Political ideology and the Overton Window.


I’ve realized over the past year that political ideology is not a straight line, but more of a circle.

If you move too far to either extreme, whether it’s the far left or the far right, you wind up in pretty much the same place:  an oppressive, centralized government, removal of individual freedoms and rights, and suppression of the free press and free speech.   Authoritarianism and totalitarianism is not limited to the far right (fascism).  It also occurs on the far left (communism, which is found in places like China and North Korea, and in the old Soviet Union).

The only difference between fascism and communism is that in fascism, the corporation, a religious organization, or a group of oligarchs become the government and set all the rules.  Dissent is not allowed.  There are signs of this happening in the United States today, and it has already happened in Russia (after a brief experiment with democracy once the Soviet Union fell).  Authoritarian Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran are also examples of fascist regimes, as was Hitler’s Germany.    Eventually, free enterprise is undermined or suppressed.  In communism, the government itself rules over everyone’s lives, all production is centralized, and free enterprise is not allowed.

Trump’s “food boxes” program reeks of communism to me.    It’s the kind of thing you used to find in the old Soviet Union.   Rather than encouraging personal responsibility by allowing the recipient the dignity and empowerment of making their own food choices (at the same time, boosting the economy and business because food manufacturers and stores make money through SNAP purchases), it gives the recipient no choice and puts that choice instead in the hands of government bureaucrats.

There’s an interesting concept called the Overton Window. This means that as a society moves farther to the right (or the left), what seems to be the “middle ground” also moves farther to that extreme.   The Overton window slides along the scale as public attitudes change.  This is why extremist policies at either end begin to seem normal over time.   A policy that once seemed “radical” or even “unthinkable” begins to seem more acceptable to more people. At the same time, attitudes at the other end of the scale that were once deemed “popular” or “sensible” to most begin to seem unthinkable.  But no matter what extreme a society winds up adopting, tyranny and authoritarianism ensues, and even this can become normalized.

Over the past four or five decades, America has moved farther and farther to the right, and this includes Democrats, who have moved to the right as well.  In fact, today’s Democrats are much more like Republicans of decades ago.    FDR-type Democrats (common during WWII and the early post-war years) are rare today, and are often accused of being socialists.

OvertonWindow (2)


A healthy society is always a balance between the right and the left, though it may tend to lean slightly one way or the other.  Extremes on either side only lead to tyranny and misery for most people who have to live under such extremist regimes.   Democracy requires bipartisanship and cooperation between parties.   In my own opinion, a European or Canadian style of democracy works best, but you can be a little farther to the right and still have a healthy, prosperous, and vibrant society, the way America used to be not that long ago.

Extremes of any ideology never lead to prosperity and happiness.  They always cause a nation to eventually fall into tyranny and finally, ruin.


20 thoughts on “Political ideology and the Overton Window.

  1. I have thought of the political spectrum (Left-Right) as a circle, even a three-space. For example, on that circle, around the back, there is a tiny gap between the Anarchists and the Libertarians, who, of course, despise each other. Maybe that gap is actually occupied by the “Sovereign Citizens.”

    I hadn’t encountered the Overton Window before, but the concept works.

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  2. I agree in the shift of the political parties to the right. That is why as a democrat I am now also identifying and promoting progressive policies. I am trying to shift the democratic party to the left of where it is now. I call the current democratic party republican lite.
    As to the food box thing I think the label should be more Oligarchy. The reason is the feeling that poor people are getting over somehow and eating luxury things only the wealthy think they should have. They keep putting restrictions on what people can use the S.N.A.P. funds for. Every time they do this they repeat the old tired line about seeing people buying lobster and steak with public funds. They fail to mention the huge corporate welfare given in tax cuts and the huge give back to the wealthy that is doubling the deficit for the year. See the republicans push a dual idea. To stimulate the poor you need to take all funding from them and punish them, but to stimulate the wealthy you must give them more money and be more lenient in what you require from them. Studies have shown these ideas are drastically wrong. Hugs

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    • Their ideas are not only wrong, they are cruel and sociopathic. I agree the idea of the food boxes is intended to shame the poor and not allow them to eat higher quality foods they might be able to buy with a SNAP card. The endgame of course, is to stop even those. What’s really stupid is the food box program is going to be more inefficient and exxpensive than just a SNAP card. Who is going to assemble and deliver the boxes? Those people will need to be paid. There are other unecessary expenses involved in it too. Also, stores and food companies make profits from food stamp customers, who use them to make purchases.
      If the food is packed and selected by the government (that’s why it reminds me of Communism) business lose those profits.
      It’s just an all around terrible idea, and further strips away the dignity and independence of the poor, which they don’t have much of these days anyway.

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      • Well said. Plus what about those with allergies to the normal staples in foods like peanut butter? As you say it is a very bad idea deigned to end food assistance to those who need it most and punish poor people. I often tell the story of a friend of ours in West Palm Beach. He was unable to work and was very ill. He got food assistance, the large amount of $40 dollars a month. He couldn’t even have his hot water heater on he was so dang poor. There was no way a person could eat on $40 a month, regardless of what one chose. So my husband came up with a plan. As our friend had no auto, we took him to the store. He took his cart and we ours. We met at the registers where somehow my husband always managed to go through with our friend while I got delayed with our cart. My husband quietly without any fuss covered any overages in the cost of our friends food purchases. While unloading the groceries of our friends at his apartment in the confusion some of the stuff we bought got left at his place. As it was discovered far too late to bother doing anything about it, we just forgot about it. Funny in the years we did this it happened every time we took our friend to the grocery store. I never recall missing a single meal and even gained weight, so I know I was not at a loss for food. I also know I slept much better when I thought of someone trying to eat on $40 dollars a month. Hugs

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  3. What you are describing isn’t a circle. It’s a safe center with two edges on either side that spell disaster. Now there are some “leftists” who reject anything that isn’t left enough and result in letting a fascist like Trump to win power. Just today, I saw a nasty story about Dennis Kucinich, a leftist I used to admire, dissing Hillary in the same way the Repuglicans have been doing for years. I don’t like Hillary but I find this kind of attack despicable. Even weirder, Kucinich seems to be uniting with Ron Paul, a libertarian. Libertarians say they believe in freedom but it only turns out to be freedom for those with money. They would abolish the New Deal and let everyone fend for himself regardless of circumstances. They call this “personal responsibility.” I call it a pile of crap. I also know “socialists” who let Trump win because everyone who “supports capitalism,” in other words, isn’t a socialist, doesn’t deserve any support. These people even call Bernie Sanders a “capitalist.”

    Having said all that, I want to warn against making a fetish out of centrism. You kind of said that with your Overton Window but the chart looks like all centrist ideas are sane and all ideas on either side are crazy. But, as you said, the “center” of American politics has drifted all the way to the right and what is now called extreme left is really sanity. The New Deal is my ideal regardless of where it is on that chart.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The New Deal is my ideal too. We have gone WAY too far to the right, including most Democrats.
      I agree with you that being a purist in times like these or uncertain times is dangerous. For example, Bernie supporters who refused to vote for Hillary and listen to the same fake news stories about her that Trump fans do. Some even voted for Trump as a vote against Hillary. Sometimes you have to compromise your values a little to avoid something much worse. For example, I didn’t love everything about Hillary, but I voted for her anyway because the alternative (Trump) was SO much worse.

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  4. I agree 100% with you about the extremes being equally bad in government. But how are things more conservative than they were fifty years ago in 1968? The only radicals then were college students, and the only reason they made the news was that their views and behavior were so outside the norm, so radically left. Those same people grew up to become social studies teachers & inhabit the humanities departments of universities where they indoctrinated their students with leftist views (or what were extremely leftist views 50 years ago), and now that’s what the vast majority of the ruling class believes because that’s what they’ve been taught by their professors. (OK some became yuppies too) The students of the 60’s radicals professors are currently controlling the media/journalism. Hollywood is very influential. Hollywood also disdains any kind of conservative values (in general; there is the ocassional Clint Eastwood movie). It’s not safe to a be a conservative in Hollywood. Conservatism may not be stamped out entirely, and you might wish it was, but of course things aren’t going in that direction. The only real virtue that is left in society, that is safe to affirm without being labeled a hater, is tolerance and approval of everything (which is of course impossible). The only exception is that vehement intolerance for anything that the left disagrees with is also approved of. You can safely call those people names because they’re bad. Universities won’t even allow conservative speakers to speak on campus- there are riots at Berkeley when a conservative tries to exercise his right to free speech. Nobody bothers to get married before sleeping with someone they want to sleep with, heck they just get on tinder. Nobody bothers to get married before having a kid, and nobody blinks an eye, it’s accepted as normal and good and wholesome. Whether that’s true or not, it’s not the same as 1968 (except if all you’re looking at is Woodstock footage), and it’s not in the direction of conservatism. Most kids don’t have fathers at home. There’s also been a huge falling away from Christianity and religion in general. The divorce rate has skyrockted, the family unit has broken down- again you can argue if all this is good or bad, but it’s not in the direction of conservatism. The supreme court affirms gay marriage as a constiutional right and the white house lights up with rainbow colors. Republicans go right along with it. That would never have happened 50 years ago. Again, good or bad aside, not in the direction of conservatism. What are you even talking about? I totally disagree. You might point to Trump, but he’s just a backlash to Obama telling America it was so bad for 8 years, and to Obama’s mission to cut America down to size. Plus Trump is simply the result of a horrible, corrupt, and more importantly, completely unlikeable opponent. He didn’t even win the popular vote. There’s no 50 year mega trend towards conservatism. There’s just not.

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