I haven’t seen these ideas together in one place, but I think it’s a noteworthy observation. Brought on by David Eaves’ recent link to an old post of his about why policy matters in politics, I thought I’d mention this:
The Overton Window is a brilliantly cynical public-policy manipulation tool named for its creator, who noted that “priming the public with fringe ideas intended to be and remain unacceptable, will make the real target ideas seem more acceptable by comparison. The degrees of acceptance of public ideas can be described roughly as:”
If you’ve been watching American politics recently, you might have thought that Ron Paul is obviously nuts but, well, y’know, he’s no Michelle Bachmann, so there is that. And yeah, that’s exactly how that works.
What he didn’t note is that from a practical standpoint this involves publishing, promoting, accomodating and legitimizing people who are completely fucking crazy, and those people don’t just disappear in a puff of frothing lunacy when you’re done getting your newly moderate-seeming views enshrined in law.
He also neglected to mention how quickly that can drag your entire party away from anything vaguely resembling rational policy towards a situation where dogmatic adherence to whatever the pants-on-head-craziest son of a bitch around feels like getting frothed up about is the most important thing ever.
So what ends up happening is you get your Republican Revolution, sure, but crazy guy and all his friends still have their podiums, newspaper columns or talk shows, and it’s probably the best gig the crazy guys will ever get so they’re going to ride it like a pony. And that’s what I think we’re seeing now in the US on the right side of the aisle; the degenerate case of Overton-style political machinations, the last vestiges of anything that isn’t gibbering insanity, crazy that can only beget more crazy.
Fred Clark has a great post up, about the intellectual drift that lets you coast downhill from lying to plain old black-helicopters-and-illuminati nuts, but I wanted to point out that this isn’t an accident – like most great evils, it’s not just about one person’s decision (though it is) or about another’s complicity (though it is), it’s also about the engine built up around those decisions that gives them weight and momentum, that makes it harder to stop or derail and eventually even steer the politics they advance. And in a country with hundreds of millions of people in it, there’s enough crazy around to keep that motor running an awfully long time.
Which is all to say, when you see brain-damaged demagogues like Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin and Michelle Bachmann at the helm of what used to be a respectable political party, that’s all part of the plan. But that plan was designed by people without the foresight to understand what they’d put in motion.