The Overton Window, coming Tuesday, June 15
GLENN: Kevin Balfe is, I don't even know what your title is. He runs our book division and has been a coauthor o the Christmas Sweater and the Overton Window. Kevin, would you say that I enjoyed writing the evil character a tad too much?
KEVIN: I would definitely say a tad too much. You had a little too much fun.
GLENN: It was a little enjoyable for me. I don't know, mainly because I know how these dirtbags think and I've read their words for so long here in the last few years, so much of them, and it was just — one of the characters in this, just evil. Just evil.
KEVIN: It's right out of your brain.
GLENN: I enjoyed it. A message to the left. All I'm doing is just moving the Overton Window a little bit. That's all I'm doing. Glenn Beck says he's evil. No, no, I think he's just a bad guy. If I just say I'm evil, can we reverse the Overton Window? Because that's what they are saying. So if I say I'm evil —
PAT: That's an interesting concept.
GLENN: I don't know exactly how this works.
PAT: We can try.
GLENN: The Overton Window is actually a real political concept that most people — it's used every day and most people don't even know what it is. Joe Lehman is here from the Mackinac Center and the Mackinac Center is the — this is — first of all, let me ask you. This is the home of the Overton Window, right?
LEHMAN: That's right, the Mackinac Center originated the whole idea.
GLENN: You guys aren't pissed at us, are you?
LEHMAN: Not by any stretch of the imagination.
LEHMAN: There's nothing that Joe Overton would have like more than to know that one of his concepts was making it smack dab in the middle of the popular culture.
GLENN: I mean, it's amazing that people don't know what the Overton Window is because we use it instinctively, don't we?
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LEHMAN: That's right. And the beauty the Overton Window is it's something that everybody gets but it isn't intuitive. You have to be shown. And once you're shown, you say, a ha, I understand. It's like a map. You know that there's a way to get through the woods but then somebody shows you a map and it all makes sense.
GLENN: Now, I have a different understanding of the Overton Window and I'm glad you're here. I think, is Joe Overton was his name?
LEHMAN: Joe Overton.
GLENN: Joe. When Joe first did this, this is controlled really by the public, right? The window is moved by the public?
LEHMAN: Yeah. The great insight of the Overton Window is that it explains why politicians can't do anything they want to do whenever they want to do it. They are actually constrained by what the public will accept, and the public will accept options within a narrow range of opportunity. So if what a politician wants is outside the range, or if what you want is outside that range, then the window has to be moved.
GLENN: Explain it in real life. Take politics out of it.
GLENN: Explain it with like, you know, a curfew.
LEHMAN: Sure. Let's say that in real life curfew you've got two extremes. On one extreme you might have mom and dad say, "Stay out as long as you want. Stay overnight at your boyfriend's house, we don't care. You know, if you want to check in for some meals sometimes, that's okay." At the other extreme, you are a prisoner in your house, nobody can visit, you can't text anybody, that's it.
LEHMAN: Now, in between are several ranges, and let's say that what you want to do is you want to be allowed to stay out until midnight instead of 10:00 but mom and dad and the people in the community, in other words, kind of the public has an idea that 10:00 is a reasonable curfew. If you want to shift that Overton Window to make midnight reasonable, you've got to make the case for it. You've got to make arguments. You've got to present the facts. That's what think tanks do.
Now, sometimes people use distortions to shift that window, but that's always wrong.
GLENN: No. Who would use distortions? Here's what I — here's how I see it being used. Let's use curfew. What I do is I say, "I want to be home by midnight. Mom and dad want me home by 10:00. Mom and dad, I'd like to stay out until 2:00 a.m." and they say, that's ridiculous. "No, but 10:00 is too — and 2:00, we have all these things going on." And before you know it, I've moved the Overton Window to an unreasonable place to where they can drag it back and say, okay, but this is really kind of more in the field of reason. It's — for instance, why is it that they were talking about fully funded abortions during the healthcare? That's so far out of the window of where America was. But those politicians drag it over there and say, "Argue this. We're going for fully funded abortions." By the time the window comes back, it's no longer where it was. It's now just away from that. And so you kind of go in between the two. Is this a correct understanding of it?
LEHMAN: Well, that's — sometimes there's a fine line between a negotiating technique and shifting the Overton Window. Now, if you are a negotiator and you want a million dollars for your contract, you may come in and say, we want a million and a half, all right? Just like you said with the curfew. And the other guy may start at half a million and you want to end up around a million. But if you want to shift — a lot of things can shift the window. One of the things that can shift the window is, well, how adamant is the party that wants that million and a half dollars? Or how adamant is Suzie when she says, I want to stay out until 2:00 a.m. because that can shift parents' thinking, too. You know, maybe it is more reasonable to allow a little later curfew because Suzie's really going to pitch a fit if we don't give it to her.
GLENN: So now show the window penalties. Is there a, I don't even know, an anti, or some sort of a negative effect to the Overton Window? Because I think what we've done, understanding the Overton Window the way you guys, you invented it. So understanding it this way, what Obama has done with healthcare is a violation of the Overton Window, right?
LEHMAN: It may be. Now, these things are clearer in history than they are in the present moment.
GLENN: But we have 60% of the people saying no. We have the rest of the world moving in the other direction. It seems like it's a violation. Is there any kind of historic payback for violating the Overton Window?
LEHMAN: Oh, yeah, absolutely. We have something that we call Overton's Revenge and if a politician moves too far outside that window and finds that he's all alone, he may suffer Overton's Revenge because the people won't support him or her. And time will tell if Obama has done that. You see, the president — it's a very rare politician that has the ability to shift that window by himself or by herself. Usually it's all kinds of things that shift the window. It's events, it's ideas, it's arguments, it's sometimes falsehoods. The gulf oil spill shifts the window on oil stuff. But you get a rare politician every so often who can shift that window by himself. Ronald Reagan was an example. The people moved toward him. He didn't just see a parade and jump in front of it. So if the president — if President Obama has really rammed the policy down the throats of people who don't want it, there will be political payback and we won't know that for a while.
GLENN: See, I don't think it's — with Obama it's not a politician. Pat, wouldn't you agree that it's not — they have orchestrated events. They orchestrated video, they orchestrated even the things like the — remember the health insurance company? What was the health insurance company that said, "We're going to have to raise our insurance premiums by..." what was it, like 50%? And then they used that and said, see, this big insurance company is going to have to raise by 50%. After it was passed, the insurance company came back and said, you know what? We were wrong on that. We're actually not going to have to raise anything. I mean, they have — it's not just Obama. It is this whole fleet, this team that is pushing the events and everything and shifting those windows. Have we ever seen any — this is — Goebbels was a guy who understood the Overton Window.
LEHMAN: Mmm hmmm.
GLENN: Right? Move it through propaganda?
LEHMAN: Sure, that's right. And that was using the observation of the Overton Window for bad purposes. Here's a policy that there was backlash on. Prohibition was a great example of the Overton Window shifting and being overshot. You had for decades organizations making the case for prohibition, private organizations. And eventually it becomes the law of the land. But here's the thing. Even though there was a strong social movement underlying prohibition, it didn't prove to be durable. The policy turned out to be more than what the people wanted, and that policy only lasted a decade. Prohibition was repealed. But the Overton Window has shifted with all kinds of social movements, the environmental movement, the union movement, the civil rights movement. It really does — the Overton Window doesn't care about right or wrong.
GLENN: Okay. What is the name of it? Is it Overton's revenge?
LEHMAN: Well, yes. We call it Overton's Revenge. You see, politicians, one of the things that makes politicians interesting people is they have this sense of how much they can do and still get reelected.
GLENN: I don't think that's an interesting trait. I think that's a dirt bag trait.
GLENN: Kevin, I think that's the name of the second book, Overton's Revenge.
KEVIN: I love that. There is one — when Joe was talking to me about this, though, there is one cool thing I thought where it provides a little bit of hope because think about the Second Amendment. Everything tells us, events, media, everything that we should be, you know, going more towards banning of all guns. And yet, you know, Columbine, Virginia, all these things, and yet look what's happening policy and public opinion wise. It's going the other way. And so just because this sort of false story is painted by the media or whoever else, as long as it's based on distortion and not what Americans truly believe, you always have an opportunity to make policy right.
GLENN: See, this is — this is so fascinating because this is the theory that I have on why — on the hope that I do have. I know how this story ends because I know who Americans are at their heart. At their heart they are not big government people. They are not — that's why they have to change our baseball games. Because they've got to train, you know. They have to change our history because if you know history, they're toast. If you haven't trained your kids to accept the participation trophy and don't keep score at games, they are toast. I know who Americans are at heart and that's why they will fail. It's just a matter of time. You watch the news? It doesn't match reality. Is that the Overton Window, too?
LEHMAN: Well, that's right. But the question is how long do we want to exist in a situation where the policies are outside the Overton Window. It might last for a year, it could last ten years. Sometimes political mistakes take a long time to fix.
GLENN: Depression was 20 years.
GLENN: Thank you very much. We'll talk to you again. Do you have a website yet?
LEHMAN: Please go to theOvertonwindow.com.
GLENN: Why didn't we buy that? We could have sold it to these guys for a fortune.
LEHMAN: Well, right now the network of think tanks around the country that are advocating ideas for free markets and limited government are all tied in with that theOvertonwindow.com.
GLENN: That's great, good, thank you very much.
[NOTE: Transcript may have been edited to enhance readability - audio archive includes full segment as it was originally aired]