) There is a relation between 1 and 2.

            Do you have anything more testable and rigorous to plug into any of those? Because otherwise the theory is, as Chomsky used to say, “trivial in the technical sense.” It doesn’t explain or predict any actual event.

        • witlesschum

          Typical of the DeVos clan, they name it the Mackinac Center, but put it in Midland. If I was going to toil the hackfield, I’d rather at least get to ride a horse to work.

          • It wasn’t DeVos, it was more Dow money.

            • And I’m not sure if you’re suggesting Midland is bucolic. If you are, I think it’s because you’ve never been there. It’s the headquarters of Dow Chemical.

              • Midland may actually be the worst place in the country.

                • Dude, it’s not the worst place in the Saginaw Valley.

                • I’m an idiot and didn’t read right; saw Midland and assumed we were talking about Texas all of a sudden.

                • I haven’t been to Midland, TX, but I’ve been to the Rio Grande Valley, and it’s possible Midland isn’t the worst TX city of over 100,000 with an eight-letter name that starts with M.

                  [I’m guessing it’s the Dow Chemical piece that threw you.]

      • Porkman

        Let’s recap….

        On this one particular issue, the Overton window didn’t move.

        On gay marriage, the Overton window moved towards gay marriage.

        On torture, the Overton window moved towards more people being ok with it.

        On Global Warming, the Republicans used to be pretty verbose in at least mild support. Not anymore because their Overton window moved away.

        On healthcare, the Overton window was moved to make the ACA seem like it was outside of it.

        The Overton window is a real thing. Scott Lemieux seems to be saying that “the concept didn’t work this one time with SS, so disproven!”

        It’s 1 instance vs. several when it did work.

        • Define “it” in some other way than saying “Overton Window.”

          As I said elsewhere on the thread, Overton Window is how the Underpants Gnomes explain public opinion.

        • FlipYrWhig

          I think you need to think more about _who moves it_. Otherwise it’s just a tautology: people thought one thing, now they think another, ergo “the Overton Window moved.” Same-sex marriage pretty clearly wasn’t something on which high-profile figures making public statements did the work of changing other people’s minds.

          • gmack

            Right. This whole discussion is just weird to me. The question to ask about any concept, such as the “Overton Window,” whether it’s a useful concept for understanding politics. Does it help us to understand why certain political phenomena occurred? Does, for instance, the concept of the Overton Window help us to understand why, say, support for time limits and work requirements for welfare benefits became so widespread, or does it provide a useful tool for formulating political strategies?

            In Porkman’s comment above, anyway, the concept is essentially synonymous with “public opinion” (seriously, just substitute the word phrase “public opinion has changed” for “Overton Window has shifted/changed” and I don’t see how the meaning of the comment changes). But the question is not whether public opinion changes, but whether the concept of the Overton Window is a good way to understand/interpret that change.

            • More than that: most people enamored with it–and the original use for it–don’t see it primarily as an interpretative tool, but as a method to create change. And if things don’t change, it’s because Democrats didn’t use escalating rhetoric. Or something. It’s unclear.

              • BTW, relying on the “Overton Window” as a way to understand politics is tied in, I believe, with too many libs/progs’ reliance on celebrity and character to understand politics, rather than structural explanations. For instance, if you really don’t care to understand the problems of a bicameral legislature under different parties, one of which will not compromise, you can cynically and lazily explain politics simply as something your side chose not to do because the politicians ostensibly on your side are sell-outs, or moles for corporations, or cowards, or stupid, or whatever.

            • I tried to find some literature on it (Google Scholar doesn’t seem to have much on Overton Window per se). But I did find this Nathan Russell thing which does seem to be an attempt to mobilize the concept in a polticial science theoretic way.

              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. Regardless of how vigorously a think tank or other group may campaign, only policy initiatives within this window of the politically possible will meet with success. Why is this?

              So, this isn’t good. Only things which are politically possible succeed? Er…by definition, I’d say.

              Therefore, they will almost always constrain themselves to taking actions within the “window” of ideas approved of by the electorate. Actions outside of this window, while theoretically possible, and maybe more optimal in terms of sound policy, are politically unsuccessful. Even if a few legislators were willing to stick out their necks for an action outside the window, most would not risk the disfavor of their constituents. They may seek the good of those who elected them, and even the good of the state or nation as a whole, but in pursuing the course they think is best, most will certainly take into account their political future. This is the heart of the Overton window theory

              Ok, this is a bit less tautological. “Politically possible” means something like “approved of by the electorate”. But now, we have some hilarity: Surely the Overton window can’t be what the public *actually* approves (or deems acceptable) or, at least, not as a constraint on politician behavior. First, the public’s views on policy are notoriously weak, inchoate, and hard to determine. Politicians can, and do, find polls to support their positions regardless of their position (or, at least delude themselves about it).

              But, ok, if we just mean that politicians will do stuff to win elections, sure. But then the conundrum for “the think tank” is that the best or preferred policy might be outside the window.

              So, if a think tank’s research and the principles of sound policy suggest a particular idea that lies outside the Overton window, what is to be done? Shift the window. Since commonly held ideas, attitudes and presumptions frame what is politically possible and create the “window,” a change in the opinions held by politicians and the people in general will shift it. Move the window of what is politically possible and those policies previously impractical can become the next great popular and legislative rage.

              So, shifting the window is central. How do we do this?

              Likewise, policies that were once acceptable become politically infeasible as the window shifts away from them. Think tanks can shape public opinion and shift the Overton window by educating legislators and the public about sound policy, by creating a vision for how things could be done, by conducting research and presenting facts, and by involving people in the exchange of ideas.

              But this is pretty contrary to quite a bit about what we know about political view formation, right? And, really, how is this anything other than building support for a policy? Does it really all boil down to “A think tank can’t get its preferred policy enacted just by telling politicians what to do; it has to build support for it”. But then why break it down into “shifting the window”?

              This implication that there is a linear ordering of ideas and you move a window along that ordering (or expand it over the line) just seem pointless as well as wrong.

              • Pointless and wrong is a good description of the Overton Window.

                It’s also a good band name.

        • joe from Lowell

          Well, virtually everyone who invokes the concept assumes that the window isn’t static, but that saying things outside the window moves the window in that direction.

          Porkman, I live in Massachusetts. I watched gay marriage become the majority position. Politicians saying things outside the magical window had zero to do with it. A civil rights legal group filed a lawsuit, a Supreme Judicial Court rammed it down the throat of an opposed public, the public then watched the on-the-ground reality of gay marriage happen around them, and public opinion changed.

          This was happening about the same time that the proponents of torture were insisting “America does not torture, it was just a few bad apples.”

          Citing the existence of shifts in public opinion doesn’t get you remotely close to the Overton Window theory.

        • As other people said, your comment requires the notion to be vacuous, ie to be synonymous with “societies evolve”.

          You need to start with something unsayable. SS was long held (not, I think entirely correctly) as a third rail in American politics. Gay rights or even gay marriage, not so much for quite some time. (A major party by and large was responsive to activists. Etc.)

          Global warming denialism looks like simple anti environmentalism.

          Universal healthcare has been a goal of a major party for literally decades!

          So all of your examples are terrible.

        • Scott Lemieux

          In case someone asks you what a “tautology” is, you can point to this comment for a handy example.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      I think the shape of acceptable political conversation is differently important for different policies. The key for Social Security — and the reason for its longevity and “third rail” status in our politics — is that it is both universal and relatively easy to understand. People want and expect their Social Security benefits. They (more or less) understand payroll taxes and are willing to pay for them. So when that shstem is threatened, a huge group of voters objects. (This is, incidentally, why so much has been invested in convincing people of SS’s insolvency: if young people come to expect that they’ll never see the benefit because the system is going broke, they are, in theory, less likely to object to its dismantling).

      But most policies aren’t like this. For example, for the vast majority of Americans, the ACA appears to benefit other people (we all benefit from the end to prior condition clauses and the slight but real bending of the cost curve, butn hese are hard things to experience…and there is little understanding that the ACA does them). For complicated, non-universal policies like the ACA, the shape of the public discuss is potentially more politically consequential.

    • Sly

      Wellllll… That’s not the definition of the Overton Window. The window is the range of ideas that are considered politically acceptable.

      Publicly acceptable, not politically acceptable.

      The Laffer Cruve, as a basic idea, is that there is a theoretical point at which increasing tax rates will adversely impact economic activity, and thus counteract any desired increases in revenue. And as a basic idea, it is economically sound. However, it doesn’t tell you where that point is on any curve for any kind of tax policy (sales, VAT, income, property, etc), so it cannot tell you a priori what the best policy is in any given situation, though it can be empirically tested (for example: did tax receipts rise or fall after the tax increases of 1993, or the tax cuts of 2001/2003?). However, people who use the Laffer Curve in a superficial manner almost always assume that tax policy is always on the “leeward side” of the Curve, or too high.

      The Overton Window has a similar kind of utility. It posits that there is a range of publicly acceptable political policies that is narrower than the entire range that is available, and that this “Window” can move over time. It doesn’t tell you where the Window is, nor how it can be moved, nor, most importantly, the relationship between what is publicly acceptable and politically feasible. But people who use the Overton Window in a superficial manner always assume (a) where that window is, i.e. always on the political right, (b) what needs to be done to move it, and (c) that this alone has the power to determine the success or failure of a given political process.

      And the biggest problem that this superficial usage runs into, I’d argue, is the last. Popular support of a given policy is, at best, a starting point for legislative passage. Not the end point, and certainly not the totality.

      • UserGoogol

        The Laffer Cruve, as a basic idea, is that there is a theoretical point at which increasing tax rates will adversely impact economic activity, and thus counteract any desired increases in revenue

        To be pedantic, the idea that there’s a point where the impact on economic activity is high enough to counteract the higher percentage. Even if you assume that all tax hikes hurt the economy, the revenue-maximizing tax rate is still higher than 0%, because no matter how big the economy is, zero times any other number is still zero, whereas a non-zero percentage of a non-zero economy is positive.

    • JDM

      Come now, how do you expect Scott to criticize it if he doesn’t use a straw definition first? :)

      • Straw’s what you build with when you don’t have any other materials around.

        In other words, can you cite an accepted scholarly definition of it and/or empirical evidence supporting it?

  • Murc

    The nicest thing I can say about Moynihan is that he clearly meant well. The man was legitimately interested public policy and worked his ass off to become conversant with it. He took governance seriously.

    He just, you know. Fucked it up royally. And that’s on him, because intent isn’t magic.

    • AlanInSF

      Looking back, I think he was the point man for the emerging hippie-punching wing of the Democratic Party, which ultimately gave us the DLC, the Neocons, the Rahm Emanuel/Mark Penn Clintonites, and the extreme rightward lurch of Dem national security policy.

      • I hate “hippie-punching” as much as I hate Overton Window. Besides, there wasn’t a Dem party approach against hippies that had to emerge in recent years. It was clearly there in 1968, when Daley unleashed cops to literally punch hippies at the convention, followed shortly afterward by DPM joining the Nixon administration.

      • Ann Outhouse

        NY Senators are just about always in Wall Street’s hip pocket. See also Chucky Schumer.

        • Incontinentia Buttocks

          Yes…..but it’s hard to imagine Chuck Schumer serving major roles in two Republican administrations.

          • witlesschum

            Doesn’t that say more about the Republicans changing than the essential qualities of Chuck Schumer?

      • joe from Lowell

        Rather than looking for a Great Man theory of history, perhaps the development of the DLC and the other efforts the Democrats made to capture the political center towards the end of the Reagan-Bush administration can be better understood by looking at the political conditions in which they happened.

        Absent Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the Democrats still act the same way in the years around 1990. Absent five Republican presidential election victories in six attempts, they don’t.

      • Davis X. Machina

        …and the extreme rightward lurch of Dem national security policy.
        So Scoop Jackson is chopped liver?

        • Malaclypse
          • joe from Lowell

            Didn’t the Democrats vote all-but-unanimously in favor of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution?

            As opposed to voting against the Iraq War AUMF by 58%-42%?

            • Few weeks ago John Dingell took questions on Twitter, and he said the vote he most regretted in his almost 60 years in the House was for the Tonkin Gulf Resolution.

    • Joe_JP

      The man was legitimately interested public policy and worked his ass off to become conversant with it. He took governance seriously.

      Not faint praise these days.

      • Incontinentia Buttocks

        But it’s still an easily over-rated commodity. Jack Kemp also meant well and worked hard. What matters in politics, however, is what you do, not why you do it or how much effort you put in. And if you’re going to put a lot of effort and thought in, your ideological assumptions are key. Say what you will about Alan Greenspan, I have no doubt he thought long and hard about the economy.

        • Joe_JP

          Taking government seriously and being conversant in how it/things work will in the long run be very important because in many things it will lead even those ideologically wrong on various issues to do things in a better way, especially since there those serious/conversant will agree with ideological opponents on various things at least time to the time.

          At the very least, on the whole, it will tend to reduce bad policy, all things being at least somewhat equal. It is obviously not all we need. The serious wrong-minded ideologue can be more dangerous. Well carried sexism isn’t grand. But, part of why things seem worse these days is that there are less people willing to take government seriously. So, I wish also not to underrate it. Some will — there are shades of bad.

          And, even some who are out there putting themselves a policy wonks or at least concerned about policy to some degree probably aren’t really doing the work to be truly serious about it.

    • Barry_D

      “The nicest thing I can say about Moynihan is that he clearly meant well. The man was legitimately interested public policy and worked his ass off to become conversant with it. He took governance seriously.”

      Do you know who else meant well, by, ah – readjusting land ownership and life status between various groups of people?

      Moynihan supported Social Security privatization, which meant deliberately destroying a very efficient and good system, in favor of – well, the interests pushing that meant to loot it, so in favor of looting 90% of Americans to enrich the rich.

  • NobodySpecial

    There’s no reason to believe, in either theory or practice, that trying and miserably failing to do something will make it easier to do next time

    You mean, like, say, proposing a budget with increased means-tested antipoverty programs, right?

    • joe from Lowell

      Yes.

  • matt w

    I wonder if changes in circumstances between 2000 and 2005 had shifted the Overton Window on Social Security far enough left that Bush’s proposal wound up too far outside it to shift it. In non-jargony terms, everyone could point to Enron and say “You want us to put all the rest of our retirement into the market like these guys? Are you nucking futz?”

    Also, and maybe this fits in with Gwen’s analysis, the Democrats may have done some window-shifting of their own in the 2005 debate. Before then it was probably taken for granted, at least among elite opinion, that some kind of “entitlement reform” was necessary. When the Democrats united around “Hell no!” it may have shifted the window to the left. Helped that Moynihan wasn’t around.

    And GWB had notably not prepared the ground during the 2004 campaign — apparently he mentioned privatization in his convention speech (or SotU?) but he barely mentioned it the rest of the campaign.

    • The Dark Avenger

      Kruthulhu summed up what GWBs ‘privatization’ scheme was all about:

      Let’s consider the Bush tax cuts and the Bush benefit cuts as a package. Who gains? Who loses?

      Suppose you’re a full-time Wal-Mart employee, earning $17,000 a year. You probably didn’t get any tax cut. But Mr. Bush says, generously, that he won’t cut your Social Security benefits.

      Suppose you’re earning $60,000 a year. On average, Mr. Bush cut taxes for workers like you by about $1,000 per year. But by 2045 the Bush Social Security plan would cut benefits for workers like you by about $6,500 per year. Not a very good deal.

      Suppose, finally, that you’re making $1 million a year. You received a tax cut worth about $50,000 per year. By 2045 the Bush plan would reduce benefits for people like you by about $9,400 per year. We have a winner!

      I’m not being unfair. In fact, I’ve weighted the scales heavily in Mr. Bush’s favor, because the tax cuts will cost much more than the benefit cuts would save. Repealing Mr. Bush’s tax cuts would yield enough revenue to call off his proposed benefit cuts, and still leave $8 trillion in change.

      The point is that the privatizers consider four years of policies that relentlessly favored the wealthy a fait accompli, not subject to reconsideration. Now that tax cuts have busted the budget, they want us to accept large cuts in Social Security benefits as inevitable. But they demand that we praise Mr. Bush’s sense of social justice, because he proposes bigger benefit cuts for the middle class than for the poor.

      Sorry, but no. Mr. Bush likes to play dress-up, but his Robin Hood costume just doesn’t fit.

    • Incontinentia Buttocks

      There’s a lot to this. The great lost “opportunity” for gutting Social Security was during the late 1990s, when Clinton and Gingrich came close to making a deal on partial privatization, but the latter decided to go for impeachment instead.

    • Before then it was probably taken for granted, at least among elite opinion, that some kind of “entitlement reform” was necessary. When the Democrats united around “Hell no!” it may have shifted the window to the left. Helped that Moynihan wasn’t around.

      There may be something to that, which I’ll take further.

      1. There was no personal leader of the Dem party, i.e. a President. So power was dispersed.
      2. We didn’t have either chamber of Congress, so nobody had a lever of power. Also, nobody could fill the role that Dole filled in the 80’s or Reid would have filled had Romney won but we held the Senate.
      3. Labor wasn’t as besieged as it is now, and had greater resources. They drove much of the advertising/campaign against privatization.
      4. 2002 wiped out most of the Southern Dem Senators. The caucuses, by being smaller and less Southern, by virtue of the remaining members being more likely from Northern or minority-majority seats, moved left.
      5. New leaders. The shift from Gephardt to Pelosi and from Daschle to Reid is one of the least emphasized changes in the Democratic party over the last two decades. It took Reid a few cycles for his caucus to change enough that he was no longer seriously constrained by the institutional and policy conservatives. But even in 2005, as a new Minority Leader, it’s remarkable that he and the broader Dem coalition was able to shut up people like Lieberman, Baucus, Ben Nelson, Evan Bayh, etc, so that no Dem senator and only one Dem House member (Allen Boyd) ever said anything positive about privatization, and when Boyd did he got smacked down hard.

      I think holding and silencing their most market-subservient members during the Social Security fight was as or more impressive as their impressive leadership during the ACA. Democrats and especially pundits give way too little credit for just how great Pelosi and Reid have been.

      • ChrisAndersen

        What I find interesting to consider is what influence the success of the anti-privatization campaign had on the GOP’s subsequent “oppose everything the Dems propose unanimously even if it used to be one of our proposals” strategy. The strategy is great when it used towards something you like, but when it is adopted as the primary strategy of an entire political party it throws everything out of order.

  • sam

    As terrible as the dot-com bust and the recession were, their timing was incredibly fortuitous in that they occurred on the heels of many of these discussions in the popular discourse, allowing much of the public to react with a “wait a minute, you want me to put my miniscule but safe, guaranteed for life pension where?!”.

    So…silver lining?

  • One of the many odd things about my high-school years in NY is that the R senator (Jack Javitz) was the liberal and the D (DPM) was the conservative.

  • Ken

    True, trying something over and over when it keeps failing is sometimes called insanity. But what if your constituents want insanity?

  • Dr. Ronnie James, DO

    “In 2000, a Democratic senator from New York was running interference for Bush’s nutty Social Security policy.”
    Change “New York” to “Wall Street” and it makes much more sense. The fact that Schumer has now largely assumed a similar role despite being a De Blasio style big hearted Park Slope liberal with no particular affinity for Wall Street most of his career is telling.

    My stepdad’s worked on low-income housing since the ’60s, and I vividly remember him saying one day he could never trust Moynihan after he agreed to be Nixon’s HUD secretary. My stepdad has good instincts.

  • joe from Lowell

    The window is the range of ideas that are considered politically acceptable

    Politically acceptable to whom? The public as a whole? Elites? Some segment of one or the other?

    One of the big problems with the concept is that it assumes one “window.” To take your example of the individual mandate, the acceptance of the policy by the Democratic White House and Congress meant that it became unacceptable to the very people who’d been pushing it before.

    • AlanInSF

      I think “mentionable” might work better than “acceptable.” There are a lot of policies that are acceptable to a greater or lesser degree, but not mentionable — like a large increase on taxes for the rich, or a moderately more balanced policy on Israel & Palestine. And there are policies that are mentionable and get debated but lose the debate, like Social Security privatization. We Window advocates think that if a widely acceptable idea like Single Payer could be debated, a constituency or momentum could be generated for it. It might not prevail. Or, like the minimum wage increase, it might become a political winner for Dems.

      • Lee Rudolph

        Right, there’s a real and important difference between “mentionable” and “acceptable” (and at all levels and subject matters of public and private discourse, not only at pundit-level political discourse). What isn’t clear is how much the present usage(s) of the term “Overton Window” contribute to, or obstruct and obfuscate, understanding. The same happens with the term “framing”.

        [Added during the Editing Window: Randy Khan’s 11:15 comment alo makes this point, and better insofar as RK actually describes some research, instead of just bloviating like I have.]

      • joe from Lowell

        I think “mentionable” runs into the same problem as “acceptable.”

        Go mention the concept of an individual mandate to some conservatives. And yet, it is the law of the land.

  • randy khan

    There’s some venerable research in communications theory that touches on this. The gist is that you can sway people who don’t agree with you if your argument is within the range of what they think is reasonable, but if you make an argument that’s outside that range, they actually move in the opposite direction. (Sorry, I’ve forgotten the name of the analysis, but it’s been tested empirically.) That’s pretty much what happened with Social Security privatization.

    Of course, if there are multiple players in the marketplace of ideas, some of them can try to make the arguments that others are making appear more unreasonable (or, alternatively, point out that the reasonable-sounding rhetoric hides more radical ideas). That’s part of what happened with Social Security.

    • Nigel Tufnel

      Not to go too comm-theory nerdy on everyone, but there are at least two well-researched theoretical frameworks that apply here. One is Social Judgment Theory (originally a social psychology paradigm, but communication theorists use it frequently). It holds that a new idea will fall either into or outside an individual’s “latitude of acceptance”, meaning that based on previously held attitudes, the individual will accept or reject the new idea depending on how closely it follows already-held notions. There are also latitudes of rejection and of non-commitment. Another theory is political scientist Daniel Hallin’s Spheres of Consensus, Legitimate Controversy and Deviance. These spheres help him describe the mass media’s reaction to new events or ideas: media gatekeepers decide whether they can be accepted as-is, debated, or rejected outright.

      Both of these theories are similar to the Overton Window but they have the advantage of having been used in actual social scientific research.

      • randy khan

        Social Judgment Theory – that was what I was trying to describe. Thanks!

  • NewishLawyer

    I am currently reading Pearlstein’s The Invisible Bridge and I am at the section where he is talking about the newer and younger Democratic types that came to power after Watergate. These were men like Michael Dukakis, Gary Hart, etc.

    This all happened 6 years before I was born. So I remember Dukakis getting smashed for being too liberal during the 1988 Presidential Election. Yet Pearlstein presents the picture that these younger Democratic candidates were further to the right than the old-school New Deal Democratic types that they replaced. They often cared deeply about environmentalism but did not really care for the old-school New Deal economic populism. Pearlstein describes the Dukakis as running to the right of the Republican incumbent he was trying to displace. Reagan apparently quipped that he heard echoes of Goldwater in the speeches made by the newer Democrats.

    Scoop Jackson of Washington apparently wanted to nationalize the energy companies to deal with the various energy issues facing the states during the 1970s but the new ones would not hear about it. Old school Democratic types also thought that their 1974 landslide would finally mean national healthcare.

    So the emergence of the DLC Democratic type happened much earlier than I though thought it probably took the defeats of 80, 84, and 88 for the DLC to really get to be in charge.

    • FlipYrWhig

      I’m no Pearlstein, but the way I remember it, Dukakis was trying to run a kind of nonpartisan technocratic good-governance campaign: “it’s not about ideology, it’s about competence,” and so forth. Gore was like that too. So was Bradley.

      • ChrisAndersen

        I happen to agree with them on this, but “competence” is a really crappy political slogan.

        • FlipYrWhig

          “Making sure the government works for everyone” probably would have been better.

        • Col Bat Guano

          True. That’s how he managed to only win 11 states and 111 electoral votes. His belief that Bush’s ideological attacks wouldn’t carry any weight was another aspect of this.

      • NewishLawyer

        Pearlstein describes them as being “post-partisan” and technocratic as well.

        I don’t see how this changes my viewpoint that the post-Watergate era showed the rise of the technocratic Democratic type who was all about policy being used to nudge people to the “right” decisions and better living over anything else. You could make a direct line between the original Watergate Democratic types and Matt Y and Ezra Klein and any other neo-liberal of the “read my white paper”
        set.

        There is a downside to treating humans like optimization problems though.

        • Hogan

          I don’t see how this changes my viewpoint that the post-Watergate era showed the rise of the technocratic Democratic type who was all about policy being used to nudge people to the “right” decisions and better living over anything else

          And there’s a pretty straight line from the Great Society anti-poverty programs as administered and that view of policy. Calling it rightward drift doesn’t really capture that phenomenon.

          • I think some of it was also the McGovern campaign, and the assumption many of those types never shook of organized labor as hostile to more progressive and inclusive politics. There was some truth to those criticisms of labor, especially of the Meany-era AFL-CIO, but too many of the technocratic types failed and continue to fail to see that the lack of a labor movement is potentially devastating to Democratic politics (and we’re seeing that on the state level all over the place). Add in that many of the rising stars of the 80’s were from states where Dems tended to be anti-union (all the Southerners) or where labor wasn’t much of a player (like with Hart and Daschle), and you can see how the technocrats came to see themselves as in opposition to labor (which Al From absolutely played on in raising corporate money to try to make the DLC the counterweight to labor).

            The irony here is that Pelosi is as or more pro-labor than O’Neil, and more resolute about it than Gephardt (who moved quickly from Congress to being an amoral lobbying shill selling himself to the highest bidder). And Reid is way more pro-labor than Byrd, Daschle & probably Mitchell, and Obama has been better to labor than Clinton or Carter. But the damage done in the 70’s through 90’s may be impossible to undo, especially since the filibuster prevented a real vote on EFCA, which the House passed and Obama would have been forced to sign.

            • NewishLawyer

              I can tell you that it seems like many people around my generation have views of labor that range from indifferent to actively hostile. I was born in 1980 and most of my friends were born around 1980 plus or minus 2-4 years.

              Most of my friends are reliably Democratic voters but they have views of labor that sound like they come from the Republican playbook including stuff about labor being hostile to progressive causes like gay and transgender rights, environmentalism, being old and unadapting, etc. Or they see Unions as promoting inefficiency and laziness and poor workmanship. One friend from law school was an engineer for one of the mobile carriers before going to law school. She hated working with union sites and saw union workers as being slovenly and corrupt.

              The idea of union organization seems to be completely out of the question. Do you remember the story from the Times about how computer programs are turning scheduling into a nightmare for service workers? I can think of a ton of articles and organizations that decried the computer practices. The New Republic is the only organization I can think of that said the word missing from this article is Union. Only TNR called for Norma Rae even Marcotte did not mention organizing.

              • Polling consistently shows young people fairly pro-union. I suspect the people you’re referring to are more likely to be white and from upper middle class or wealthier white collar/business owning families. Unless you’re talking about people from the South, who’ve never been union-friendly.

    • joe from Lowell

      Pearlstein describes the Dukakis as running to the right of the Republican incumbent he was trying to displace.

      That’s really more a function of the Republican Party lurching so dramatically right since then. Especially when we’re talking about a Massachusetts Republican.

      • Davis X. Machina

        Frank Sargent, was it? And there were ‘Democrats’ like Ed King and John Silber on the loose, plus a level of corruption usually associated with former Soviet republics.

        The political axis in those days didn’t run left-right, it ran unindicted-indicted-convictedn

        • joe from Lowell

          Frank Sargent, who killed a massive urban highway project intended to go through a low income, minority neighborhood…after having been the Secretary of Transportation who developed it!

          Total RINO. Can you imagine any element of that story happening with a Republican in the 21st century?

  • Jordan

    When I was pretty young, I had a really positive impression of moynihan. Intellectually honest! Willing to challenge the conventional wisdom! A public intellectual serving his country!

    Then I got a little older and read more about what his actual policies were.

    • jim, some guy in iowa

      as i’ve gotten older ‘intellectually honest’ gets closer and closer to meaning ‘willing to make a show of screwing over his/her allies’. that might be cynical of me, but…

      • Barry_D

        “as i’ve gotten older ‘intellectually honest’ gets closer and closer to meaning ‘willing to make a show of screwing over his/her allies’. that might be cynical of me, but…”

        Where ‘cynical’ means ‘honest’. I’d change your statement to say ‘willing to screw over allies, so long as there’s money in it’. Perhaps it’s just me, but I don’t remember too many times when such ‘brave’ and ‘honest’ people stood up for those without the money.

      • Joshua

        Keep in mind that really only applies to Democrats. Democrats are supposed to have Sister Souljah moments weekly and always tell those dumbass hippies voting for them what’s what. Republicans are supposed to act like crazy people because their voters are crazy people.

        • They happen so often that they’re called something that happened 22 years ago and hasn’t really happened in the same way since. Unless you think stating realities like “there isn’t the support for single-payer” is a Sister Souljah moment.

  • FlipYrWhig

    Has the Overton Window ever moved left as a result of a concerted effort by politicians? If there’s some kind of amorphous consensus that has shifted on, say, same-sex marriage, or weed, it wasn’t because of anything pundits or politicos did. I’m not thinking of any examples.

    If the Window has never gone left, then Window Theory is kind of a mess, IMHO.

    • Porkman

      It has, just not in our lifetimes.

      The idea of the Overton window was invented by a Republican.

      This post from the DailyKos really explains why the Republicans are better at it.

      http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/05/09/208784/-Why-the-Right-Wing-Gets-It-and-Why-Dems-Don-t-UPDATED

      • And here and below it are where I argued the diary was all wrong, and the diarist had no response except to say things that further undermined his claims.

      • joe from Lowell

        The idea of the Overton window was invented by a Republican.

        Yes, a Republican who theorized that a lot of rhetoric about Social Security privatization would make the idea acceptable to the public.

        Do you recall how that worked out?

      • FlipYrWhig

        I dunno. I still think the concept mostly exists so that people who are obsessed with “narrative” and “framing” can say that the reason why more people don’t believe what they believe is that no one is trying hard enough to manipulate them into believing it. But maybe manipulating people into believing things doesn’t work for the left the way it does for the right, because the people susceptible to being pulled right like leaders to lead them, and the people susceptible to being pulled left don’t.

        • jim, some guy in iowa

          well, people on the left like leadership, too… i think maybe the difference is that people on the right get behind one leader relatively easier than people on the left, who seem to like to hold out for their personal preference longer. kind of an interesting contradiction of basic principles

  • Piquoiseau

    Moynihan: the guy who sees the Southern Strategy work for Nixon and thinks, “those people have a point.”

    • Malaclypse

      Except the Moynihan Report preceded the Southern Strategy by 3 years.

  • Chris Mealy

    If you did it right, using Social Security funds to buy shares could be a sneaky way to seize the means of production. Let’s see, American stocks are worth about $18 trillion, the Social Security trust fund is about $3 trillion, ok it wouldn’t be easy, but if you were patient you could make it happen.

    They started to do this in Sweden in the 1970s, but, you know, forces of reaction:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rehn%E2%80%93Meidner_model

  • Joshua

    If you turn a public program into a private program, what the hell else would you call it?

    I don’t know much about Moynihan. How does Cuomo compare? I really could see that guy pushing for Social Security privatization if he ever got to Congress.

  • jim, some guy in iowa

    the title of this post is borrowed from the lost collaboration of the flaming lips and styx, isn’t it

  • j_kay

    But, we all know that the Iraq Wars stayed popular because of Magic CheneyShrub’s speeches.

    And the SS privatization surprised me as a similar kind of lying fiscal mess as Part D. Presumably the way Monihan and extraly Shrub liked it.

  • Bitter Scribe

    Yeah, I have no idea why Moynihan was and still is considered this elder statesman or whatever. To me he always was an overrated, condescending jerk.

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