this mornings Union Leader Fergus Cullen gives us something of a New Hampshire spin on the idea behind the Overton Window. No, not the book by Glen Beck but the political theory on which it was based. Joe Overton, Cullen tells us,
"..noticed that within the spectrum of policy alternatives ranging from libertarian and most freedom to statist and least freedom, there is a narrower range of politically possible ideas. He defined these as accepted widely enough that a politician can support the policy and still get reelected.
Anything outside that window — the Overton Window — doesn’t happen.
Unless you move the window. The most meaningful political fights, Overton believed, are about shifting the boundaries of the politically possible by changing public opinion so that what starts out as heretical becomes at least conceivable.”
Overton’s observation is correct as far as it goes, and Cullen does a fine job of sharing the details, but he fumbles the ball when it comes to his New Hampshire parallels because he fails to take the analysis far enough. He ignores the simple fact that you can mislead people about your intentions, actually buy the window, and then use a majority thugocarcy to install it wherever you want in direct opposition to public opinion and hope that the policy becomes so entrenched that people either feel helpless to change it, afraid of opposing it, or just become apathetic and accept it. And this is exactly what the state and federal democrats have been doing. So is Cullen blind to it, party to it, or unwilling to acknowledge his inability to fight it? Has he just given up?
His first example is Jim Splaine, whom I respect despite our policy differences, and his quest for same sex marriage. Fergus would like us to agree that Jim persisted in changing public opinion, and by doing so moved the window, but that’s almost backwards. Starting in 2006 the New Hampshire democrat party used millions in out of state money from deep pocket gay activists to support pro-gay marriage liberal candidates in the face of an unsuspecting or disinterested electorate. By 2008 they had essentially bought the window for Jim. But even they they had problems getting it installed.
The democrat majority house, filled with candidates willing or forced to vote for gay marriage–and I’m going with forced because the demo leadership is notorious for whipping their little donkeys into line—rejected the measure despite the pressure and voted against it before they were called back in and strong armed into voting for it. The governor then had to break a campaign promise to sign it. You think he just rolled over, or did it get him an invite to the big gay money confab in May? For Cullen to even suggest under these circumstances that this is evidence of a sea change in public opinion–ala Overton Window–is the kind of revisionist history normally reserved for liberals, the public school system, and the establishment media not the former chairman of the New Hampshire GOP.
In fact the majority of public opinion is still disinclined to allow the state the power to make such judgments. Recent referendums remind us that about 60% of the state is probably tolerant of civil unions but would rather not let the temporal officials in Concord mess with the word marriage. A 60-40 split, is indicative of public opinion in opposition to Mr. Cullen’s premise that Splaine moved anything at all.
His second example is Lou “place your bets” D’Alessandro and his persistent—need I say annoying efforts to pass a gambling bill by spending us into a ditch to get it. That’s not shifting public opinion that’s mortgaging it through intentionally irresponsible stewardship.
And the gambling lobby has been pumping a fortune into the state to buy Lou’s window and move ‘It’ as well, but with no obvious civil rights argument or crowds of teary eyed malcontents wanting to come out of the shadows to parade before the gullible public, he has been as yet unsuccessful.
Polluting our citizen government with a massive deep pocketed gambling lobby that would be more than happy to give money to candidates of any party as long as they support the gambling lobbies every wish might appeal to Cullen, but not to the general population. That’s not to say they won’t one day succeed, but again, it’s not going to be a heretic who stood their ground to move policy mountains (or windows) it will most likely be a guy directing the money to buy up the votes or simply wearing down a weary opposition. Cullen knows its the same thing, he just never ventures to go there in the space provided.
The real problem as I see it, may be more than just bad timing; Fergus was never able to champion the kind of fiscal resources, party motivation, or political will needed to stop Buckley and the NHDP from buying up elections and driving their agenda by sheer force–of literally moving the window. And given his indifference to excellent conservative candidates like Joe Kenney, I’m not entirely sure he wanted to. He stuck with party politics, and fundamentally failed to support (or even try to be) the very thing his opinion piece seeks from conservatives today—a few heretics willing to work hard to shift public (or even party) opinion away from the Splaine’s on the left. But then he’s even got that wrong.
What Ray Buckley likes to call a civil war on the right is actually the very “heretics” Cullen claims we need. They are everyday folks, fiscally conservative independents and Republicans, who have grown tired of budget management by massive debt and taxes, and grown weary of a two party system in which the other party was content to offer a slower form of fiscal torture than the supposed opposition. These people want to shift perception away from big government, and back to local control. And it is working. They are moving the window, and taking the party back. They are imparting the dangers of unsustainable debt and asking people to act differently than we have in the past few decades to stop it. And Moderate opportunist republican insiders like Charlie Bass have seen the window move and tried to embrace the tea party despite a lengthy history to the contrary. This is that range of politically accepted ideas that politicians need to embrace to get elected. But Cullen never mentions them.
The Tea Party represents millions of “heretics” who have been lambasted by the press, cursed by the Left wing leadership and establishment republicans, called insulting names and denigrated by their own elected officials for wanting something as simple as to be heard. To have their representatives represent them instead of their party line or the campaign contributors and special interests that run Washington DC. Cullen could have used his editorial space to point that out, but instead offers us two prime examples of inside influe
nce buying up politicians and policy, and tries to sell it to us as if it is the same thing.
Whatever else that says about Mr. Cullen I will leave up to you but there are plenty of conservative heretics shifting boundaries and public opinion about the role of government. Fergus just doesn’t seem to see it.
Cross Posted From NH Insider