The ISG’s Rhetorical Impact Begins To Sink In

Republicans care quite a lot about the political concept of the Overton Window and, not coincidentally, Republicans have messaged the pants off of Democrats at least since the rightiwng revolution of 1994. The concept is pretty simple; read about it here if the idea is unfamiliar. From the link:

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?

Politicians are constrained by ideas, even if they have no interest in them personally. What they can accomplish, the legislation they can sponsor and support while still achieving political success (i.e. winning reelection or leaving the party strong for their successor), is framed by the set of ideas held by their constituents — the way people think. Politicians have the flexibility to make up their own minds, but negative consequences await the elected officeholder who strays too far. A politician’s success or failure stems from how well they understand and amplify the ideas and ideals held by those who elected them.

[…] 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.

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.

The author of this piece, Nathan Russell of the Mackinac Center, is obviously overstating the role of thinktanks in pushing the Window in whatever direction. Public perception is mostly shaped by things that happen publicly – important events, history and tradition, PR spin and the institutional quirks of the various media. Think tanks matter insofar as they can link up with an effective publicity engine. When it comes to deliberately gaming the Window another great resource is the famous Gingrich memo, which has guided Republican strategy pretty much ever since it was written. The strategy uses strident rhetoric to push one’s opponent outside of the window so that their perspective itself, liberalism, becomes unacceptable. It’s a hell of a lot easier than answering the other person’s argument on its merits.

You can hardly find a better modern example of gaming the Window than the Iraq war. As a start-to-finish opponent of invasion I remember well how war boosters painted my ideas, which were utterly and totally borne out be reality, as pathologically pacifistic. I directly supported Saddam. I didn’t care about the suffering of the Iraqi people (mull that one over a bit). Of course like everybody else whom conservatives disliked I harbored a deep and abiding hatred for America. The only real effort that anybody made to answer my (and as it happened, Brent Scrowcroft’s) arguments came in the form of flippant dismissals by brainiacs by Wolfowitz and Rumsfeld, who breezily declared that what actually did happen could never possibly happen so there’s no point in worrying about it. Neocons and allies simply declared contrary ideas outside of the Window and therefore not worth considering. If you look at media treatment of Iraq contrarians like Howard Dean it is hard to come to any other conclusion than that the neocons had it absolutely right. Not that contrary ideas did not deserve to be considered, but rather that they sat outside the Window and therefore wouldn’t be.

Again, it would be a mistake to dismiss the ISG Report because it had no direct impact on Bush policy. It doesn’t really matter that they proposed a weak withdrawal with a division-sized loophole because it would never he implemented anyway. It doesn’t have to, it just has to move the Window enough to make withdrawal talk cool and course staying (especially escalation) very uncool. Read this by MissLaura at DailyKos and think about the impact that the ISG-driven Window shift will have on Congressional Republicans who still have to worry about things like polls and reelection. I bet that Republicans really, really don’t want to fight 2008 on the same political ground as ’06, and as long as the president stays his personal course the political ground will keep getting worse. The important effect of the ISG will be indirect, by making it excruciatingly painful for Bush allies to stand behind the President in the way that he needs and demands. Despite all of his deliberate Window shifting over the Iraq war George Bush is now on the outside looking in, and I doubt that he will like it very much.






15 replies
  1. 1
    Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    Read this by MissLaura at DailyKos…

    Read what?
    Forgot the link, Tim.

  2. 2
    Tim F. says:

    Funny, I see it. But that’s because I just put it there…after you pointed it out…geh.

  3. 3
    Zifnab says:

    I guess this goes to show that no matter how hard you shove that Overton Window, you can’t quite squeeze it past “reality”.

    As far as I can tell, it was reality that did Republicans in. You can only have so much control over the talking points, and when you ring up bills of around a quarter trillian a year while underfunding everything from disaster relief to medicare pushing that Overton Window just can’t overcome stark, real impacts of public policy.

    Even the head-in-the-sand MSM can’t ignore disaster on a national level. At least not without another break in the Ramsey murder.

  4. 4
    ThymeZone says:

    Witness the Social Security “Reform” idea cooked up by CATO Institute decades ago. Basically, lure away contributors with “private accounts” and other disestablishment schemes, and then starve the entitlement of funds and kill it.

    Great idea … until a foolish Bush thought he would try out his shiny new “Political Capitalmobile” and try to foist the scheme on the public.

    Result? Step one in the Fall of the House of Bush. A fall which continues to this day. I don’t know if it was that the stupid scheme was outside the “window” or if it was just another victim of Bushfuckedupitude. But the idea has no political viability.

  5. 5
    TenguPhule says:

    I don’t know if it was that the stupid scheme was outside the “window” or if it was just another victim of Bushfuckedupitude.

    I think it was a bit of both, and finished off by the first organized effective resistance by the Democrats.

  6. 6
    Tim F. says:

    I don’t know if it was that the stupid scheme was outside the “window” or if it was just another victim of Bushfuckedupitude.

    That scheme was way outside of the Window, except that the media’s centrism tic made that a lot less obvious than it really was. Polling clearly showed that there is no way to screw with SS without incurring the wrath of the public.

  7. 7
    TenguPhule says:

    I bet that Republicans really, really don’t want to fight 2008 on the same political ground as ‘06, and as long as the president stays his personal course the political ground will keep getting worse.

    Personally I hope they follow Rove’s advice to ‘Campaign like it’s 04, but be more conservative’ in 2008 as well.

    Let the anvils pile on.

  8. 8
    Pooh says:

    While I think Tim is spot-on, am I the only one who is tired of all of our “good news” residing wholly on the meta-level?

  9. 9
    Steve says:

    That scheme was way outside of the Window, except that the media’s centrism tic made that a lot less obvious than it really was.

    It seems like you see this on virtually every issue. If you just went by watching CNN, you would have thought Terri Schiavo was some kind of 50/50 issue. Only when someone polled the issue did it become clear that virtually everyone thought the Republican intervention was horrible.

    And on the war, the public is way ahead of both the government and the media, and has been there for a long time now.

    But it’s a “liberal media.” Please. If you and I found a cake, and I wanted the whole cake while you wanted to split it 50/50, the media pundits would award me 75% of the cake in the name of centrism. These people are pathetic.

  10. 10
    Steve says:

    While I think Tim is spot-on, am I the only one who is tired of all of our “good news” residing wholly on the meta-level?

    Well, there was an election recently that was pretty good news.

  11. 11
    Andrew says:

    If you think of the Overton Window as a sort of stretched out orifice ready to take a pounding, rather than a limited range of policy options, the Iraq war build-up propaganda makes a lot more sense.

  12. 12
    Tsulagi says:

    You can see some frantic window pushing and framing going on by the admin now on Iraq. Through the glass they want you to see big and long coming into view. Look for it in January. A double-down of Stay the Course. It’s worked so well, you just need more.

    Of course it will be another Bush masterpiece, but it may not take that big a hit on the Pubs in 08. I could see all of them blaming Bush to some degree since he’d be leaving, but they’d also quietly imply Dems in charge of Congress should have done something to prevent the mess or made it much better. You can count on the party of responsibility and accountability in this millennium.

  13. 13

    […] F. at Balloon Juice says the ISG report on Iraq matters after all. Posted by Jim Henley @ 6:26 pm, Filed under: Main « « Conceptual Roaches Get In, But They Don’t Get Out |Main | […]

  14. 14
    Zifnab says:

    If you and I found a cake, and I wanted the whole cake while you wanted to split it 50/50, the media pundits would award me 75% of the cake in the name of centrism. These people are pathetic.

    Unless you’re a Republican, in which case they award you 93% of the cake while suggesting that he doesn’t have a plan for the cake anyway, so you should probably have had the rest as well. Then they’ll bring on right-wing pundits to villify him as a cake-nazi and a greedy obstructionist who can’t think about anything else except how much cake he can get next time. If you make a joke about the cake, they’ll take it in the worst possible light and replay the joke 24/7 for a month while questioning whether you really respect the cake or are just using it for political opportunism. And finally, they’ll tell you that they really do have to have the last 7% of the cake, plus another two or three cakes to hand out to their corporate friends through no-bid contracts and tell us all if we don’t learn to give up our cake, national security will be forever at risk and the terrorists, who hate us for our cake, will win.

  15. 15
    Downpuppy says:

    The Overton window is one dimensional, ignores quality in favor of marketability, and generally deforms & obscures any issue it looks at. I can see why they like it!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. […] F. at Balloon Juice says the ISG report on Iraq matters after all. Posted by Jim Henley @ 6:26 pm, Filed under: Main « « Conceptual Roaches Get In, But They Don’t Get Out |Main | […]

Comments are closed.