June 8, 2019

The Overton Window And 2020

The Overton Window is an interesting – and timely – idea. It defines the acceptable limits of public discourse. For example, in an election campaign like the one already picking up momentum for 2020, politicians will be pushed – so the theory goes – to stay within Overton’s “window,” the permissible domain of conversation. Ideas outside the window will be unwelcome (think: taboo) and those espousing them will be cast into the political outer darkness. Given Joseph Overton’s* framework, what subjects might be “unthinkable” – or at least “unwelcome” – in the 2020 debates?

Here are five of my own candidates for unwelcome subjects:

1. Imperial Overreach

Why do we seem to be in endless wars since we ended the military draft?
How might the dots might connect between the ravenous (for tax dollars)
military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned us about in
1961, and the steady stream of new enemies (Iran, ISIS, Venezuela) that
seem to pop up constantly like so many grotesque jack in the boxes?
And by the way, what concrete positive outcomes have our military
adventures wrought since the end of the Korean War?

2. Crony Capitalism

We do NOT have a capitalist, free market system in the U.S. today, we
have a crony capitalist system. The two are not the same. In crony
capitalism, the playing field is tilted in favor of the fattest cats with
major investments in the corrupt politicians of both parties. In real
capitalism, you are permitted to fail and markets can go down
as well as up. How might we fix this?

3. Financialization

We have gone from a country that was the industrial heart of the
west and the arsenal of democracy in WW II to a country that is
overly dependent on manipulating currencies and securities to
enrich a small Wall Street elite at the expense of the rest of us. We
don’t make things anymore and we cannot seem to think long-term
about optimizing our economic future. Why is that?

4. Inequality

We’ve almost completed the destruction of the American middle
class but do not seem to realize that you cannot run a prosperous
economy without one. We are also hard at work creating a largely
unemployable underclass that has dropped out of the labor force
and is using disability payments as a substitute for lapsed
unemployment payments. The opioid crisis is just one of the
downstream outcomes. And automation is really just getting
started on its work of eliminating jobs for humans. How might
we remedy this growing wound in the nation?

5. Health Care

We spend the most of any country for medical care by far and
yet produce sup-par results. Ever wonder why? Virtually every
other advanced nation has universal health care and better
outcomes. Is this our definition of being the “exceptional nation?”
Why are we so reluctant to investigate other countries for
transferable best practices? Why are so willing to accept our
unacceptable current situation? Could it be that our system
itself is the problem?

It is likely that people who try to bring these things up during the upcoming campaign will be ignored, excluded, misquoted and – if necessary – smeared (see Tulsi Gabbard).

The candidates who succeed in initial phases of the campaign will be those with the smoothest edges and the discourse will move steadily from the edge of the Window to the inside where the taboo ideas cannot penetrate.

The media will function as enforcers in this process.

I could be wrong about this, but I doubt it.

* The Overton Window was named for Joseph P. Overton 91960 – 2003) of the
Mackinac Center for Public Policy.