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Understanding the Overton Window

Robert Dimuro

Posted on September 29, 2019 09:37

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The Overton Window, a term coined by Joseph P. Overton, represents the range of ideas tolerated in public discourse.

Take any snapshot in time of the political landscape, and you'll see the issues that were in the forefront of debate, how society had changed from the past, and the forces that would influence future change. In real time, however, the set of popular, acceptable, and debatable ideas seems to be static. We tend to lack the foresight of how this set, known as the Overton Window, can change significantly within one or two election cycles.

Every snapshot of time has an Overton Window, dictating the opinions and attitudes of the population and the policy enacted by politicians. Studying the Overton Window over time tells you virtually everything there is to know about America's history. 

As an example, the Overton Window from around the year 1950 included segregation, the opinion that smoking wasn't bad for you, and the sentiment that homosexuality is a disease. Those advocating for Civil Rights, the effort to keep people from smoking, and the acceptance of homosexuality were deemed radical and sidelined from mainstream debates regarding policy. Today, the Overton Window is completely reversed from what it was in 1950 regarding most issues.

There are many factors that can cause the Overton Window to shift, including scientific discoveries, cultural influences, and national tragedies. Politicians are usually bound by these factors and enact policy accordingly... usually. However, there are some charismatic leaders that have the ability to shift the Overton Window on their own, exploiting voids in the political landscape to promote authentic ideas that resonate with the people.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are two of these types of leaders. Trump burst onto the scene and took an axe to Republican orthodoxy, winning on a populist message and standing up to PC culture. 

As a result of this new counterculture inspired by Trump's unique presidential campaign, the Right's Overton Window has not only shifted but also expanded. The Right has new allies from across the political spectrum. This is because, as I've mentioned in a previous article, the most defining factor labeling one as a Right-winger is being against PC Culture and radical social justice proposals. Consequently, disagreements on other issues are more easily overlooked or even accepted by those on the Right.

Likewise, Sanders burst onto the scene and took an axe to the entire political establishment, taking on the power of the one percent and advocating for a single-payer healthcare system. Four years ago, these ideas were considered radical and to support them would be suicide in a general election. 

Today, every Democrat candidate is pushing for some form of universal healthcare and talking about reducing or eliminating medical and student loan debt. The Left's Overton Window has shifted in four years, even without a Democrat in the White House, and Sanders is almost single handedly responsible for this shift.

In a future article, I will discuss in further detail the relationship between the Left and the Right on the ever-changing Overton Window.

Robert Dimuro

Posted on September 29, 2019 09:37

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Source: Vox - All

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