Good Friday Morning! The shutdown is over! For a few weeks. We’ll see if they get anything done in the interim. I have my doubts, the shutdown hurt Trump and Democrats enjoyed that part. But we’ll see. I’ve spent time following the new abortion laws in New York, Virginia, and other states. I won’t be covering them here, because I’m putting my thoughts together and working through some ideas. The laws and politicians defending them are barbaric though. If you haven’t seen them yet, watch the VA House of Delegates debate over it and VA Governor Northam defending the law. It’s beyond anything I’ve seen in this area, at least since the Gosnell stuff.
As for the Roger Stone arrest, like all things with Mueller, wait for the final report. Roger Stone getting arrested is the least surprising thing ever, he’s one of sleaziest guys on the planet, and he loves his sleaze. I don’t like the perp walks that CNN arranged, but I also have little sympathy for Stone, who, like Paul Manafort, was a known bad actor. But as for his involvement in the Russia probe, the final Mueller report is the only thing you should care about in the end.
This week I’m continuing a segment last week, talking about the concept of the Overton Window and how we’re actively watching it shift in the Democratic primaries. Links follow.
Where you can find me this week
Make sure to sign up for the Conservative Institute’s daily newsletter. You can also go to their Facebook page. You can join Ricochet here. And I do recommend their ever-growing network of podcasts, which you can find on all popular podcast platforms. They have a show for every topic you can imagine, and the list continues to grow.
It’s trendy to claim that media and journalism are returning to their 19th-century roots, where every news publication was partisan. I think this is partially true. It’s correct that billionaires are buying newspapers and magazines like yachts for fun, but it’s also true that the media never left its partisan roots.
My piece on the Covington Catholic story, focusing primarily on the media creating a controversy, lying about it, and learning nothing in the process.
The Overton Window shifts towards polarization
Last week I mentioned a concept that was picking up steam and becoming trendy to discuss in elite circles: The Overton Window. It’s an important concept that explains both what happened in the Republican Party, and what is actively happening in the Democratic Party.
First, definitions. Joe Overton of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy first coined the concept in the 1990s. His essay described the Overton Window as follows:
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.
In addition to being dependent on the ideas that form the boundaries of the political climate, politicians are also known to be self-interested and desirous of obtaining the best political result for themselves. 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.
In other words, on a given topic, the Overton Window is the section of the yardstick that politicians and the electorate believe are mainstream at any given point. So even though you may know the full range of possibilities on the yardstick, the Overton Window political possibilities may only exist in a narrow segment, that encompasses a few inches.
When we say someone is trying to shift the Overton Window, we mean that someone is trying to move mainstream consensus and push it one direction or the other and mainstream that formerly extreme idea.
Something I keep coming back to is the Pew Research Center’s charts on polarization. They show a collapsing middle with both right and left shifting away from each other, almost like magnets pushing away from each other.
That’s not to say polarization is all terrible — if one side has good ideas and the other bad ideas, then polarization is warranted. You don’t want to fall into the golden mean fallacy where you believe something is good because it’s a centrist position. Ideas must get judged according to their validity and worthy.
But polarization does mean that it’s easier to shift the Overton Window for both parties to the extreme than it otherwise would be if a stronger center held. With fewer people and institutions holding back a party as it surges farther left or right, the easier it is to mainstream formerly extreme beliefs.
Put another way if both political parties are pushing each other away from each other like the same ends of a magnet, the extreme fringes of the parties are pulling the parties towards the edge with magnetic force.
It’s beyond dispute that the Left has decisively moved the Overton window on gay marriage. Consider the fact that a mere 22 years ago, a Democratic president signed the Defense of Marriage Act, designed specifically to blunt the newly emerging gay-marriage movement. The bill passed the House 342–67 and passed the Senate 85–14.
By 2015, the Obama administration was openly questioning whether religious colleges could keep their tax exemptions if they declined to sanction gay couples. In 2018, the Supreme Court is considering whether a baker can be legally compelled to use his artistic talent to help celebrate a gay wedding.
And we’re continuing to see the same shifts, I’d argue especially on the left. The base of the Democratic Party is moving the Overton Window to accept the following issues:
- Socialism: Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are both avowed Democratic Socialists running the party towards a full socialist platform with things like Medicare for All, which includes banning private insurance, and the Green New Deal, which provides for banning cars.
- Abortion: The New York and Virginia laws give an open season to third-trimester abortions — including during labor.
- Second Amendment: The party is moving closer and closer to full-scale repeal and confiscation.
- Compare the progressive left of 20 years ago with the modern left, and you’ll think you’re looking at an alien planet.
The point is, things are shifting hard towards progressive and socialist extremes because their fringes are pulling them. The counter-reaction to that on the right opened up avenues for people like Donald Trump to waltz in and win the nomination. You can even think of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as the Left’s own personal Sarah Palin or Donald Trump, the media strategy is effectively the same, only the national liberal media prefers AOC.
The shift towards socialism is the easiest to see because it’s fresh.
Hilary Clinton and the Democratic Party decided to clear the field and give her an accessible path to the nomination in 2008 and 2016. Both times that produced disastrous results. In 2008, Barack Obama represented the most liberal Senator in the US Senate. He was the only one with the audacity to challenge Clinton in the race (a real challenge). Yes, John Edwards existed for a moment, but when it came down to it if you were a Democrat, the choices were Clinton or Obama. And Obama exposed Clinton’s fatal flaw: she’s not liked by anyone, on the left or right.
As a result, we got the most liberal Senator for a President (a fact every single Senator running for President knows).
2016 yielded the same thing, except Bernie Sanders was a far weaker candidate to Obama or Clinton. But Bernie Sanders did do what Obama did in 2008. He shifted the party further to the left since he was the only protest vote option available. And in the process, Sanders mainstreamed socialist ideas as Democrats didn’t laugh him off the stage, but instead chose to support him.
And yes, I do believe you can lay a lot of the Overton Window problems in the Democratic Party at the Clinton’s feet, where they tried to maintain an iron fist on the party. Before them, Gore and Kerry represented far more centrist candidates. In the process of trying to control the party, the Clinton’s helped move it farther left.
So how do you reverse Overton Window’s moving further towards the extremes? History teaches that when politics get too extreme, a reactionary phase typically follows where people realize that the radical policies are wrong and you get a swing in the opposite direction. Think of it like a rubber band that gets pulled to its limit before snapping back in place.
There will eventually be a reactionary movement against these liberal movements. You could argue Trump is part of that reactionaryism. Andrew Sullivan, a progressive liberal, summed this up in a piece in the New Yorker after Trump’s election:
We are living in an era of populism and demagoguery. And yes, there’s racism and xenophobia mixed into it. But what we are also seeing, it seems to me, is the manifest return of a distinctive political and intellectual tendency with deep roots: reactionism.
Reactionism is not the same thing as conservatism. It’s far more potent a brew. Reactionary thought begins, usually, with acute despair at the present moment and a memory of a previous golden age. It then posits a moment in the past when everything went to hell and proposes to turn things back to what they once were. It is not simply a conservative preference for things as they are, with a few nudges back, but a passionate loathing of the status quo and a desire to return to the past in one emotionally cathartic revolt. If conservatives are pessimistic, reactionaries are apocalyptic. If conservatives value elites, reactionaries seethe with contempt for them. If conservatives believe in institutions, reactionaries want to blow them up. If conservatives tend to resist too radical a change, reactionaries want a revolution.
I don’t think we’ve seen the end of this reactionary moment. Primarily because the left continues to surge into fringe lunacy. A widespread reactionary moment can pull everyone back from the brink, or it can just tilt over into full conflict (see: Civil War).
But until we see these movements dealt with, the Overton Window will continue shifting towards the extremes. And that’s bad for the long term health of the country.
Links of the week
Should Congress Pass A “Deep Fakes” Law? – Orin Kerr, The Volokh Conspiracy
The Ongoing Gratuitous Cruelty of Trump’s Travel Ban: The way the travel ban policy has been implemented both before and after the Supreme Court’s decision further underscores the magnitude of the Justices’ mistake. – Ilya Somin, The Volokh Conspiracy
Ralph Northam just gave a huge boost to Trump’s reelection campaign – Bethany Mandel, The Washington Post
Wokeness As Weakness – Rod Dreher, The American Conservative
The Courts Are Making a Killing on Public Records: A class-action lawsuit backed by Joe Lieberman is challenging the excessive fees charged by PACER, the federal judiciary’s electronic document system. – Matt Ford, The New Republic
Don’t overthink this. Trump lost the shutdown. – David Byler, The Washington Post
Kamala Harris’s Single-Payer Subterfuge: The Medicare-for-all mess. – Noah Rothman, Commentary Magazine
TAKEN: How police departments make millions by seizing property: In South Carolina, civil forfeiture targets black people’s money most of all, exclusive investigative data shows – Anna Lee and Nathaniel Cary and Mike Ellis, The Greenville News
Facebook pays teens to install VPN that spies on them – Josh Constine, TechCrunch
The kids today are high on socialism, but they haven’t ruled out capitalism – Kristen Soltis Anderson, The Washington Examiner
Yes, the Virginia Abortion Bill Is Just as Barbaric as You’ve Heard – David French, National Review
Ben Sasse Will Push Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act in Senate – Alexandra Desanctis, National Review
Ralph Northam Doesn’t Get Why You’re Mad at Him – Andrew Egger, The Bulwark
The 15 Things You Need to Know About Chris Christie’s Book: All the good parts of Chris Christie’s “Let Me Finish,” in one place. – Johnathan V. Last, The Bulwark
Satire piece of the week
Man Braves Freezing Weather To Cross Parking Lot – The Onion
LANCASTER, PA—Surmounting treacherous icy pavement and a windchill factor dipping as low as 19 degrees Fahrenheit, local resident Louis Bergstrom survived a real-life battle with the elements Friday when he successfully completed a harrowing four-and-a-half-minute journey across the desolate, frozen parking lot of an area G & G Grocery Store, the 38-year-old court stenographer told reporters.
According to Bergstrom, with night coming and temperatures dropping rapidly, he was forced to leave his wife, Linda, 37, at the entrance of the supermarket and valiantly set out on his own to retrieve the couple’s 2001 Toyota Corolla. Before leaving, Bergstrom solemnly vowed that he would return for his pregnant wife as soon as he possibly could.
Recuperating at home following his struggle with nature’s fury, a visibly shaken Bergstrom recounted the look in his wife’s eyes at the moment he set out across the barren rows of the parking lot.
“I could see that she was concerned, but I wasn’t about to let Linda go out there,” a blanket-wrapped Bergstrom said from the safety of his living room couch between sips of hot chocolate. “She’d left her hat at home.”
Thanks for reading!