Overton Straitjacket

by John Holbo on November 8, 2013

Approximately a bazillion commentators have pointed out, rightly, that the right-wing of the conservative movement holds sway over the political right, in the US; whereas the left-wing of the left-wing party, the Democrats, is so wimpy, comparatively, that it sounds funny even calling the Democrats ‘left-wing’, per se. Of course, conservatives say the opposite. They are the moderates blah blah blah. I don’t know what truth would have the tremendous force needed to burst their epistemic bubble, so let’s move on, talking among ourselves.

Here’s a non-obvious (perhaps because it is incorrect) thought about the dynamics of having a right-wing dominated by its extreme right-tip, to the point where it doesn’t really have much of anything but a right-tip. You’d think it would automatically NOT be like that. You’d think such a dominant right-tip would not only generate a more moderate middle but also an ‘acceptable’ right to its right. That is, whatever is the center of political gravity – which is now on the extreme right – would sort of end up ‘moderate’, by definition, so long as you adopt a relative definition. That is, folks would figure that if Ted Cruz is ok, then Ted Cruz’ dad is probably ok. Because, what the hell, they aren’t THAT different. (By contrast, Obama really didn’t seem much like Jeremiah Wright. The shocker there was going to have to be that this association proved he believed stuff totally different from what he said.) Overton Window 101. But this doesn’t actually seem to be the way of it. Rather, what we get is this big weight of conservative opinion, this huge clump of conservative grass-roots, right at the edge of what is considered at all acceptable, in US political discourse. There is a very narrow range of things you can say without being, on the one hand, a RINO squish; or, on the other hand, having to say it was all ‘taken out of context’ when David Corn or Media Matters gets wind of it.

This isn’t a total mystery. Moderate conservatism is too soggy to serve as fuel for the conservative disinfotainment industry – talk radio fire-breathers and all that. (This is not a sufficient story, but it’s part of the story.) But what is it that keeps the range of acceptable right-wing opinion from naturally spreading out ever further to the right, as much as you might expect? Screw David Corn! ‘We’re here! We’re sincere in our belief that the President’s a communist! Get used to it!’ Why is the ‘normal’ Republican so frequently walking right up to the line, risking getting caught out saying something he’ll have to walk back? Why doesn’t that very fact make it normal and uncontroversial to say these things?

I’m tempted to say: because it’s just dumb, and you can’t make dumb normal. But that’s obviously not right.

Is it a left-wing media conspiracy, journalists to some degree managing to hold the line against norms of acceptability shifting? Is it that conservative politicians now always have this straddle they need to pull off: the base is way out there, and you have to please the base. But you also have to win some portion of the middle. And there’s just a lot of air between base and middle. So the recipe is to say things that please the base without getting noticed by the middle. That is, there’s not a normal, bell-curvey distribution of ideological positions on the right because there just isn’t such a distribution in the population?

Or maybe I’m wrong and the Overton Window is shifting rightward more than I think?

What do you think?

{ 159 comments }

1

matt 11.08.13 at 10:36 pm

Low taxes on the wealthy is not a popular position. The only other reason to vote Republican is the white nationalism. (Ok, there’s also super pro-lifers. Set them aside for a moment.)But the taboo on “racism” that you’ve discussed before prevents explicit white nationalism from becoming socially acceptable.

2

ZM 11.08.13 at 10:41 pm

“Of course, conservatives say the opposite. They are the moderates blah blah blah. I don’t know what truth would have the tremendous force needed to burst their epistemic bubble, so let’s move on, talking among ourselves.”

(Ah, just before the discussion moves on, as i’m sure it will – I just have to jump in here – how about querying them on who the true conservatives are – hey you guys, you are right you are moderates, corrupt hybrids even , we’re the true conservatives etc.

I always think that the true conservatism in US society is that in the Three Jolly Rogues of Lynn song, which I heard on a Jean Ritchie record (now, who could contest her claim to conservatism in good faith? Plus she wrote that song, the name of which escapes me, about the awfulness of mining coal and the awfulness of when the coal mines shut down – I think Johnny Cash covered it).

In good old colony days
When we lived under the king
There was a miller, A weaver, a little tailor
Three jolly rogues of Lynn

Which relates to the English version, which I think has it as being In Good King Arthur’s Days (who might be a romance version of King Alfred – whose laws those in the peasant’s revolt wanted to go back to). And the Arthurian thing is kind of like, or the closest too, the English etc version of the classical Golden Age when all men were equal and peaceful and so forth – and that’s got to be the most radically conservatives vision then, don’t you think?. Therefore, the conservatives are definitively not conservative, being against equality and peace)

3

John Holbo 11.08.13 at 10:42 pm

“how about querying them on who the true conservatives are – hey you guys, you are right you are moderates, corrupt hybrids even , we’re the true conservatives etc.”

They’ll tell you that true conservatism is moderate, by definition. Burke stuff. (Not that this is satisfactory, but that will be the answer.)

4

Anarcissie 11.08.13 at 11:01 pm

It might just be that terms like ‘right’, ‘left’, ‘conservative’, ‘liberal’, and so on, have become so variegated, confused, and contradictory, that they are no longer useful for analysis and communication. I find that if I use these terms, I often have to preface them with a considerable definitional prolog to avoid misunderstanding.

5

Martin James 11.08.13 at 11:08 pm

I think the overton window varies based on the topic.

Which is more rightward, the USA should decrease its foreign entanglements and close all the foreign bases and bring the troops home or that the USA should fight every war?

People like Pat Buchanan and Paul Craig Roberts are in very different spots from what you may be characterizing as conservative opinion.

Another example might be a position on easy money, the Fed and the IRS. The right wing of the rank and file have no trouble whatsoever in every possible theory or belief about the the conspiracies or ill effects of those entities. So on an issue like auditing the Federal Reserve there does seem to be a lot of ground on the right for right and more right. But the nationalism and capitalism get in the way of the populism on this issue.

I am curious on your epistemic measure how you benchmark this over time. Where would you rank left and right opinion versus historical benchmarks of right and left. Conservatives, if they are conservative of tradition would be nature seem to be moderate from an historical perspective because they would be closer to historical positions.

Another example would be Israel where the position of the right on Arabs versus Israel has a pretty wide range of opinion. How the neoconservatives pulled off having the right become supporters of Israel is no mean feat. Again, its not clear to me what the left-right axis is on Israel. The evangelical right, the neoconservative right, the libertarian right all would measure this differently.

On religious and social issues there is a huge difference between the activist government right, which wants government control of abortion and marriage and the anti-government right which does not.

As for the moderatism of the left, the racial and ethnic make up of the democratic party constrains how far left the party can go. Republicans are dividing white people left and right, but the democrats have almost all the African Americans and many of the hispanics. Julian Bond told me that blacks are mostly conservative and if the Republicans would change on affirmative action, they would get a bigger share of that vote.

The stronger the role race plays in who the Republicans attract, the more diverse on a left-right basis the non-white democrats become.

The exciting part is that the civil war among the republicans combined with new media, is that the discourse among the right will become a free for all ideologically. Glen Beck is off script, the socially moderate evangelicals are off script, Justice Kennedy is a free agent, the libertarians are off script, its exciting as hell on the right.

6

Tim Wilkinson 11.08.13 at 11:30 pm

You will need to use a model with two or more dimensions, I think. (Update – 4 and 5 have anticipated this point.) Rep position is extreme right in economic terms (in reality plutocrat, rather than free market per se): they are interested in shifting that particular O window and have done so very effectively over the past 30 years. But they also depend on support from the most benighted segments of society, a coalition maintained through demagoguery in the usual way. The positions they have to court are so lunatic, or dependent on upbringing or race etc. that they can’t spread to much more of the population, not even in penumbral form. They are also not suited to penumbrality anyway (Youngish earth creationism?). But also there is not much effort to shift the Overton window along the loony dimensions – the Reps backers aren’t interested in the positions per se, and their demagogic force depends to an extent on their being regarded as bravely anti-PC outsider positions suppressed by the mainstream.

This is all to some extent ‘bold’ conjecture, but I think it’s something like that.

7

Bloix 11.08.13 at 11:42 pm

You’ve got two metaphors going here – one explicit and one implicit. The explicit one is the Overton Window. The implicit one is the bell curve: You’re assuming that there’s a continuum of political opinion and belief that can be represented from on a 2-D graph, and you’re wondering why there doesn’t seem to be a “moderate” majority the takes form of the bell in the center, with long tales of “left” and “right” extending out from either end.

But you really can’t map conservative opinion on a 2-D map. “Moderate conservatism” isn’t “moderate” because it’s held by a group in the “middle” and doesn’t fit on a linear continuum from left to right. It’s “moderate” because it represents the views of the traditional ruling elite. And it’s “soggy” because it has no appeal to the conservative base.

I’m not saying anything remotely original when I point out that the modern Republican Party, beginning with Nixon’s southern strategy, made a devil’s bargain and the time is coming for it to surrender its soul to hell.

8

Bloix 11.08.13 at 11:44 pm

Jeez, I see I’m the 4th person to say this. I should look at the comments when I walk away in the middle of writing one and don’t get back for half an hour.

9

Shelby 11.09.13 at 12:04 am

I’m put in mind of the classic “World As Seen from New York City” picture, in which there’s a vast distance between Wall Street and Central Park, but San Francisco and Tokyo are adjacent. When the only legitimate political views are very close to your own, you spend most of your time and energy minutely detailing them, while the illegitimate views are lumped together (which also makes it easier to dismiss them).

As Martin James suggests, there is tremendous diversity of thought throughout the so-called right wing of politics in the US (this, conservatism, and the Republican party are in no way identical). If you think George W. Bush was as far “right” as the wing-tip — John’s notional Overton Window space on the right — you don’t understand anything “left” of center. Bush was a classic “moderate conservative”, as was Mitt Romney, and the “base” was fairly unhappy with both of them. And this is without getting into the category error of labeling libertarianism “right wing”, another artifact of forcing modern US politics into a simple left-right spectrum.

10

Tim Wilkinson 11.09.13 at 12:05 am

I really should look at the comments when I walk away in the middle of writing one and don’t get back for half an hour.

11

rootlesscosmo 11.09.13 at 12:22 am

It might be useful to distinguish between the spectrum of beliefs (which is analog) and the range of choice at the polls (which is digital, even in a multi-candidate primary, and always includes a null choice–stay home–as belief doesn’t.) Do the right fringes of the Republicans and the left fringes of the Democrats behave comparably when it comes to choosing candidates–that is, do they make similar calculations about electability? I have an intuitive sense that people on the Left are more frightened of a Republican victory, and thus more willing to support a moderate Democrat than people on the right are frightened of a Democratic victory and willing to support a moderate Republican. Anybody got any evidence about this, one way or the other?

12

Shelby 11.09.13 at 12:30 am

I’m sorry, “understand anything “left” of center” ==> “understand anything “right” of center”

13

phosphorious 11.09.13 at 12:33 am

In the US, creationism is taught in (some) highschools, the Bell Curve is gospel for a large percentage of the population, George Zimmerman is considered to be a hero, the Civil War is thought to be about something other than slavery. Ayn Rand is the best selling novelist/philosopher, Glenn Beck has successfully claimed the mantle of MLK Jr. and George W. Bush never lost an election in his life.

How much more conservative can we get?

14

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 12:34 am

I think you don’t see a “moderate conservatism” in the Republican Party attract sufficient support, because the people, who want “moderate conservative” policy are already getting it from the Democrats. And, it is pretty clear that the antics of the far-right actually help the corrupt centrists in the Democratic Party to deliver the desired “moderate conservative” pro-plutocrat policy, so, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it would be the prevailing attitude among the “moderate conservative” establishment, which would rally to the Republicans, if liberal Democrats ever got within screaming distance of actual power to enact policy.

It seems to me that confusion about these dynamics is entirely among Democrats, who want to view Obama favorably, and as locked into a Manichean struggle with the racist Tea Party.

In general, sincerity is not a particular virtue on the Right, in the way it may be on the Left. You only need to appear “moderate” when there’s some danger of a progressive or liberal getting near the power to make policy. No danger, then no real point in being “moderate.” The Tea Party demagogues have to hide a lot from their followers, too, but their followers are easier to fool.

15

John Holbo 11.09.13 at 12:38 am

“You’re assuming that there’s a continuum of political opinion and belief that can be represented from on a 2-D graph”

Per the post, I’m open to the possibility that this is not the case. “there just isn’t such a [normal] distribution in the population”. I think that’s probably right.

“If you think George W. Bush was as far “right” as the wing-tip “

I think no one could run and win today from the right the way Bush won in 2000. Compassionate conservative and all that. His case is sort of unique, due to 9/11.

Several of you are saying that things are more complicated than my post indicates. I take that for granted. (It would be quite surprising if there weren’t more to be said on the topic than can be said in a medium-length blog post.)

The post wasn’t an attempt to come up with a satisfactory general theory of contemporary conservatism. I really meant to ask something more narrow: given how dominant a certain brand of extreme right politics is, why isn’t a slightly more extreme brand of extreme right politics more normalized. (Knock on wood.)

16

David 11.09.13 at 12:40 am

I feel like a bit of a contrarian here.

1. The general line seems to be that “left and right are no longer useful terms”, but I have not found this to be the case. Left and Right are easily identifiable both by temperament and by whether or not the policy supports the continuation of power hierarchies.

2. As much as we all want to see Obama become a fire-breathing avowed Liberal, he and the rest of his Centrist “PragProgressives” have done a pretty great job at outmaneuvering the Republican Party at every turn thus far. Under Obama the Dems have run a continually canny strategy. The country is shifting ever so slowly to the Left simply because the Republicans can’t help harming themselves on matters of principle. So, on the inside we all obviously want to see the Dems move to the Left, but would that really be a smart move in the current system?

17

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 12:43 am

rootlesscosmo @ 11

It’s not symmetrical in any way, if only because it is demagogues cyncially fabricating hot-button appeals on the right, media consultants synthesizing anodyne slogans in the middle for the corrupt centrists, and morons babbling incoherently on the left.

But, you make an important point, since voting isn’t mandatory in the U.S. — increasingly, in many jurisdictions, it isn’t even an option unless you are very motivated — distrust and cynicism can be expressed by simply not voting at all. And, this may be the most rational response. A viral Russell Brand interview revolved around his admonition to the young to not vote, as it just legitimates a system that throws up no choice worth making.

18

BenK 11.09.13 at 12:48 am

The basic problem is that ‘clines’ or ‘gradients’ is the entirely wrong conceptualization for the process.

19

Dingbaticus 11.09.13 at 12:51 am

Sorry, John, you are wrong. Over the past 50 years, the right-wing faction of US politics has moved ever further to the right, and that trend shows no sign of abating. It’s worked well for them; they’ve accomplished most of their policy goals, and what remains looks attainable, with the bonus of endless opportunities for grifting and personal enrichment of rightist demagogues. Their political party, at least in my lifetime, has been vastly more effective than the other major party and has done a fine job of dragging the Democratic party ever rightward behind them.

BTW, you may not see it because you’re safely ensconced in the ivory tower and surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, moderate-to-liberal persons, but in the Republican county I live in, most everybody I encounter is fully on board with the radical insurrectionist fire-breathing tip of the right wing, they’re fully convinced that only Fox “News” and Rush, et. al. are the only ones telling it like it is, and that all the rest of the media and political establishment is engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and oppress them. They’re wholly unapologetic for their point of view, and their complaint, if any, is that their elected representatives and political (and social) institutions are not conservative enough.

When right-wing pols make comments they have to walk back or gloss over, they’re not doing so for their own partisans, they’re doing it to limit the damage done among the vast non-informed bulk of the American electorate, who can’t be bothered to be informed and who continue to vote for Republican candidates far in excess of the numbers one would expect given that in opinion polls conservative Republican policy prescriptions are consistently not in keeping with majority American preferences. Deception and dissembling work.

From my anecdotal experience, it is absolutely the case that for a large and well-organized minority of Americans, it’s totally normal and uncontroversial to say all sorts of dumb BS. Anything that fuels the paranoia and confirms the perception of victimization among wing nuts.

I’m a huge fan of Crooked Timber, and enjoy reading your scribblings, but I think you missed it on this one, John. From where I’m standing (caveat: anecdotal experience), there’s an insatiable appetite for this crap and this crazy train has a lot more track on which to run. Keeping my fingers crossed that the young folks today seem remarkably well adjusted and less susceptible to this stuff than my generation (X) and that of my parents, so maybe eventually the tide will turn. But not holding my breath.

20

Main Street Muse 11.09.13 at 12:52 am

“But what is it that keeps the range of acceptable right-wing opinion from naturally spreading out ever further to the right, as much as you might expect?”

I guess maybe I’ve been stunned into shock and awe when I moved from the Chicago area to the rabidly right-wing state of NC several years ago – the acceptable right-wing opinion here is about as far right as it can get. NC state legislature passed laws this term that provided for guns in parks, bars and college campuses; abortion clinics are now held to “surgical standards” (i.e shut down); education $$ are funneled to untested charter schools, no medicaid expansion because the feds may renege on payment. They even considered the establishment of a state religion.

This didn’t come from nowhere. In the first place, the Dems are now the moderate conservatives (see Bill Clinton). In the past 30 years, several things happened to shift the GOP (and the nation) to the radical right:

1) A backlash against government activism – neatly expressed by Reagan, who rose to power in part thanks to the malaise of the post-Watergate Carter years.

2) The rise of cable, and with it, the 24/7 news outlets, with their hunger for “news” that left them starving for anything to fill that endless loop of time.

3) The power of news media owners like Rupert Murdoch, a media mogul who built a cable news station and deliberately populated it with “fair and balanced” extremists.

4) The rise of a ruthless right-wing politburo that shut down anyone who did not follow the party’s talking points.

5) The refinement of the GOP’s Southern strategy’s appeals to racists, so beautifully expressed by Lee Atwater in this early 1980s interview http://nyti.ms/18GtgPE

6) The rise of the Internet, which hastened the collapse of the print news media business model, leaving it harder to conduct the kind of investigative journalism that gave us Watergate. (Think about it – Nixon resigned over a warrantless wiretapping scandal. Today, warrantless wiretapping of our citizens and our allies is SOP, all in the name of freedom. And think about the reprinting of Bush White House press releases the news media gave us in the rise up to the Iraq war.)

7) The GOP’s firm embrace of Malcolm X’s dictum: “By any means necessary.” This was a mantra Dick Cheney lived by in his time in power. Cheney was one who believed that a lie told frequently and convincingly would be held as truth one day. And he was right.

21

js. 11.09.13 at 12:53 am

given how dominant a certain brand of extreme right politics is, why isn’t a slightly more extreme brand of extreme right politics more normalized

Isn’t it because the dynamic is see-saw/lever-ish? (That’s not exactly the right metaphor, but it’ll have to do.) The Brooks/Frum/Boehner(?) types don’t really want the lunatics running the asylum, so they keep trying to, I don’t know, get them under control somehow? Meanwhile, the crazy types keep getting kookier and moving further right* and often pulling the “establishment” somewhat further right along with them. I mean, “legitimate rape” was something that actually happened, and people in the “establishment” didn’t exactly point out that this was utter lunacy. What more do you want?

*Count me in the apparent minority that thinks the left-right axis is perfectly useful in thinking about contemporary US politics.

22

Main Street Muse 11.09.13 at 12:54 am

“I think no one could run and win today from the right the way Bush won in 2000.”

To John Holbo: I really hope to God no one wins from right OR left the way that Bush won in 2000….

23

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 1:18 am

David:

“Obama . . . and the rest of his Centrist “PragProgressives” have done a pretty great job at outmaneuvering the Republican Party at every turn thus far. Under Obama the Dems have run a continually canny strategy. The country is shifting ever so slowly to the Left simply because the Republicans can’t help harming themselves on matters of principle. So, on the inside we all obviously want to see the Dems move to the Left, but would that really be a smart move in the current system?

I completely agree with your premise — that the left-right spectrum works remarkably well in describing the partisan dynamics. Better than usual in U.S. politics, by historical standards, since historically, there were right and left ideologies and single-issue-movements represented in both Parties in previous eras. Temperament questions — like, “do you think economic success is more a matter of hard work or luck?” — do a good job of sorting out partisan identification.

On the record, as far as policy is concerned, neither Party does anything to challenge existing hierarchies of economic power, and that’s where it gets ambiguous. Probably a good portion of voters, who identify as Democrats wish for a mild challenge to established power, where the key word is, “wish” with its connotations of magical intervention. The Tea Party types are a bit fiercer in their expressed desired to bring down the established hierarchies of power; I think it reasonable to believe the leaders are insincere about this, and the followers delusional, but it should be noted that this is the thrust of their politics.

If there’s any way that the U.S. has moved decisively to the Left, in economic policy terms, in the Bush-Obama years, I’m unaware of it. The decline in economic welfare for the mass of people is palpable, and the shabbiness of infrastructure and eclipse of college by debt peonage hard to miss. The TBTF banks are bigger than ever, and more criminally corrupt than ever, and the Food Stamp allotment has been cut (with Democratic support in Congress, it may be noted).

There’s a lot of desperate, hopeless people in the country, and their numbers and desperation is swelling. That could be the foundation for a move to the left or to the right. With the surveillance state put into place under Obama as groundwork, movement to the right seems more likely.

If Obama and company have been “canny”, it has been in the ways they’ve kept their base corralled or depressed, depending on how you see the remarkably passive way the left accepts the continuation of all Bush2 trends.

24

Dr. Hilarius 11.09.13 at 1:24 am

John, I can’t agree that extreme right-wing politics aren’t normalized. Who exactly is being marginalized on the right? The right-wing tip, as you call it, dominates Fox News, has a multiplicity of other, lesser news sources (Breitbart, Free Republic, on down) and can call the shots for the Republican Party as a whole. Ideas too crazy for the John Birch Society of the 60s and 70s are now well within the Republican mainstream. The right’s rejection of science is particularly pronounced. Earlier posters are correct that it’s hard to fit some right-wing obsessions on a conventional left/right political spectrum. You could plot against “ideas bearing no relationship to reality” and see how that works.

Rather than following a normal curve, contemporary American conservatism is better described by a curve sharply truncated on the right whose maximum value is just to the left of the curve dropping back to zero. Similar to some enzymes whose activity goes up with temperature but drops abruptly to zero when a small additional temperature increase causes the protein to denature. They can only get so crazy before their heads explode.

25

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 1:31 am

I think it’s easy to overrate the importance of the cable-news noise machine. The really salient fact is that most people are not reached by any political communication; they don’t pay attention and their ideological consciousness, for lack of a better term is atrophied, so what they do pay attention to, is usually sound-bites and phrases of a few seconds duration, which get filtered in often really weird ways, and to which they respond with less intelligence than Pavlov’s dogs.

Fervently right and left matter less as political dimensions, as other commenters have said, than passive and ignorant. Passive and ignorant, as political dimensions, deserve more attention.

26

christian_h 11.09.13 at 1:34 am

Geography. The US is really way too large to be one liberal democracy (and of course, it really isn’t). It has been discussed on this blog before that there is a quasi-ethnicity “Southern White”. I think more generally, there a variety of polities contained within the US, and they each have their own overton window.

27

Anarcissie 11.09.13 at 1:39 am

For instance, Welfare is supposed to be ‘left’, but Welfare was earlier the Bismarckian scheme to forestall socialism, hardly a leftist aim.

The terms ‘left’ and ‘right’, etc., could be used coherently, but people choose not to.

28

UserGoogol 11.09.13 at 1:39 am

To give a somewhat vague and self-serving hypothesis, a possibility is that the barriers to “really extreme conservatism” are more fundamental than merely not fitting into existing political fashions. People have various reasons for being conservatives: the ideas have a certain appeal to them. But once you push past a certain point, conservatism starts clashing with very fundamental principles of modernity. So the problem isn’t just that you’re moving from mainstream ideas to scary unfamiliar ideas, but that you’re moving outside of the fundamental framework which people think about. And I think it makes a certain amount of sense that this sort of transition would be more brittle: if an idea is simply more unfamiliar, you can gradually get used to it. If an idea fundamentally contradicts some deeply held values, then it’s only going to get adopted if you can persuade people enough to get over that hump.

Radical leftism, despite its unpopularity, I don’t think suffers this problem. It’s quite common for people to say that communism is a nice idea “in theory,” but far fewer would say that fascism (or theocracy or whatever) is.

29

Main Street Muse 11.09.13 at 1:40 am

Bruce @24 – “The really salient fact is that most people are not reached by any political communication; they don’t pay attention and their ideological consciousness, for lack of a better term is atrophied…”

Your opinion or do you have a source to back this claim? I’d like to read the study that shows most people are not reached by any political communication.

You may feel cable news is overrated. But the stratification of news on cable makes it possible for people to hear only what they want to hear. I am related to a number of people who politically calcify as a result.

30

christian_h 11.09.13 at 1:40 am

So for example if you check out the kind of people invited to events, or on the staff, of right-wing Southern politicians – they are often far too the right even of those politicians. They are however hidden on the national stage.

31

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 1:44 am

The US is really way too large to be one liberal democracy

It sure cannot be one on the model of a metropolitan democracy, like England or France, or a continental league of cities, like Canada or Australia.

Geographic mobility has collapsed along with social and economic mobility. In a half-generation or so, there may be sufficient centrifugal force to fuse with anti-globalization, pro-localization ideologies on the right and left, to make politics, regional, or even break up the country. Lots of smart people foresee the possibilities. Some of the eco-left is very pro-localization; the Tea Party draw some of their main strength from folks, who want to rule as Local Notables, a political tendency that goes back to the early days of anti-Federalism.

32

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© 11.09.13 at 1:47 am

I don’t see the utility in trying to expand the universe of shapes that describe the choices we have in political candidates.

“The primary purpose of the GOP these days is to provide tax breaks and other financial advantages (such as not regulating pollution and other socially costly externalities) to their wealthy donor base. All the rest of their platform, all the culture wars stuff, is simply rube bait.”

- Mike Lofgren, Congressional staffer for the GOP for over two decades.

So what have we been offered by our neoliberals, for example Bill Clinton and Barack Obama? The very same thing, without the rube bait.

So we had NAFTA and the deregulation of Wall Street, then the reflation of Wall Street without any serious re-regulation or attempts to reduce unemployment. And perhaps, Social Security cuts and the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the horizon.

You can vote for the plutocracy and rube bait, or you can vote for the plutocracy. How many shapes do we need to explain that?
~

33

David 11.09.13 at 1:50 am

Well, on some level even well developed social democracy is “rube bait” because it serves to reinforce bourgeois dominance. They apparently feel secure enough without that sort of thing nowadays of course.

34

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 1:53 am

http://www.journalism.org/2013/10/11/how-americans-get-tv-news-at-home/

Don’t stop with the percentage reached; look at the time actually spent with news sources. A few older people watch tons and tons of cable news; they must have it on all the time, and they also typically watch network (aka traditional mainstream broadcast) news, but the middle-third of network news viewers watch something like 5 minutes, the bottom third, even less.

The ratings for cable news are pretty pathetic — if anyone’s hour ever got 1% of the whole population outside the aura of an extraordinary event, it would be astounding.

35

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 2:08 am

Anarcissie @ 27

Forget Bismark’s old age pensions; what about Obamacare? or Bush’s Medicare drug benefit? Or, Democrats voting to cut Food Stamps, in some voting-for-it before voting-against-it scheme?

Partisan strategic scheming aims at incoherence, I think.

36

Dr. Hilarius 11.09.13 at 2:10 am

Bruce, cable is no longer the main medium. Social media like Facebook and Twitter serve up right-wing memes in small, easily digestible bites. I have a number of far right relatives who, surprisingly, tolerate my FB postings but I am treated to what they circulate as well. Every distillation of Benghazi conspiracy theory, Obama as Muslim, Federal Reserve paranoia, Christians as a persecuted minority, it’s all there.

Right-wing ideology has expanded in membership and scope because it has been carefully incubated and grown. The real question is why the absence of anything remotely leftist? NPR and PBS the voices of the left? Oh dear.

37

John Holbo 11.09.13 at 2:10 am

“you may not see it because you’re safely ensconced in the ivory tower and surrounded by intelligent, thoughtful, moderate-to-liberal persons, but in the Republican county I live in, most everybody I encounter is fully on board with the radical insurrectionist fire-breathing tip of the right wing, they’re fully convinced that only Fox “News” and Rush, et. al. are the only ones telling it like it is, and that all the rest of the media and political establishment is engaged in a conspiracy to deceive and oppress them. They’re wholly unapologetic for their point of view, and their complaint, if any, is that their elected representatives and political (and social) institutions are not conservative enough.”

Let me try to rephrase my question. I see it. Therefore I wonder why we don’t see more shifting of norms. Given that so many people think this way, why not just say: that’s right, David Corn. We think this way.

38

PHB 11.09.13 at 2:12 am

I don’t think the overton window is anything like as effective as you claim. The establishment media has always been rather right wing in the US and now that the superstars take home seven and eight figure salaries they are firmly part of the 0.1% the GOP works for. They don’t like the racism and bigotry of the right but they are more than willing to shill for their economic program.

Case in point was the 2000 election where the establishment media worked harder than anyone to elect Bush and then tell the country that the SCOTUS coup was legitimate. And before that they spent eight years chasing every fake scandal of the GOP.

What has happened recently is completely different. There was a genuine grass roots movement in 2009 in reaction to the TARP bailout of the banks and a black man getting into the White House. (Grassroots racism is still grass roots.) Then the GOP money machine largely bamboozled them in 2010 and used them to whip the GOP caucus into line to support the Koch etc. corporate line to the hilt or face a well funded primary opponent.

The party can’t shift any more to the right because it isn’t being driven by ideology, it is being driven by pig ignorance. These are people who live on Social Security and want the government the hell out of their lives. And now the Koch bros are discovering that these are people who see political donations as well, gifts. The Tea Party does not consider itself bought. And they are going to make sure that the 2014 slate of GOP candidates is as nutty and whacked out as the 2010 slate. Only this time there is far more anti-GOP sentiment than in 2010.

In ordinary times there is a block of middle voters who think it unsafe to allow either party too much power. The Massachusetts voters who vote for a GOP governor, the NYC voters who vote for a GOP mayor. Right now the middle is much more likely to see the harm in allowing the GOP any power whatsoever. They are wreckers, ideological zealots without any coherent ideology.

39

MPAVictoria 11.09.13 at 2:19 am

“given how dominant a certain brand of extreme right politics is, why isn’t a slightly more extreme brand of extreme right politics more normalized. (Knock on wood.)”

I am not really sure how much more extreme the “normalized” section of the right can get John. Check out the posts on EDNA at Red State. These people are proud bigots and are in no danger of being kicked out of the party.

40

cassander 11.09.13 at 2:25 am

@22

>If there’s any way that the U.S. has moved decisively to the Left, in economic policy terms, in the Bush-Obama years, I’m unaware of it.

Um, what now? You are unaware of the massive increases in the budget of the Department of Education (No Child Left Behind got more democratic votes than republican)? Large expansions of Medicare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps? Substantial increases in regulation of finance through sarbanes oxley, Basel II and III, and Frank-Dodd? Government spending at record post-ww2 highs? Or does none of that count as left wing, somehow?

41

bob mcmanus 11.09.13 at 2:29 am

Terry Eagleton, Ideology

“as in the case of fascism, where a ruling sector of finance capitalism takes over
for its own purposes the prejudices and anxieties of the lower middle class. “

This alliance has been underestimated and dismissed before. When the petty bourgeois is faced with the violent choice, they usually have chosen property and tribalism.

Now this incoherent moron has to get back to Eagleton, not wasting time on a taxonomy of troglodytes.

42

Main Street Muse 11.09.13 at 2:37 am

“Given that so many people think this way, why not just say: that’s right, David Corn. We think this way.”

John – what are you reading? The Republicans ARE saying “we think this way. We think that poor people are leeches sucking the lifeblood from the whites. We think that anyone who advocates for a social safety net is a left-wing loony. We think teachers are nasty laborers who are lucky to have a job – stop complaining about wanting a raise. We think that the only thing stopping a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. We think if you own a home over natural gas, the state can force-frack it – you’ll get a little compensation and a lot of pollution, but so be it. We think gays are immoral. We think it is our god-given right as an American to carry our AR-15s to the farmers market (as happened in Wi recently).

They say these things over and over and over and it is reported as fact, not fantasy. So what are you reading that you’re not seeing this?

43

John Holbo 11.09.13 at 2:39 am

“John – what are you reading?”

Mother Jones?

44

John Holbo 11.09.13 at 2:41 am

Look, maybe this is not clear but I’m not sure how to make it clearer. When David Corn reports that Ted Cruz’ dad says these things, the response from the Cruz campaign is to distance itself from what dad says, not to say: that’s right! We think these things! Even though what dad says is only one twitch of the dial to the right of what Cruz says, really.

45

Main Street Muse 11.09.13 at 2:51 am

John – you are looking at one tiny story and generalizing from it. They claim a great deal of alarmingly right wing ideas.

And here’s Ted Cruz himself, talking about his father’s “bad joke” on CNN News: “Speaking to CNN affiliate WFAA on Friday, the first-term Republican senator from Texas said, “sadly, those who are trying to play the politics of personal destruction are trying to smear him and use that to attack me. That’s a shame.”

“I love my father,” said Cruz. “He is a pastor. He is a man of deep integrity. And he made a joke.” http://cnn.it/1euYy1L

Sounds like he’s owning it – and attacking those who question his father’s “joke” about sending Obama back to Kenya.

46

John Holbo 11.09.13 at 2:59 am

“John – you are looking at one tiny story and generalizing from it.”

Well, I’ve actually read more than just that one little piece. Are you saying that this case is highly atypical, or that “Mother Jones” needs to get a grip? It seems fairly typical to me. The general dynamic is that Corn or Media Matters or whomever just quotes someone saying something that lots of conservatives think. And then Corn or Media Matters or whomever is accused of trying to ‘smear’ them or take them out of context. But if this doesn’t seem to you like the way things go, then maybe you are right. I don’t know.

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Main Street Muse 11.09.13 at 3:18 am

John – we disagree on interpretation. I see Ted Cruz owning what his father said. He says getting upset over this “joke” is a smear tactic. So yes, they say MoJo and other liberal outlets smear them, but they certainly own their beliefs. Those who disagree are attacked. That’s SOP in today’s GOP. Why work things out when you can attack?

As noted earlier – I live in a state where this party owns it all – including their rhetoric. It is ugly. Very ugly.

48

P O'Neill 11.09.13 at 3:27 am

There’s a line that Atrios uncorks occasionally which is that the range of acceptable opinion in Washington runs all the way from The New Republic to Free Republic. Over time, the mass of the distribution has shifted to the FR end. Cruz is the wrong example of the reluctance to cross because he doesn’t fit the profile. Princeton, Harvard Law, Supreme Court clerkship, elite Dallas law firms and Goldman Sachs spouse — not to mention Alberta nationality — are not the typical stuff of the Tea Party base. So it’s not his instinct to own his loony fringe, including the fringe sitting across the dinner table.

49

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 4:22 am

Dr Hilarius: The real question is why the absence of anything remotely leftist? NPR and PBS the voices of the left? Oh dear.

And, the real answer is that most of the population refuses to pay for anything political or join anything political, which might require any more effort than a bumpersticker. They want everything free paid for by corporate advertising, and so everything is paid for by corporations and the mega-rich, who know a bargain when they see it, including politics and political news. But, PBS & NPR sure are grateful for the generous support.

50

AQ 11.09.13 at 4:32 am

> Overton Window 101. But this doesn’t actually seem to be the way of it. Rather, what
> we get is this big weight of conservative opinion, this huge clump of conservative
> grass-roots, right at the edge of what is considered at all acceptable, in US political
> discourse.
The Overton Window theory actually works much better in a Westminster style democracy where the Prime Minister must stand in front of members of the opposition and say things without looking ridiculous. This simple fact explains a lot. George W. Bush would have been laughed out of Premiership in a matter of a few months in a Westminster style democracy.

> several things happened to shift the GOP (and the nation) to the radical right:
Good reasons. At the end of the day, it is all a numbers game. The proximate reasons for the problem are that the very bedrock of the American polity, i.e., representation of the people, has been shaken to the core. This is because of the following facts : (1) gerrymandering has left many seats uncontestable (this means that an R seat will be won by someone who will appeal to the Republican fringe rather than the Republican center to scoop up the fringe votes; same with D seats); (2) using the electoral college system where one party scoops up all the votes means that politicians pay almost no attention to states like California and New York which are overwhelmingly Democratic. (3) using the electoral college system means that swing states matter a lot now (because states like Florida matter a lot and since we have one party scooping up all the votes for a state, parties go all out to appease specific interest groups in these states. e.g. the Cuban-Americans in Florida, the Jewish community in Florida, et cetera); (4) the very expense of running a political campaign means that Senators and Representatives are trying from Day One in office to raise money for the next election as opposed to actually doing their jobs.

51

AJ 11.09.13 at 4:32 am

> Overton Window 101. But this doesn’t actually seem to be the way of it. Rather, what
> we get is this big weight of conservative opinion, this huge clump of conservative
> grass-roots, right at the edge of what is considered at all acceptable, in US political
> discourse.
The Overton Window theory actually works much better in a Westminster style democracy where the Prime Minister must stand in front of members of the opposition and say things without looking ridiculous. This simple fact explains a lot. George W. Bush would have been laughed out of Premiership in a matter of a few months in a Westminster style democracy.

> several things happened to shift the GOP (and the nation) to the radical right:
Good reasons. At the end of the day, it is all a numbers game. The proximate reasons for the problem are that the very bedrock of the American polity, i.e., representation of the people, has been shaken to the core. This is because of the following facts : (1) gerrymandering has left many seats uncontestable (this means that an R seat will be won by someone who will appeal to the Republican fringe rather than the Republican center to scoop up the fringe votes; same with D seats); (2) using the electoral college system where one party scoops up all the votes means that politicians pay almost no attention to states like California and New York which are overwhelmingly Democratic. (3) using the electoral college system means that swing states matter a lot now (because states like Florida matter a lot and since we have one party scooping up all the votes for a state, parties go all out to appease specific interest groups in these states. e.g. the Cuban-Americans in Florida, the Jewish community in Florida, et cetera); (4) the very expense of running a political campaign means that Senators and Representatives are trying from Day One in office to raise money for the next election as opposed to actually doing their jobs.

52

ZM 11.09.13 at 4:33 am

John Holbo @3
“They’ll tell you that true conservatism is moderate, by definition. Burke stuff. (Not that this is satisfactory, but that will be the answer.)”

I’m a little short of time, but I have a second. I’m sure conservatism is contested in the US – there must have been groups or individuals like the High Tories, Red Tories etc – it seems kinda bizarro world / saturnalia in constancy that conservative = liberal-with-exclusions???

53

Tangurena 11.09.13 at 4:41 am

I have routinely stated that if Reagan ran for election today against Obama, that Reagan would be denounced as being to the left of Obama. And I believe that if you actually look at what both said in speeches and accomplished in office, that my statement would be true. That is the Overton window in operation. It has happened so slowly that people haven’t really noticed the rightward shift in their own politics. Like the old analogy about a frog in boiling water. Neiwert wrote a lot about the rightward shift and rise in exterminationism at Orcinus (and he’s back after a break at Crooks and Liars).

That shift has happened very slowly over the years. The sort of healthcare that was normal for a worker in the 1980s is now called a “cadillac plan”. Pensions are pretty much gone for private sector workers, and more than half of those covered by private sector pension are retired. And now that the private sector workers don’t have them, time to turn on the FYGM some more and take them away from public sector workers. It all happens so slowly that the average person doesn’t notice. Just grumpy old geezers.

Also, I think that part of the appeal of the GOP is that they’re also catering to the narrowly focused interests of different groups. The pro-life groups don’t really care about the rest of the GOP platform as long as abortion is getting shut down. The pro-gun groups don’t care about the rest of the platform, because Democrats have proved to be the enemies of guns (again) and the enemies of everyone owning one. Each group gets a specially crafted message for their own, and all swear undying fealty to the big elephant. And if racial equality is your pet issue, you’ll only notice the racists in the GOP and ignore the rest.

how about querying them on who the true conservatives are

I’m reminded of a comment promoted vigorously by Limbaugh: “conservatism has never failed, it has only been failed”. Which means that if you failed (to get elected or whatever), then you aren’t a true conservative (whatever “true conservative” means). Or aren’t conservative enough. And that leads to a greater fervor among the teahadis: the push to “the right” won’t stop until the country is dead. Or until the Koch brothers quit funding it. And that is why the push is to “primary” the RINOs and replace them with “true” conservatives.

The Occupy movement was the last left wing movement in the US. I claim it is the last because most states passed laws prohibiting such demonstrations from happening again. The wiretapping and surveillance state will also prevent any Arab Spring from happening here in the US. The people participating did so because the Democratic party was so corrupt and right-wing that there exists no political party in the US that represented the movement.

How much more conservative can we get?

If the Democratic party cared to, they could be a leftist party. Instead they are in thrall of Wall Street. Because they’ve repeatedly refused to stop the rightward shift, then the country will continue the glacial march to the right. And this rightward shift, like a glacier, will crush everything in its path. Even European right wingers like Golden Dawn are to the left of American politics.

Why is the ‘normal’ Republican so frequently walking right up to the line, risking getting caught out saying something he’ll have to walk back? Why doesn’t that very fact make it normal and uncontroversial to say these things?

Tribalism and the “echo chamber”. People in the US are so used to communicating only with a small narrow range of people with similar interests. This leads to an echo chamber effect where the people yakking only speak with people of similar interests and don’t remember what it is like to have someone else disagree with them. With so many channels on cable, people can watch only what they want to watch and can therefore self-select themselves into different groups. These groups are becoming so incompatible with each other that we as a country are breaking up into separate tribes. At the moment one has to give at least some lipservice to the idea that we’re all Americans. But there isn’t enough pushback that the “wrong” sort of people aren’t American too. On this very blog, Chris wrote about that in England a couple days ago: “screw the taxpayer”. That those who didn’t pay taxes weren’t one of “us” and were instead some sort of “them” that needs to be gotten rid of. Romney got busted for it when he whined about the 47%. The day is coming when that sort of talk will be considered totally normal. And that any remarks to the contrary will be the wining of old farts complaining about walking to school in the snow and it was uphill both ways.

As for the end result of tribalism? We saw it in the place that used to be called Yugoslavia, and in Rwanda & Burundi. I believe it will happen here.

54

jack lecou 11.09.13 at 4:43 am

I wonder if a lot of this isn’t just an artifact of the toxic levels of cognitive dissonance involved. On many of these issues, the right wing position X is tantamount to obviously vile position Y. So the self respect of a given supporter of X(/Y) is completely dependent on never admitting, even to themselves, that, yeah, X actually kinda amounts to Y. It’s basically just, “I’m not a racist, but…”

So when, e.g., Ted Cruz’ dad says something that even they have to realize is actually a little to close to Y for comfort, they have to say, “oh, well, he was just joking. We don’t think Y, we just think X.” And probably even Ted Cruz’ dad would say the same thing.*

So John thinks he sees conservatives walking back from their position, but really they’re still walking right on top of it, it’s just really important to them that they explain to you how they’re walking over that position with a specific heel-to-toe gait not that nasty toe-to-heel gait like they’re being accused of.

The media, for its part, will criticize too blatant statements of Y, but generally accepts sufficiently genteel statements of X. As such, it also quickly forgets Y if someone can use one of the many tried and true face saving formulas to spin it back into X.


* Partly this is a tricky social context thing. When some good old boys are shooting the racist shit to each over over beers, it all sounds fine to them. But then it gets “taken out of context” on national tv or something, and suddenly maybe even they themselves get kind of uncomfortable about how it sounds, so obviously they were “just joking”.

55

hix 11.09.13 at 4:45 am

“the Civil War is thought to be about something other than slavery”

I read thatt the first (and last time oustide blogs, but there too, it is really about how other people think the civil war was not about slavery and how evil that is – or more acurate how could anyone dare to think anything else could have played a role) in a political science textbook written by a very left leaning Prof. doing a marxist analysis of the civil war. Found the analysis quite convincing.

56

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 4:50 am

cassander:

You are unaware of the massive increases in the budget of the Department of Education (No Child Left Behind got more democratic votes than republican)? Large expansions of Medicare, Medicaid, and Food Stamps? Substantial increases in regulation of finance through sarbanes oxley, Basel II and III, and Frank-Dodd? Government spending at record post-ww2 highs? Or does none of that count as left wing, somehow?

I don’t think any of it “counts” as particularly left wing. Was the increase in unemployment and decrease in wages that drove the “expansion” of Food Stamps “left-wing”? Is the decline of infrastructure spending to post-WW2 lows, “left-wing”?

You have to have a peculiarly Manichean view of politics to think that no one on the right values a modicum of integrity in business; I cannot imagine that anyone, who knows many details of SOX, the Basel accords, or Dodd-Frank, would regard those bundles of measures as “left” in their general tendencies. Is the paucity of criminal prosecutions in this financial crisis, a “left-wing” innovation? The first President Bush sent hundreds to jail in the Savings & Loan bubble.

Was the adoption of Republican health care plan, which rewards for-profit health insurance and for-profit health care services, a “left-wing” plan? Is the increase in inequality “left-wing”?

57

ZM 11.09.13 at 4:51 am

Re:@51
Maybe that is a down under sort of thing though, even Murdoch journalists probably refer to our soldiers as Diggers (w/connotations of the levellers and miners) from time to time, while Murdoch makes speeches that has to combine liberalism with egalitarianism

“For Australia is on the cusp of becoming something rare and valuable in this new world: an egalitarian meritocracy, with more than a touch of libertarianism.

But we can’t wait for later.”

58

Peter T 11.09.13 at 4:54 am

Well, there are natural limits even to the Overton Window. If you proclaim that you program is to physically exterminate everyone not of your tribe, the next speaker can’t then proclaim that his program is to exterminate them twice.

Some sections of the US right seem pretty close to this kind of edge. Everyone carry any kind of gun at any time? Check. About the only way to top this would be tanks or pocket nukes for all. Bible-based law? Check. Hard to have two Bible-based sets of laws. Nuke Iran? Check. Again, hard to see the point of nuking it twice. And so on. And that’s just from comments from people who have dipped in to these corners of the web. I am pretty sure you could come up with similar un-toppable positions on just about any topic.

59

js. 11.09.13 at 6:17 am

I don’t think any of it “counts” as particularly left wing.

This just sounds like you’re conflating relative vs. absolute measures, though. (And I say this as someone who’s almost certainly to the left of you, absolutely speaking—though I also take things like reproductive rights (and e.g., the ways in which ACA will in particular help people who are not white dudes) far more seriously than a lot of white-dude lefties do. Just to be clear, I take such issues to be central issues for the left.)

Given that so many people think this way, why not just say: that’s right, David Corn. We think this way.

Over a bit of time, though, this is exactly what happens. Anything from lack of mobility is totally not a problem to rape doesn’t induce pregnancy (as voiced by congressional candidates). Or, as MSM pointed out, it didn’t take that long for Cruz fils to embrace Cruz père, in the relevant sense obviously. So again, not seeing what’s missing. Obviously, it’s not bell curve-ish, but that’s for unrelated reasons.

60

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 7:06 am

This just sounds like you’re conflating relative vs. absolute measures, though.

Is that what it sounds like? Because I thought I was challenging an inappropriate use of relative measures to make conservative policies sound “left”-ish, and thereby confuse the context of our times and politics.

On the politics of racial entitlement, I think I will remain silent.

61

js. 11.09.13 at 7:37 am

Because I thought I was challenging an inappropriate use of relative measures to make conservative policies sound “left”-ish, and thereby confuse the context of our times and politics.

And I was saying that given the context, it’s wrong to think of it as a conservative policy, though I wouldn’t call it a left-policy myself—in the time and place we live, ACA is a moderate-liberal policy. Taking its intent and effects as a whole, I don’t see how one can argue otherwise.

One thing about the “racial entitlement” bit: It annoys me to no end that some self-described lefties think of so-called “cultural” issues as symbolic (in the best sense of the term). If you (not you personally) think that giving women control of their bodies or ensuring that non-whites have full political rights doesn’t challenge established hierarchies, then I’d humbly suggest that you don’t understand much about established hierarchies as they exist in this time and place. This is the one thing that’s misleading about the “plutocracy” framing. Not that I’m not happy to rail against the plutocracy myself; just that not all actually existing social hierarchies are plutocratic, and it’s a giant mistake to think that only the last needs fighting against.

62

Bruce Wilder 11.09.13 at 8:12 am

js.: in the time and place we live, ACA is a moderate-liberal policy.

That may be. But, the question was: what’s the trend? Is the enactment of ACA evidence of a secular trend in a left-ward direction?

An expansion of food stamps in response to declines in wages and employment brought about conservative economic policies isn’t evidence of a left-ward trend either.

I hope bob mcmanus understands I wasn’t thinking of him.

63

Robert 11.09.13 at 8:28 am

Conservatism might be defined by a deference to long-lasting traditions and tacit social norms. In many ways, the right in the USA is not currently conservative. They do seem to me to be quite authoritarian, though.

Some of these social norms are what makes Congress work, inasmuch as it does. I think of how the Senate is not expected to filibuster everything, how the President should be able to expect, by and large, for his nominees to be appointed, how the debt ceiling is supposed to be largely symbolic, how the minority is supposed to offer suggestions for policy change but not supposed to use procedural gimmicks to stop everything from passing.

For these social norms, I think, John’s thesis works to some extent. The Republicans deny, when talking to mainstream corporate media that they are violating social norms. Appointing judges to empty seats now becomes pretended “court packing”, and they also pretend that holding the debt ceiling hostage has also been done many times before.

Why do they tell these obvious lies? I would submit that many of Bruce’s passive and ignorant do not know anything about how traditions on the filibuster have been abused over the last half-decade, for example. But I do not know if trying to promote ignorance and fill the news with stupid nonsense is enough to explain this.

64

bob mcmanus 11.09.13 at 8:50 am

61: It was just my discouragement and despair talking.

LGM calls us “brogressives” and Laurie Penny and Richard Seymour have coined the word “brocialists.” The Senate cuts food stamps and passes ENDA in the same week. We’ve lost.

Holbo wonders where the moderate Republicans are, in a post following Robin’s wonder at the persistence of Bertelsmann.

It really isn’t that that Bertelsmann or Wall Street Republicans made regrettable “Deals with the Devil,” the demons come and go, and are always irrelevant without powerful backers. The foot soldiers sign up with the condottieri, not the other way around.

But this is the way bourgeois liberals want to phrase it, in order to keep their options open and bridges unburned. They have no intention or even desire to do any more that rail a little against the plutocracy, knowing that if they manage to out demonize their Cruzist competition, Goldman Sachs and Bertelsmann will hand some of those upper management positions to the right kind, from the right schools, with the correct politics, to women and minorities. It’s their turn.

Poor or working class or rural women and minorities? After they make sure Winfrey is never dissed by a store clerk again. It’s about the hierarchies, you know, and the priorities.

65

Mao Cheng Ji 11.09.13 at 9:12 am

The Overton Window presupposes some intellectual content, ideas. What they are peddling on their talk radio is just a word-salad. Obama is accused of being anti-colonial; a devastating indictment, apparently. The liberals are murdering millions of babies. They hate the country, and they are deliberately destroying it. That’s Der Sturmer-quality stuff.

This is not the Overton Window, no more than being able to say ‘shit’ on day-time TV. It’s something else. Crude propaganda. An attempt to woo the marginal vote. Some of the crazies will turn up and vote for the Republican candidate, who otherwise wouldn’t. Republicans win, some corporation will make more money. All there is to it. No reason to treat this as a war of ideas.

66

Sasha Clarkson 11.09.13 at 10:09 am

The word “conservative” came into general use later than Burke, after the official creation of the British Conservative Party in 1834.

Its philosophy was expounded in Sir Robert Peel’s Tamworth Manifesto of the same year.

http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Tamworth_Manifesto

Peels’s principles were formulated in response to the Great Reform Act of 1832. In particular Peel promise of “a careful review of institutions, civil and ecclesiastical, undertaken in a friendly temper combining, with the firm maintenance of established rights, the correction of proved abuses and the redress of real grievances” underpinned the the subsequent philosophy of “One Nation” conservatism. It has very little to do with the policies of today’s radical right.

For modern “democracy” to function, and for Overton’s ideas to be meaningful, what unites a society must be more important than the things which divide it. My impression from across the pond is that this is no longer true in the US: you are already in a state of ideological civil war; the only question is when and whether the shooting will start.

67

prasad 11.09.13 at 10:47 am

Re Overton window shifting to the right -
I think this view depends on defining the set of “left” wing views so as to leave out many issues where the US arguably does really well, and has been moving in the right (meaning left) direction. A related phenomenon is the intuition that left-right spectrum is shifted far to the right in the US compared to Europe presumably. The Democrats are center right and the Republicans are fascists, that sort of thing. The view is well-rehearsed, so a listing of topics left out may be useful as reminder:

1. Multiculturalism. Racial diversity and tolerance generically plus immigration policy. The country has been getting steadily more permissive on this, and gets more so each decade. A new front on this is Islam, where IMO the amount of prejudice manifested post 9/11 is minimal. You may compare to Europe on that for example, or for that matter on multiculturalism in general (France and Germany are somewhat whiter than Kansas…)

2. Church state – the courts have established more and more stringent rulings on things like prayer in schools or state funded displays. Impending theocracy in the US is some county trying to teach intelligent design in schools. Not bishops with automatic seats in parliament or a state church (however milquetoast).

3. Abortion law in the US is extremely permissive despite attempts to roll back.

4. Ditto first amendment and speech laws. There is actually supermajority support for speech rights for racists or minority religious views or communists or whatever, with strong support from both sides. Again, support has trended up not down.

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ZM 11.09.13 at 11:02 am

Well, now I have quickly looked up Burke, but I didn’t have to read very far because very soon I came to the fact that Burke was a Whig. Now, I read Anne of Green Gables as a child, and the politics in the books were Conservatives versus Grits. The Whigs were like the Grits I’m sure, but they were against the Tories. Now, if someone happened to tell me that Republican type ideas (the whole wide range of them – they seem, from here, less Straightjacketed by the Overton Window than the Democrats) were conservative because: “Burke stuff” I could promptly rejoin Republicans are progressive because Burke was a Whig.

Say the person was stubborn as a mule, and said well, Burke was a “true” conservative, whatever party he belonged to, and that therefore the evidence of him being a Whig was irrelevant. You might think that would stump me, especially if I had about zero intention of ever reading Burke. However, this would be a mistake – I might read Samuel Johnson’s opinions on Burke:

“Of a person [Burke] who differed from him in politicks, he said, “In private life he is a very honest gentleman; but I will not allow him to be so in publick life. People may be honest, though they are doing wrong; that is between their Maker and them. But we, who are suffering by their pernicious conduct, are to destroy them. We are sure that —— [Burke] acts from interest. We know what his genuine principles were. They who allow their passions to confound the distinctions between right and wrong, are criminal. They may be convinced; but they have not come honestly by their conviction.””

“Dr. Johnson now said, a certain eminent political friend of ours [Burke] was wrong, in his maxim of sticking to a certain set of men on all occasions. “I can see that a man may do right to stick to a party,” said he; “that is to say, he is a Whig, or he is a Tory, and he thinks one of those parties upon the whole the best, and that to make it prevail, it must be generally supported, though, in particulars, it may be wrong. He takes its faggot of principles, in which there are fewer rotten sticks than in the other, though some rotten sticks to be sure; and they cannot be well separated. But, to blind one’s self to one man, or one set of men (who may be right to-day and wrong to-morrow), without any general preference of system, I must disapprove.””

From this it seems someone would be gullible to assert that Burke (and by extension his writing) was an example of “true” anything. So unless they had a good witness to Burke’s character that contradicted Samuel Johnson (which i think unlikely) then they would have to give another sort of answer as to what makes Republicans conservative. I am not sure what the answer would be?

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prasad 11.09.13 at 11:05 am

Some more points as evidence against rightward shift:
A) gay marriage, where the pace is quite rapid along the proper trajectory. In fact it’s impressive even by international standards: if you compare US states to European states, the pace of the change is comparable I would argue. And there are about as many people in the US in states with gay marriage as there are people in European countries with gay marriage.
B) Religious belief and practice are down not up, with very large shifts in the under 30 crowd especially.

I would posit a very different model of the crazy right than burgeoning power. Let’s talk evaporative cooling instead – as your movement commands fewer people, those left inside still are of necessity the nuttier ones. Indeed, even as the crazy right grows crazier, the size of the right is down. (Check out party identification as R/I/D)

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Sasha Clarkson 11.09.13 at 12:21 pm

@67 “Well, now I have quickly looked up Burke, but I didn’t have to read very far… Burke was a Whig.”

You should have read more.

Before it changed its name to the Conservative Party, the modern Tory party evolved out of the Pittite faction of the Whigs opposed to the French Revolution. It had no historic continuity with the Tories of a century earlier. The Whigs were in no way left wing: they WERE the ruling class; their leaders the protestant aristocratic oligarchy who ran the state for the benefit of themselves and for their own their allies’ mercantile interests. They were against the arbitrary rule of one person, and the older forms of feudalism which were against their interests. They were anti-catholic because statist protestant ideology was under their control and served their system.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conservative_Party_%28UK%29#Origins_in_the_Whig_Party

For an historical analogue, consider the “boni” or “optimates” in late Republican Rome. They were a very similar oligarchy of old and new aristocrats who ran the state and shared the spoils of office amongst themselves.

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ZM 11.09.13 at 12:32 pm

Thank you for your response.

“they WERE the ruling class; their leaders the protestant aristocratic oligarchy who ran the state for the benefit of themselves and for their own their allies’ mercantile interests. They were against the arbitrary rule of one person, and the older forms of feudalism which were against their interests. They were anti-catholic because statist protestant ideology was under their control and served their system.”

I really didn’t intend to imply they were not the ruling class, I don’t think people who were not of that class could become parliamentarians at that time (perhaps this is wrong?). But you have just shown that they weren’t conservative at all – they didn’t support the crown (how is hereditary rule arbitrary. It is a fairly simple not arbitrary mode of selection), they were against older feudalism, they were against the Catholics. All these things make them liberal progressives. How can you argue otherwise?

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Metatone 11.09.13 at 12:42 pm

John, I think Tangurena @52 speaks to the correct answer to your question.

Culture changes slowly. It may be changing quicker than ever before (a la Rushkoff, although I’m not convinced) but for sure culture still changes on the order of years and Ted Cruz et al. are walking back from statements in the time period of days.

So the answer is that the Overton Window is shifting and various “right-tip” notions have been legitimised and others are in the process of being legitimised. Ted Cruz’s Dad will likely be legitimised in 5 years time (quicker if the GOP wins the next Presidential election). Until that time, Ted will have to kind act embarrassed by his Dad…

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ZM 11.09.13 at 12:57 pm

“Before it changed its name to the Conservative Party, the modern Tory party evolved out of the Pittite faction of the Whigs opposed to the French Revolution”

So, I read a slight bit more, as you recommended. I will just copy it down here for your reference.

Burke 1729-1797

Conservative Party founded 1834

Whigs “contested power with the rival Tories from the 1680s to the 1850s”

Tories “hold a political philosophy (Toryism) based on the traditionalism and conservatism originating with the Cavalier faction during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms. This ideology is prominent in the politics of the United Kingdom, and also appears in parts of The Commonwealth, particularly in Canada. It also had exponents in parts of the former British Empire, such as the Loyalists of British America who opposed American independence during the American Revolutionary War. The Tory ethos has been summed up with the phrase ‘God, King and Country’[citation needed] (“Deo, Regi, Patriae” [1]). Tories generally advocate monarchism, are usually of a High Church Anglican religious heritage,[2][3] and are opposed to the radical liberalism of the Whig faction.
The Tory political faction emerged within the Parliament of England to uphold the legitimist rights of James, Duke of York to succeed his brother Charles II to the throne. James II was a Catholic, while the state institutions had broken from the Catholic Church—this was an issue for the Exclusion Bill supporting Patricians, the political heirs to the nonconformist Roundheads and Covenanters. There were two Tory ministries under James II; the first led by Lord Rochester, the second by Lord Belasyse. Some were later involved in his usurpation with the Whigs, which they saw as defending the Anglican Church. Tory sympathy for the Stuarts ran deep however and some supported Jacobitism, which saw them isolated by the Hanoverians until Lord Bute’s ministry under George III.
Conservatism emerged by the end of the 18th century—which synthesised moderate Whig positions and some of the old Tory values to create a new political ideology, in opposition to the French Revolution. Edmund Burke and William Pitt the Younger led the way in this. Due to this faction eventually leading to the formation of the Conservative Party, members of that party are colloquially referred to as Tories, even if they are not traditionalists. Actual adherents to traditional Toryism in contemporary times tend to be referred to as High Tories to avoid confusion.”

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Sasha Clarkson 11.09.13 at 1:08 pm

@70 They were for conserving the established order of their day. That is what the word conservative meant originally. Now, especially in the US, it has been hijacked to mean something else. My question for YOU is this: are you using language as a means of communication, or are you using it disingenuously in order to troll?

The Whigs were not “liberal progressives” in any modern sense of the word. The rights of the poor, especially the rural poor, were attacked and eroded under their rule, and application of the death penalty for petty crimes against property was vastly increased. This was in marked contrast to, say, Oliver Cromwell, who took steps to abolish the death penalty for all offences other than murder:
“To hang a man for six-and-eightpence … to see men lose their lives for petty matters is a thing God will reckon” (Firth’s Cromwell, p349, cited by G M Trevellyan.)

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Chris Armstrong 11.09.13 at 1:48 pm

Judging from UK experience, it’s pretty much a rule that party members are more extreme (left or right) than the people who vote for their parties and, indeed, more extreme than politicians representing those parties (Duverger called it ‘the law of curvilinear disparity,’ if you want a label). The Conservative membership is, even right now while we have a Conservative government, convinced that it is being run by a ridiculously lightweight moderate who is doing his best to exclude the (much more right-wing) views of the majority of the members from any kind of representation.

So that’s pretty much a given: politicians have a much better idea of the views of the electorate than members do, whereas members are deluded that the electorate would vote for *their* views if given half the chance. The interesting question, then, is why and under what circumstances the extremists in the membership succeed in ‘capturing’ the party. In the UK it was often said (especially in the early 80s) that this was going on in the Labour Party, but it wasn’t really, and it has very much *not* been the case since. It has rarely been the case in the Conservative Party, the Thatcher government aside (and Thatcherism was of course a very complex phenomenon). Why are the Republicans *now* representing these views, even though they look like electoral suicide? Maybe Prasad is right, and the moderates are leaving the party. I don’t know.

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ZM 11.09.13 at 1:55 pm

Oh, dear, not to troll (although people hereabouts accuse others with differing views and expressions that don’t fit into their own Overton Window of trolling a fair bit I notice).

I think conservative means to conserve old traditions and nature so on. Although i suppose you’d want to excercise discretion, if thats the term, and conserve the good and not the bad to the best of your falible ability.

If you’re only interested in preserving your current position, you should call yourself a present-position-preservationist or something accurate like that. Calling yourself a conservative in that instance simply serves to muddy the waters and disguise your intentions, but as far as I can see Burke was that kind of fellow exactly, so I genuinely don’t see why “Burke stuff” is the answer to the question of why you can’t tell conservatives they are hybrid not traditionalists at all – unless it is the answer that they already know that because they follow Burke, so saying to their face wouldn’t change anything at all. But I’m pretty sure lots of people who would think they are conservative wouldn’t understand about the corruptions of Burke – just like most people think Scottish people traditionally wore tartan kilts until you tell them the story from the essay about how the English industrialist got them to wear kilts because they were shorter than their traditional long shirts and meant he could get more work out of them in felling trees and stoking furnaces where the long shirts were not practical at all, and then the tartans were borrowed from the continent and given a clannish connection by two boys who told people they were Stuarts, although I think they ended poorly and spent a lot if time in the British Oubrary at the end, so I feel a little sorry for them, except list of people think they have traditional tartans. I guess the essay could have been wrong, but it seemed reputable enough.

The Whigs I think we’re definitely liberal, or liberal-with-exclusions as I said earlier (but what liberal isn’t it seems to me?). And I have been quite freely critical of them, so I don’t see why you would think I thought they were good to the poor by any measure. Cromwell liked the death penalty for kings as well as murderers if I remember correctly, and I wonder if he used it against his political opponents too?

All I’m saying, is why let the people who say they’re conservative pass as being truly conservative, when generally they’re something else? Unless you’re strictly a discard-and-mow-down-everything-good-and-bad-about-the-past-and-build-some-brutalist-or-modernist–towers-instead type of person?( Hey, that’s similar to that Robert Moses bloke i’ve heard tell about. And he was all manner of wrong wasn’t he?) And if people of the left are generally wanting to throw the baby out with the bath water like that, then I think it no wonder, frankly, that numbers of people that have some sort of an inkling of a liking for traditions authentic or otherwise would end up confusedly associating with strange libertarians.

Are you being disingenuous or genuinely communicating?

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Charrua 11.09.13 at 2:52 pm

Coming back to John’s original question, my guess would be that the GOP has become a sort of regional/ethnic party, and because of this, its electorate is capable of becoming more radicalized without being able to influence non-members of said regional/ethnic group as much.
They have become the party of southern whites and older white people, basically, and many of their ideas (racism, chauvinism, etc.) don’t “travel well” outside of that groups.

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Martin James 11.09.13 at 3:47 pm

John,

In reading your comments carefully, I think the issue is that for national audiences, the “center of political gravity” is not he extreme right. After Reagan, we had Bush, Dole, Bush, McCain and Romney. That doesn’t seem at all like a rightward trend.

So, the issue is that in national politics there doesn’t seem to be a reason to admit to being right-wing to a general audience. No one who has heard of Mother Jones or David Corn or even Jon Stewart of Colbert, is that right wing.

The reason the Republicans hate Cruz is that he brought local republican politics into national republican politics. Basically, Cruz has accepted a situation where the Republicans never win the presidency. He needs to “pass” in national media situations, but he knows he has no chance of turning the national tide on Republican losses.

To Republicans that want to govern, Cruz is a collaborationist. He’s a colonial. No real Republicans like that type. He’s the local leader of the Banana Republic of Texas.

In states like Utah with one party Republican government, there is moderate republicanism to the left of Mike Lee and a right wing to the right of Mike Lee.

Why is Boehner the speaker of the house center if Cruz is the center of gravity in your model?

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ZM 11.09.13 at 5:49 pm

“That is what the word conservative meant originally”

Well, I know what I thought it meant, as I said. (Although I have often wondered about the distinction between conserves and preserves in jam). But I can look it up and read the meanings.

Apparently it’s from the Latin conservare, com + servare

com: cum [for skom, Sanscr. root sak, together; cf. sequor, and Gr. κοινός, σὐν], designates in gen. accompaniment, community, connection of one object with another (opp. sine, separatim, etc.), with, together, together with, in connection or company with, along with; sometimes also to be translated and.

servare: “servābĭlis, e, adj. servo. * That can be kept or preserved, preservable: uva sine ullis vasis, Plin. 14, 3, 4, § 40 .—*
II.That can be saved or rescued: caput nulli, Ov. Tr. 4, 5, 21 .”

So: together to keep, to save, to rescue???

Then I will turn to English, I have taken out a great many of the exemplary quotes, but I don’t know the laws of quotations (although if the dictionary is composed of quotations itself I don’t really see how it could argue against quotations), but if it is too great a quote to be lawful, mods, please delete.

” a. gen. To maintain (a person or thing) in continuous existence; to keep alive, existing, or flourishing; to preserve.
Common until the 18th cent.; now rare except as passing into or coloured by specific senses.
1398 J. Trevisa tr. Bartholomaeus Anglicus De Proprietatibus Rerum (BL Add. 27944) (1975) I. i. xvi. 51 He makeþ alle creatures and conteyneth alle and conserueth and kepiþ.
1483 tr. Pylgremage of Sowle (Caxton) iv. xxvii. f. lxxijv, He [sc. the soul] hath also power vegetatif and generatif for to conseruen his kynde and multyplyen.

b. To preserve (a condition, institution, privilege, etc.) intact; to maintain in an existing state.
c1405 (▸c1390) Chaucer Melibeus (Hengwrt) (2003) l. 667 Þt youre good name be alwey kept & conserued.
1908 Iowa Unionist 13 June 1/2 Such associations as falsely pretend that they are conserving the liberties of the people.

c. To keep or preserve (a person or thing) in a state, from some injury, etc. Similarly without complement. Now rare.
a1425 (▸c1385) Chaucer Troilus & Criseyde (Corpus Cambr. 61) (1895) iv. l. 1664 While that god my wit wol me conserue I shal so don.
1694 E. Phillips tr. Milton Lett. of State 2 That you will..conserve inviolable to the Merchants of our Nation their Privileges.

d. To preserve (a property or attribute) unimpaired.
1577 J. Northbrooke Spiritus est Vicarius Christi: Treat. Dicing To Rdr. sig. a, The Vessel wil conserue the tast of lycour very long.
1638 W. Rawley tr. Bacon Hist. Nat. & Exper. Life & Death 33 This..conserveth the Greennesse, and slacketh the Desiccation of it.

e. To keep (culture, language, tradition, etc.) from being lost or changed; to preserve for posterity.
Earliest as fig. use of sense 2a.
1714 T. Hearne Ductor Historicus (ed. 3) I. iii. 400 Colleges of Priests, who..conserved Knowledge among them with such Secrecy and Care, that, [etc.].
1836 Amer. Monthly Mag. Sept. 228 To preserve and conserve the sanctity of the language of our ancestors, by not applying old words to new uses, but inventing new words.
1913 Times 17 Jan. 37 Under the Constitution thus interpreted they [sc. French Canadians] had the clear right to speak French and to conserve the language throughout the Dominion.

a. To preserve or store (something material), esp. for later use; to keep from harm or decay by preserving (cf. also sense 4).
Formerly common in contexts in which preserve is now the usual term.
a1413 (▸c1385) Chaucer Troilus & Criseyde (Pierpont Morgan) (1882) v. l. 310 The poudre in which myn herte y-brend shal torne..þow take and it conserue In..an vrne.
2007 Hindustan Times (Nexis) 21 June, In bygone days, ‘Sushi’ was referred to as pickled fish conserved in vinegar.

b. To guard, retain, or husband (some material or resource); (hence) to avoid using in a wasteful or destructive manner. In later use influenced by conservation n. 1e.
1593 T. Buckehurst Let. 29 July in Mirror of Lit. (1836) 23 Apr. 265 [The comissioners have authority] to conserve the fish of al rivers and waters, and also the fowle in them, and to punish the offenders in bothe these cases.
1708 in H. S. Sheldon Documentary Hist. Suffield (1879–88) 157 Every Mine, or Mines yt do..appear..within ye Township of Suffield: is..conserved for ye whole Town’s use.

c. To prevent (something of natural or environmental importance) from being damaged or destroyed; (now esp.) to preserve by conservation (conservation n. 1e).
1908 Times 31 Oct. 10 We have tamed..the rivers of India,..we have conserved her forests.
1939 Times 22 Aug. 13 Efforts are being made to conserve the land by controlling the floods [of the Mississippi].
2005 Church Times 11 Mar. 9/2 The severity of this disaster could have been greatly lessened..had..peatlands been conserved in a healthy state along these..coastlines.

d. To use specialized techniques to preserve or restore (artefacts or sites of archaeological, historical, or cultural significance).
1964 R. J. Forbes Stud. Anc. Technol. VIII. ii. 42 In order to provide us with the maximum possible information they [sc. excavated metal objects] should at least be cleaned and properly conserved for future generations to study.
1994 Times 18 Oct. 20/8 It was estimated that it would take 6,000 man years’ work to conserve and stabilise the Liverpool Museum’s collections.

†3. trans. To keep (a commandment, counsel, promise, etc.); to observe (a custom or rite). Obs.
c1425 Lydgate Troyyes Bk. (Augustus A.iv) iii. l. 2105 (MED), He swore he wold conserven his beheste.
1566 W. Painter tr. O. Landi Delectable Demaundes iii. f. 77v, What is constancie? It is a vertue which conserueth good counsell, and maketh a man perseuer in honorable dedes.

4. trans. To preserve (fruit, etc.) in sugar or by similar means; to make into a conserve (conserve n. 2). Now chiefly U.S.
1538 T. Elyot Dict. at Ollares, Grapes conseruyd in pottes.
1638 T. Herbert Some Yeares Trav. (rev. ed.) 139 Dates, Peares, and Peaches curiously conserved.
1942 Charleroi (Pa.) Mail 9 June 8/4 Many who need the sugar..for canning and conserving fruit are unable to get it.”

That gives the gist of the word and its uses, although I have left out the modern technical uses.

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Peter K. 11.09.13 at 6:51 pm

The voters are in favor of Medicare and Social Security and taxes on the wealthy. They re-elected Obama after he passed the stimulus, nationalized the auto companies and passed health care reform. The Tea Party is partly astroturf which is a result of money in politics obviously. Even now Chief Justice Roberts is trying to get more money into politics.

The filibuster needs to be reformed. If the ACA problems are fixed soon, I believe the Democrats will take the House and the narrative may change some.

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Anarcissie 11.09.13 at 7:43 pm

A lot of people in the U.S., probably a majority, have leftist or leftish views, if we include preferences for Social Democracy in ‘leftish’. However, they are curiously weak in political organization. Hence, the Democratic Party, while still keeping its base, can move and has moved far to the right, driving the Republicans, thus deprived of their natural territory, into the wilderness of unreason. I understand that the powerful and rich find it easy to buy off or frighten the representatives of the people, but one might still think the opportunities for gathering votes and contributions among that majority might appeal to some fairly tough political types, tough enough to believably threaten splitting the party if the base is not reasonably served, and thereby arrest the Democratic Party’s rightward march. This is a considerable mystery to me.

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Hector_St_Clare 11.09.13 at 8:15 pm

Re: The general line seems to be that “left and right are no longer useful terms”, but I have not found this to be the case. Left and Right are easily identifiable both by temperament and by whether or not the policy supports the continuation of power hierarchies.

I don’t agree, for two reasons.

1) Lots of ‘cultural’ issues, like abortion, aren’t easily categorizable as ‘left’ or ‘right’, because they don’t have much to do with power hierarchies, they have to do with personal freedom vs. the common good. (You can squeeze abortion into the ‘power hierarchies’ box, but your conclusions are going to depend entirely on whether you focus your concern on the mother or on the embryo/fetus/baby).

2) Probably most importantly, no serious political movement, on the left or the right, wants to do away with power hierarchies. The Spanish anarchists tried that, and we all saw what happened to them. Most left-wing movements in history want to do away with the existing power hierarchy, and replace it with a different distribution of power which they believe will be fairer, more just and generally better. The Soviets, for example, wanted to replace the rule of the bourgeoisie with the rule of the Communist Party. (Yes, Marx personally saw that as a temporary, short-lived expedient before ushering in a world in which there was no state, no authority figures, etc., but I doubt too many Soviet intellectuals believed that in their heart of hearts. I don’t blame them, because in their place I wouldn’t have believed it either).

I think Noah Millman’s three-way typology of politics works the best, he sets it out here:

http://theamericanscene.com/2010/04/26/notes-toward-a-new-political-taxonomy

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Sasha Clarkson 11.09.13 at 10:45 pm

I frequently quote this, but yet again I find it relevant, because there’s no point in a discussion if you can’t agree what you’re discussing. One has to be aware that that there are always some, both in power and aspiring to power, who will attempt to pre-empt and coerce meaningful debate by seizing control of the language.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less”. “The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.” “The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be the master, that’s all.”

There are many competing versions of Newspeak, whose purpose is to make opposing philosophies unthinkable!

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ZM 11.09.13 at 10:48 pm

Well if that is how you want to reply to the OEDs definitions, so be it.

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cassander 11.09.13 at 11:07 pm

Bruce @ 56

First, some factual errors. Food Stamps and Unemployment benefits have been made more generous, and in the case of SNAP, easier to get. their recent expansion is not simply due to increased unemployment. And the ACA is not a formerly right wing plan. The formerly right wing plans you mention (e.g. Heritage care) all involved blowing up the group market, not merely subsidizing the individual market. the ACA goes in the opposite direction. As for the right wing and financial integrity, the right is all for it, but don’t think that top down regulation is the way to get it. the Left does, and over the last decade and a half, the amount of that regulation has increased dramatically.

More philosophically, yes, absolutely these are all left wing moves. Even if I grant that the ACA was a right wing plan to universalize healthcare, it is still universalizing healthcare, a left wing goal for decades. Ditto the other expansions to the safetynet (I note you didn’t mention the medicare expansion), and increased federal involvement and spending on education. In reality there are maybe \4 ways domestic policy has moved meaningfully the right since the collapse of the post war consensus. Monetary policy, crime policy, welfare reform, and the often overstated de-regulation of the 80s and 90s, and each of these was only a partial reversal of previous leftward movement.

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KB 11.09.13 at 11:28 pm

@84 ZM: Speaking frankly (and without presuming what Sasha might say), that is how the US political culture has replied to the OED.

If the word “conservative” means what the OED says it means, then it has no reasonable or rational application to a vast swathe of nominal US “Conservatives”. This is the crux, I think, of the argument that these terms have lost utility in dialogues about US politics (I know little and will speak not at all on the terms as applied in other nations). Nor, speaking from the other side, are all or perhaps even the majority of Liberals in line with the dictionary meaning of that word. Both words have simply taken on other — and I think often many simultaneous and contradictory — meanings.

You may argue, reasonably, that we ought to try and take them back, as it were, but personally I think that ship has sailed.

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diptherio 11.10.13 at 1:42 am

I think a piece of the puzzle might be the finding of the General Social Survey that large majorities of Americans, even those who are ideologically far-right, are “operational liberals,” i.e. they support an activist government when asked about specific programs. Think the Tea Party protester with the “keep Government out of my Medicare” sign. I think it might be the ideological vs. operational paradox on the right that has led to such schizoid politicians.

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Martin Bento 11.10.13 at 5:26 am

John, one obstacle to the far right creating an even further right from their success is that they are not honest in their rhetoric and therefore cannot convert people to nor normalize positions they do not openly hold. For example, there is a lot of racism, effective racism (e.g., some may be disenfranchising blacks because they are Dems, not because they are black, but they are still disenfranchising blacks) and cynical exploitation of racism in the Republican Party, but avowed racism is suppressed. Instead, you get arguments that liberals are the real racists. Even Murray, in his Bell Curve apologia in New Republic, made a carefully-racist argument and then stated with a straight face that he had not made a racist argument. Since the Repubs won’t let their white hoods fly, they aren’t creating space for those who would like to also set up the crosses.

And I do think this also applies to the Left. It is not as obvious at the moment because the left is dominated by its moderates, partly because of fear of the far right. But the current parameters of debate reflect the history of the debate. Never did the Democratic Party admit that Reagan was in a sense right – Medicare is socialist. So are social security, free public education, and any kind of government welfare. They are ideas that emerged (in general form) from utopian socialist literature, they use the coercive power of government to achieve social goals not limited to security and law enforcement, (the putative objectives of police and military), and they broadly redistribute wealth. Since they were moderate alternatives intended partly to undermine more radical socialist tendencies, it was not politically useful to call them “socialist”. That would have had the effect of legitimizing socialism, which was not a desired goal of anyone in power. In this case, the effect of keeping more extreme aspects of socialism out of the mainstream was part of the objective.

But why aren’t the conservatives more candid? There are several reasons. First of all, the electoral needs of the Republican Party are largely in the drivers seat, as that is where the money is. Most of the Republican agenda is not popular and not likely to become popular (major exceptions are tough on crime and, sometimes, aggressive foreign policy) because it is against the interests of the majority. Also, they cannot afford to alienate women any more than they do now – they will not gain the male vote to counterbalance (while liberals make much of the “gender gap” as an intrinsic GOP problem, it is only a problem for them if they fail to gain at least as many male votes as they lose female. Mostly this has not happened, but I don’t think there are more male votes available to them on gender issues). It is not just that women are (just over) half the electorate; it is that they are such in every congressional district. A deficit with women cannot be gerrymandered away.

Then again, many rank-and-file Republican positions would actually be opposed by the elite if they got serious. Racism undermines globalization. A return to a glorified version of the 50s nuclear family requires wages that enable most workers to support such a family with a single breadwinner. The money boys are not going to permit that, so the question of whether such a thing would be desirable is somewhat moot, and its political use largely a game.

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Sasha Clarkson 11.10.13 at 11:06 am

@86 – “Both words have simply taken on other — and I think often many simultaneous and contradictory — meanings.”

Yes! :) And from my perspective, the problem in the US is that people speaking the same language can no longer communicate with each other. On the “right”, that is even true of nominal allies.

The concept of the Overton window presupposes a high degree of social cohesiveness. I doubt it was ever true, but it certainly isn’t now. Tea Party supporters seem to class a majority of their fellow citizens as enemy aliens.

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Metatone 11.10.13 at 12:22 pm

An interesting Overton Window example here:

http://www.redstate.com/2013/11/07/the-single-woman-society/

I think you’ll find that in 2 or 3 years much of this has filtered into mainstream R candidate speak.

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Martin James 11.10.13 at 3:08 pm

Metatone,

Republicans will be advocating that only married people vote in 2 or 3 years?

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someguy 11.10.13 at 4:20 pm

What polls well in a gerrymandered Republican district in Mississippi does not sell as well in a national election.

So Bush, Dole, Bush, McCain, Romney – Christie. Hardly a murders row of conservative darlings. But really despite the belly aching, it is about the best, fan’s of what sells well in a gerrymandered Republican district in Mississippi, can expect at the national level.

On the other hand during his last full year of voting in the Senate Obama was the most liberal Senator with a 100% ADA rating. Granted he was tied with 8 other Senators but still that puts him very roughly to the left of 91% of the American electorate.

So as a few folks have noted the Overton window isn’t shifting to the right nearly as much as you think. Gay marriage – Obamacare. Not as progressive as some might want but two pretty big progressive victories.

Second political views in this country are a combination of self interest and very shallow series of affections that serve as an identity statement. Voters are in no way ideological.

Conservatism is not an ideology but there is absolutely nothing conservative about the notion that deficit financed tax cuts are magically good for the economy. Nothing. It is just a shallow affection that serves as an identity marker.

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thompsaj 11.10.13 at 4:38 pm

I think the moderate positions along these spectra reflect differential weightings of competing binary political values. The ideological extremism is a result of conservative self-purification leading to an unwillingness to accept other political values as at all legitimate. Beyond that, it’s a game theoretical calculation to maximize electoral success, whether it’s good or bad to be seen to be expressing the extreme position or whether denials still signal acceptance to the predisposed listeners.

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Omega Centauri 11.10.13 at 5:00 pm

I think we have several cross currents going on. There is a background of leftward shift on some social issues, especially the relationship of gays to society in general. The right has harnessed the counter-reaction to this. But we also have a strong rightwards motion on some economic issues -greed versus redistribution, deregulation versus regulation. The conflation of free speech with paid-for speech. We have multiple cultural sectors, some with the window moving left, and some with it moving rightwards.

The thing that is intersting (and depressing) about the Republicans, is that while the views they espose, and the methods employed get further from the cultural norm, they have become better and better at conflating things in the eyes of the average voter. The constant drum of manufactured scandals -and the ability to keep old disproven “scandals” alive means that the median voter could easily choose to R candidate whose stances he is opposed to, over the D candidate whose policy prescriptions more closely match his own. because the constant faux-outrage, manufactured scandal tactic, means Democrats and liberals are viewed as having little to no integrity.

Now, I want to talk about the ACA. This was largely modeled after a former conservative proposal, which was designed to give just enough to take the issue of socialized medicine completely off the table. Now, the right percieves that even giving the rubes half-a-loaf is unneccesary, we can get away with keeping the entire loaf to ourselves. I think the ACA is highly likely to be successful -in that far more people will benefit than than be hurt by it. But, can this translate into political optics? I think it is unlikely to. The constant drum of outrage from the few isolated or not cases, where people feel they are being hurt can easily drown out the far more common cases of those who have had good experiences. This is especially true, given our compliant media. Many of these problems will have been caused by deliberate obstructionism and even outright sabotage, but John Q Public won’t be told thought, instead he will be told it is because the whole thing was a horrible abomination. Debate via personal anecdote does not lead to policies that are informed by statistical analysis. And that is where our political discourse is stuck.

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js. 11.10.13 at 5:33 pm

Republicans will be advocating that only married people vote in 2 or 3 years?

It strikes me as perfectly within the realm of possibility that within the next few election cycles we’ll see Republican candidates running for federal office arguing that single women having the vote isn’t necessarily the best idea. How is that all that crazier than what we’ve already seen? (And obviously, the piece isn’t all that exercised about single men.)

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bob mcmanus 11.10.13 at 6:19 pm

I don’t claim to know much or even think much about what Republicans are doing ideologically, but I do know better than to analyze it only under a metric of electoral success or competitiveness. Why did Lenin kick out the Mensheviks before WWI, or leave the Int’l? Didn’t similar actions occur in 1850s Dixie? Other examples abound.

Creating a revolutionary vanguard that is willing to do or die, kill or die extrapolitically, is not easy for process liberals to understand or analyze. And usually it fails, but they do have a critical mass that can raise hell. And I don’t necessarily claim this is the Republican intention, if intention is necessary to get the effect. But the agitation, aggravation, isolation including geographical does seem to be happening.

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Alex 11.10.13 at 6:22 pm

What if there is no centre? Think a binomial distribution, not a normal distribution. The notion of a vital centre implies that there is overlap between the parties, enough that a normal is a reasonable approximation. But I think US politics is better approximated as two non-overlapping camps trying to out-mobilise each other.

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Martin James 11.10.13 at 6:24 pm

Metatone,

I just wanted to be clear about what you thought would be advocated.

To me there is a big difference between what mainstream Republicans believe would be a good thing and what they actually advocate for politically.

I think the combination “mainstream”, “2 to 3 years” and advocating single women can’t vote produces an exaggeration. That’s basically the next presedential election. I’ll keep track, you may be correct, but I doubt it.

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Ed Herdman 11.10.13 at 6:39 pm

Just on the face of it, the Overton Window seems to represent something that doesn’t matter that much for politics. So there’s two ways I see of looking at it this way:

1.) The public’s “window” is much wider than people assume. Additionally, arguably the parties in the U.S. are quite close together on most issues.
2.) The general public doesn’t matter as much as people think. The enthusiastic electorate – the people who feel galvanized by candidates and short-term factors in an election cycle – often go to the polls because they want to vote for a candidate. If they don’t care or are turned off by candidates, they stay home.

Of course, if governance in the nation strayed too far from what was acceptable, we’d see some strong efforts at reform – from new conventional political parties and rioting to anti-system parties and rebellions. But most of these things don’t come to pass – so exactly what we’d expect to see if the Overton Window was violated remains mysterious to me.

Empirically, I think the Overton Window must be of relatively limited use, at least given the generalized description I saw for it.

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ZM 11.10.13 at 7:41 pm

@ KB
” that is how the US political culture has replied to the OED. If the word “conservative” means what the OED says it means, then it has no reasonable or rational application to a vast swathe of nominal US “Conservatives”. This is the crux, I think, of the argument that these terms have lost utility in dialogues about US politics (I know little and will speak not at all on the terms as applied in other nations). Nor, speaking from the other side, are all or perhaps even the majority of Liberals in line with the dictionary meaning of that word.”

I agree som meaning has changed. It was a political act, and deceitful, I think, for the Conservative party in the UK to take that name when they weren’t most of them really conservative in the sense of the Tories (whose name actually refers to the Irish, whose land was taken from them , faith outlawed, and who often turned to crime and then supported the King as Jacobites.) – the UK was largely a liberal-with-exclusions (including the right of people in foreign countries to live freely without being colonised etc) sort of country.

In Australia we have the Liberal party (lots of what you’d think of as US style conservatives belong and vote for this) and the Labor party (is happy for us to exploit foreign workers) as the main political parties.

“You may argue, reasonably, that we ought to try and take them back, as it were, but personally I think that ship has sailed.”

Perhaps you can steer it around again. Otherwise it reminds me if the end of Freedom

SPOILERS SPOILERS etc

Where the environmentalist guy is holed up in his second countryside property – a family inheritance – and loathes his neighbours in ugly new houses too close. One of whom has a cat which goes into his property and which he deplores and asks his neighbours all to keep their cats inside. The main neighbour takes offence and leaves her cat out more and more. Then the environmentalist guy kidnaps the cat and delivers it to a shelter, what becomes of the cat we don’t know. Then the neighbour is suspicious and buys three cats in retribution. The man reconciles with his wife and goes back to living a middle class life in the city and visiting his entrepreneurial son and literary world daughter, and builds a tall tall fence around his property that cats can’t climb over and names riptide after his dead Indian girlfriend (who was actually too polite to have done this herself in my view) taking away the view from his neighbours but being a sanctuary for birds.

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Bruce Wilder 11.10.13 at 7:54 pm

Politics is always about choice, and choice, at the last point in the process of making a choice, is always dichotomous: yes or no, for or against. But, it’s a process and a path, that gets people to the final yes or no, which is, of course, never really final. We’re constantly being reconciled to choices already made, or in the process of being made, by the political process, itself, by the process of debate and discussion and compromise and betrayal. Propaganda and the social construction of political norms is part of the process. If you want to rationalize a political policy of slavery for negroes, you have to have an ideology that makes slavery a good thing; if you want, instead, a society of racial diversity and political equality, then you have to have an ideology that supports that, and tell stories that highlight the injustice of apartheid or segregation, stories of lynchings, for example.

I suppose there’s something to the idea that no society is ever looking out the Overton window at the full range of political possibility, though some visionaries can certainly see into the distance. The choices that a body politic are confronted with at the moment are going to focus attention, but it isn’t crazy to imagine that focusing attention is also going to determine the choices of the moment. Some people in mid-19th century America could imagine and hope for racial equality. Some political localities could debate, for example, whether to integrate the public schools, at the same time the nation was worried about the fugitive slave law or slave rebellions.

“Progress” was a very, very powerful idea, which gave liberals political leverage beyond their numbers, on and off from the 18th century onward. It bedeviled those reactionaries, who wanted to resist the modernizing driven by the industrial revolution. Getting right with progress was what made Pitt, Burke, Peel, Disraeli and Bismarck politically successful “conservatives”. Progress carried the antislavery cause, the cause of widening suffrage, and a variety of progressive reforms well into the 20th century.

It seems to me that Progress seems to be losing its potency, as the continuing success of Movement Conservatism in stacking the judiciary, suppressing voter participation, and driving the economic agenda, sinks in, and the corruption of Obama’s brand of centrism is revealed. Or, in Europe, the antidemocratic, anti-social-welfare agenda of the Eurocrats is revealed in the punishing effects of the Euro.

Talk about the Overton Window concept has become just a stand-in, an excuse for expression of this anxiety about the lost potency of “Progress”. And, that anxiety is likely to grow, as the implications of climate change, peak oil, and ecological collapse sink in.

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Martin Bento 11.10.13 at 7:55 pm

Serious Republican candidates are not going to advocate taking the vote from single women, because that will cost them the entire single woman vote and gain them very few they do not already have. As I said above, losing the woman’s vote is a particular problem for them, more than losing racial groups, because women are and will remain evenly distributed. They are not a factor that can be gerrymandered away. Single status can to a slight extent, but everyone starts off single, so single people will be a presence everywhere.

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Ed Herdman 11.10.13 at 7:56 pm

Oh, I could add one other set of data points to the discussion:

Since the 1964 election, there has been a gender gap between male and female voters. Female voters have mostly retained pre-1964 voting preferences, with either a preference for Democrats or a more or less even split. Male voters have shifted considerably to the right.

Incidentally, some of the typical answers that seem (to my limited understanding of the theory) to support the Overton Window, like “women are more caring than men, so more liberal” simply do not work, because the assumption that women score higher on caring indexes is flawed. I also think that an attempt to cast the difference as “men are obsessive and so less susceptible to short-term electoral factors” is going to fail, as well.

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Bruce Wilder 11.10.13 at 8:29 pm

I don’t think the passive electorate is spontaneously expressing the range of individual needs and desires; it’s responding to propaganda, designed to manipulate. The gender gap is manufactured by the propagandists, as is so much more of our political divides.

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Martin James 11.10.13 at 9:50 pm

Bruce,

How does the propaganda divide people if there wasn’t some divide already existing?

How does the propaganda effect the genders differently if theren’t existing differences in the individual needs and desires of the genders?

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Bruce Wilder 11.10.13 at 10:41 pm

There’s difference — variety — pre-existing, as it were. Difference isn’t, itself, any particular social or political division or conflict involving those divisions. Those divisions are political constructions. There’s a range of skin complexion; there’s quite a few steps from that fact of nature, to chattel slavery, enacted on a racial basis. Irish v. Brits, or Protestants v. Catholics? Class warfare or Kulturkampf? A lot of politics consists of competing projects to form teams on the basis of one or another division.

The technics of political communications and propaganda has become deeply sophisticated. People get their buttons pushed by professionals from both Parties. The fact that they have buttons isn’t, itself, a basis of political division It isn’t necessarily a deep strategy, except in the sense that tactics and their tacticians tend to take over, in a medium is the message kind of way. I don’t think the Republicans were ever planning a War on Women — it was just a clever way to string together some soundbytes cooked up by some Obama campaign wonk. I don’t think Karl Rove, or even his boss, cared much about Osama bin Laden, when Karl used timely “terror alerts” to tweek the vote margin in 2004.

A politics of deep division, and close elections, serves the interests of the plutocrats. Obama can rally his liberal “base” without delivering, and keep them safely neutralized, while the angry Tea Partiers are similarly neutralized with a complementary narrative of victimization and betrayal. American politics has been nastier, with more radicals flaying at each other, epistemic closure making agreement impossible, while the government has become increasingly enfeebled, pretty much in lockstep with the redistribution of wealth upward. As income and wealth and power become concentrated in the hands of the 1%: divide et impera.

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Omega Centauri 11.10.13 at 11:19 pm

I did want to make a point about the media. It was stated above that the media shouldn’t have much effect, because so much of the electorate isn’t watching it. However these people are embedded in the larger culture, they can’t help overhearing discussions among co-workers and associates. So broadcast propaganda -if it is effective, gets widely repeated as soundbites, and various memes are re-enforced every time someone repeats them. So disinfotainment media has an effect on the meme-sphere far beyond those that are actually its audience. I am often distressed hearing people who I know are liberals repeating conservative talking points. These memes can have a life of their own far beyond their natural constituency.

Its also true that there are dynamic centrifugal forces at work. Echo chambers and identity politics create a situation where most people end up choosing one camp or the other. So a natural bell curve can in extreme cases bifurcate into a bi-modal distribution.

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Martin James 11.10.13 at 11:24 pm

It seems odd to me to refer to government as “enfeebled” in the USA. It may be enfeebled with respect to particular policy goals but it is far from enfeebled with respect to incarceration, revenue collection, expenditure, electronic intelligence gathering, weapons production, etc.

If the divsions are all the result of plutocrats wanting deep division and close elections, why are so many states not closely contested? Does California state politics not matter to the Republican propaganda machine? How much propagnda would it take for MA to elect Ted Cruz or Texas Elizabeth Warren.

So many of the buttons propagandists push are religious, but why do Jews end up on one side, Baptists on the other and catholics split down the middle. All religion just propagandisituc opium of the masses?

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JW Mason 11.11.13 at 3:13 am

I’m sympathetic to Bruce W.’s perspective but I would put it a bit differently. Bourgeois political parties (including of course both Dems and Rs) all work for the plutocrats, but that doesn’t mean the differences between them are somehow a trick or an illusion. Better to think of them as franchises of policy contractors competing for the business of running the state. They are offering the same basic service to Capital, but they have their distinct specialties. One (the “right”) puts in a low-cost bid, assuring the Bosses that public goods are unnecessary expense and that labor costs can be held down by a combination of divide-and-rule tactics and old-fashioned coercion. The other (“the left”) charges more but insists that public investment will pay off down the road and that squeezing labor too hard risks an explosive reaction. Capital balances short term profit against long-term growth and stability by picking one contractor or the other, and the contractors adjust their bids based to be close to whatever offer was accepted last time.

When you look at it this way, then yes, electoral politics is entirely about the interests of the plutocrats. But that doesn’t mean it is not also about the interests of ordinary people. The “left” program is genuinely more in our interests than the “right” program, and the more fuss we make, the more likely the Bosses are to choose the strategy of mollifying us rather than squeezing as hard as they can.

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Collin Street 11.11.13 at 4:37 am

If the divsions are all the result of plutocrats wanting deep division and close elections, why are so many states not closely contested?

Well, a lot of plutocrats are dumb. Poor class mobility works both ways.

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AJ 11.11.13 at 6:27 am

> If the divsions are all the result of plutocrats wanting deep division and close
> elections, why are so many states not closely contested?

>> Well, a lot of plutocrats are dumb. Poor class mobility works both ways.
But … but .. the plutocrats don’t actually control the parties directly. Their organizations are actually quite smart – whatever you may think of the intelligence of the plutocrats themselves.

I maintain that it has to do with the phenomenon of “all you have to win is the primary”. This has resulted in the Republicans having to pander to their far right base during primaries because since many elections are going to be either R or D for sure, and so the candidate simply has to win the primary. This means that they have to be more left- or more right- wing than the Overton Window would suggest.

Both parties have done their best to gerrymander districts and done various other things to ensure that elections always go their way and, of course, both parties have “plutocrats” backing them. And each state has its own set of economic interests. So, the reason why so many states are not keenly contested cannot be simply answered. Certainly not with a single line. Each state is different.

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Mao Cheng Ji 11.11.13 at 8:32 am

“How much propagnda would it take for MA to elect Ted Cruz or Texas Elizabeth Warren.”

MA and Texas are two very different environments; different levels of urbanization, population density, industries, surrounding states, etc. Propaganda doesn’t create politics out of whole cloth, it can only affect, shift it.

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Ed Herdman 11.11.13 at 3:50 pm

@ Omega Centauri

I understand the point about people being embedded in culture and having access to media – but in practice that is not how it worked out.

Remember Cindy McCain? People either loved her or hated her – so you would think from the discussions people had in politics. Yet the overwhelming response from the electorate was “who’s Cindy McCain?” Overwhelmingly people didn’t know who she was, and didn’t care. And there are plenty more examples like this.

Ditto Ted Cruz – some recent polls (taken shortly after his filibuster in the Senate) have shown that peoples’ overwhelming response to Ted Cruz is “who’s Ted Cruz?”

The convention is to call these people, when they vote, “low-information voters,” but it might be just as well to call them “low-enthusiasm voters.” And of course, there is a much broader class of Americans that don’t engage and don’t vote, but even amongst people who vote, there’s quite a few who simply don’t engage as strongly as the party faithful.

So much of this discussion is disappointing because it’s heavily based on “common sense” arguments, when we have access to the National Election Survey data (for example) that can actually put some of these notions to bed.

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William Timberman 11.11.13 at 4:27 pm

Here’s a faith-based comment: despite what statistics tell us, we aren’t simply vessels to be filled with the highest bidder’s propaganda. To think that we are requires that we happily invest the bulk of our intellectual effort in compiling evidence of how the collective influences the individual, while blithely ignoring the reverse. The extent to which the individual alters the trajectory of the group is necessarily more diffuse, and acts over a longer period of time, which makes its effects harder to trace with the desired degree of precision. Motives are evanescent, anecdotes unreliable. Better to stick with what we know.

So while I’m sympathetic to Bruce Wilder’s narrative about the shadow play of our current politics, I’m not convinced that propagandists are smarter than what Jefferson once called Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God. Our current smartfellas are certainly very dangerous fools, newly empowered as they are by everything from H-bombs to Google, but they’re fools nevertheless. In the long run, not all of us will be dead. It won’t matter to those who are, I’ll concede that much, but the sanctity of the individual enshrined by the Enlightenment in our politics was always something of a red herring anyway. We must carry on; that’s how we’re made — and never believe for a moment that marginalization doesn’t have its benefits, not least of which is the mysterious process by which the margins so often return unexpectedly to the center of affairs.

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AJ 11.11.13 at 4:34 pm

> MA and Texas are two very different environments; different levels of
> urbanization, population density, industries, surrounding states, etc.
> Propaganda doesn’t create politics out of whole cloth, it can only affect, shift it.
+1 Mao Cheng Ji. But note that Texas voters are also perfectly rational – their economic interests are being taken care of at the center by the Republicans (think “big oil”). .

> Ditto Ted Cruz – some recent polls (taken shortly after his filibuster in the
> Senate) have shown that peoples’ overwhelming response to Ted Cruz is “who’s
> Ted Cruz?”
Yes, most voters are “low information” voters. Yet their behavior as a whole is perfectly predictable. Example: all the Republicans in Ted Cruz’s district -will- vote for Ted Cruz come election time. This is because the typical voter is like the father in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” – he will vote for whoever the Greek Orthodox or Baptist or Catholich Church tells him to vote for (I totally cannot see him do anything else unless someone really pushed to do so). People -will- predictably (statistically speaking) vote along identity and religious lines because voters have “inertia”.

Again, the fact is that there is “voter inertia”. A voter at rest in the R or D camp will continue to remain at rest unless and until a force is applied to him in the other direction. This, I believe, is because of two reasons – principle and profit. The two reasons are : one, a large number of people have already made up their minds about whether they are going to vote D or R before an election due to the persuasiveness they ascribe to the two party platforms (i.e. principle); two, economic interests in different districts often mostly align with party R or party D, and so it is perfectly rational to vote R or D if you happen to be in those districts; and three, parochiality reigns supreme in America (i.e. profit). The third ‘p’ parochiality is thankfully not there – virtually anywhere. People in America, no matter where they live, don’t look down upon you for voting for the other side.

Put differently- each voter is seeking to attain a local maximum of satisfaction. The incentives are not in place to attain a global satisfaction maximum because America’s resources are decentralized to a very large degree and so people are incented to vote to maximum local satisfaction constraints.

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AJ 11.11.13 at 4:37 pm

* and note parochiality does not reign supreme in America (i.e. the third “P”) unlike in other countries.

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zbs 11.11.13 at 4:41 pm

AJ: People in America, no matter where they live, don’t look down upon you for voting for the other side.

Uh …

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Trader Joe 11.11.13 at 4:44 pm

@115
“all the Republicans in Ted Cruz’s district -will- vote for Ted Cruz come election time. “

Equally likely is Cruz will run unopposed or against a weak or at least unsupported opponent who is weak and unsupported because the district has been gerrymandered to have a strong republican majority in it. It takes a very, very, very long time for demographics to shift to make these “safe” districts unsafe.

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AJ 11.11.13 at 5:28 pm

> It takes a very, very, very long time for demographics to shift to make these
> “safe” districts unsafe.
+1. I hadn’t mentioned the time component. Yes, that is another important factor.

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CaptFamous 11.11.13 at 5:30 pm

The scenario makes sense to me when it’s presented in terms of “conventional wisdom”. In a largely comfortable society, it seems likely that most of the population would be inclined to declare commonly-held beliefs to be innocent until proven guilty. This would explain the strong performance of the far-right (extremely pro-convention) as opposed to the far-left (extremely anti-convention).

If you also accept the idea that conventional wisdom is far more convention than wisdom, it stands to reason that a moderate, reasonable discussion of issues would consistently lead left. This would give some motivation for the Dems to avoid ceding the power of their party to the far-left (a very vocal section of whom tend to rely on “isn’t it obvious?” arguments to which the response is very often “no”).

Accepting this idea also gives motivation to the Reps to give power to the far-right. If they see themselves continually losing (albeit slowly) in moderate, low-volume discussion, it might seem like a more viable option to use a loud, buzzwordy argument that targets an average Amercian’s visceral desire to stand pat, rather than asking them to think critically.

Lastly, if you assume that conventional wisdom is more wrong than right, than there has to be a bargain struck between dissuading nuanced discussion and bringing an illogical idea to it’s logical conclusion, where it’s wrongness becomes evident, even at max volume. The continual walking-back is the dance being done to try to allow just enough complexity for your constituants to use cognitive dissonance to rationalize ideas that, when laid more bare, become undeniably undesirable.

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CaptFamous 11.11.13 at 5:38 pm

PS: Motivation for a right-leaning party to cede power to the far-right in the scenario described suggests a disregard for moderate conservatism in favor of “winning”. My definition of an overly moderate government being one where all agree on a continued, slow progress, with moderate liberals being the ones focused on making sure progress is maintained, and moderate conservatives being the ones who focus on make sure that elements of the status quo are not discarded without due process, as opposed to being purely anti-discardation (discardment?).

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Bruce Wilder 11.11.13 at 5:51 pm

JW Mason @ 109

Your excellent analogy has broader application than my variegated observations, which are weighed down with particularities.

The original bourgeois parties, the Whigs and the Tories, discussed earlier in the thread in relation to how the concept of “conservative” emerged, distinct from reactionary, authoritarian or traditionalist, represented a subtly divided hereditary landed aristocracy and gentry, whose 18th century comity was maintained by extensive exclusions and disabilities, of some of those who seemed to have a claim on status, wealth and power, including the Catholics, and the Dissenters, who drove the Industrial Revolution. The Conservatives and Liberals emerged after regularizing that elite, creating, in fact, a more sharply divided elite, in which the most strongly reactionary elements were usually a leaderless, passive plurality.

The division among the elite led to political strategies in which the competing elements of the elite made popular appeals to the broader public (and as electoral reforms broadened eligibility to vote, a broader electorate), as a way to outflank their elite rivals. Popular, mass-movements arose with a consciousness of their ability to play a role in those elite games.

(France in the 19th century was also ruled by bourgeois parties, but reactionary elements were harder to tame, and they regularly lost their grip.)

I suppose I’m most concerned, in 21st century American politics — or 21st century western European politics for that matter — with the homogenization of the emerging global elite and the absence of popular mass-movement organization.

In the not-so-distant-past, your competing Contractors often maintained some vertical integration, of a kind, independent of elite sources of funding or media sponsorship. They had institutional bases of power and authority, in political machines, for example, which controlled newspapers, like the Byrd Organization, which dominated Virginia politics for decades, or in labor unions, as another example, or just in political party patronage and urban political machines, like Tammany Hall.

My concerns about our competing Contractor bourgeois parties, today, is that they have become competing troops of actors, spokesmodel politicians, who hire themselves out to be celebrities, playing roles in a scripted drama, written and directed with the goal of misdirecting and discouraging popular participation, creating what Wolin calls, Inverted Totalitarianism.

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Bruce Wilder 11.11.13 at 5:56 pm

CaptFamous

And, if the conventional wisdom is, like our neoliberal nostrums, a lot of claptrap, scripted to exclude any sensible policy option even from imagination? And, the political parties dedicate themselves to some combination of gridlock and consensus or bipartisan politics to avoid responsibility for destructive choices and negligence?

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Bruce Wilder 11.11.13 at 5:59 pm

Trader Joe

Ted Cruz’ “district” is the State of Texas. I don’t think you can gerrymander a State, taken as a whole.

What’s more likely is that the Democratic establishment will find ways to avoid putting up a credible challenger. That’s the usual pattern. See Christie, Chris under New Jersey.

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CaptFamous 11.11.13 at 6:31 pm

Bruce – That would be the prioritization of “winning” (or to your second point, “not losing”), which seems to become the goal when job security in government is tied entirely to “electability” and not at all to “doing your job well”.

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Trader Joe 11.11.13 at 7:00 pm

@124
Quite right…of course the entire state can’t be gerrymandered as in Cruz’s specific case (or any senator), I was trying to extend the comment to collect a bit broader slice of the reasons behind voter inertia as AJ referenced @115. Cruz was his specific case – I should have left my comment more generic. The points about running weak candidates as opposition remain. Christie, Chris a good recent example. See also Kennedy, Ted as the historical benchmark.

Since I’m here, I’ll add my props for JW’s analogy @109.

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Ed Herdman 11.12.13 at 12:15 am

@ AJ:
I believe this encapsulates your view -
>People -will- predictably (statistically speaking) vote along identity and religious lines because voters have “inertia”.

In terms of what wins elections, this is false because it is incomplete – because not all voters “have ‘inertia’.” Details: Certainly party faithful, “high-information voters,” exhibit inertia in their voting patterns (but at the same time they keep up enthusiasm for going to the polls).

But (relatively) low-information or swing voters are consequential to elections, and short-term forces (which, by their very nature aren’t systemic, in terms of persisting from election cycle to election cycle) swing those voters enough to help the winning candidate. Consider all the excited voters who showed up in 2008: Certainly some of them showed up for McCain, but that part of the electorate breaks decisively for Obama. Many of these voters didn’t show up in 2012 and few of them showed up in 2010. If we put these vanished voters in the ballot box at this November’s ballots, they would vote Democratic again, but inertia also helps keep people away from the polls. Inertia alone won’t win elections – you need excitement to get people to vote.

I don’t want to trash the “inertia” idea – in some respects that’s a good analysis of what happens. The majority of voters form their political opinions based on who the President is at the time they start voting. In fact, of all Presidents going back to FDR and possibly earlier, only at George W Bush’s second election do we not see evidence that happened, and that seems easily explained in terms of Bush’s terrible approval ratings.

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Ed Herdman 11.12.13 at 12:37 am

A quickie:
@ William Timberman
>Here’s a faith-based comment: despite what statistics tell us, [...] Motives are evanescent, anecdotes unreliable. Better to stick with what we know.

How did it come to be that these two radically opposed sentiments, apparently both pro- and anti-science as I read them, found their way into one paragraph? “What we know” would be about what wins elections (and of course even that isn’t a complete picture), and the statistical study of that. The surveys do represent, in a very flat and simple way, where voters’ sentiments seem to lie. But certainly the surveys aren’t anecdotal.

What should be done about these mercurial and tenuously defined emotive forces? If it so happens that you find out, from polling, that the majority of polled respondents opine that government is too big and taxes are too high, that finding does not imply that we really understand the motives and true feelings. We just have a category description and a way to tie that to success in an election. However, it just so happens to work that you can turn this reading into an insight into how to broach (or completely steer away from, in the usual case) subjects when trying to communicate with your electorate. The surveys, for all their imprecision, seem to have some use based on the plain meaning of the survey questions and responses.

In terms of the propagandists and what they know, I think if you spend a bit of time talking to even ‘educated’ voters you will start to worry not only about that balance of power, but about the wisdom of the unengaged voter, who just as often acts out of caprice or anger from having been disturbed from a question, as that voter attempts to give a reasonable answer. They key here, I think, is engagement. Wikipedia is an example of people working together with some level of wisdom – all its users subscribe to the larger goal. People who don’t want to be Wikipedians simply aren’t.

No statistician or pollster should labor under the illusion that people marked as “high-information” – or whatever meritorious-sounding category we invent – are actually better, smarter people, or at least that this is the kind of thing that can be demonstrated. At the same time we need to recognize that the only thing an election tests for is whether the people who went to vote wanted Candidate A or Candidate B at the moment they voted – it all boils down to that.

The system only works when all participants – but especially those sending the messages – are principled. It’s based on, and rewards, those participants – the system only works for people who are engaged. Perhaps Mr. Jefferson (and Mr. Tocqueville) would be surprised at the forms political engagement takes today – and at the level of apathy. Perhaps it existed in their time as well but we simply did not have the tools to measure it carefully – certainly Jefferson and perhaps also Tocqueville did not have anything at their disposal even hinting of modern survey methods. At the same time in our modern era, there’s comparatively a lot more political engagement (in terms of sheer numbers, if not percentages) and a lot of the new directions for that engagement (the grassroots and social media campaigns) than there could have been at the dawn of the Republic; these are good things.

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ZM 11.12.13 at 6:41 am

Bruce Wilder @122, “The original bourgeois parties, the Whigs and the Tories”

I know I’m fighting a losing battle here, but – die hard, die kicking and all that – the *Whigs* were the *liberal progressives* and the *Tories* were the *traditionalists*. The *Conservatives* were *liberals who got scared by the French Revolution* and hid under the skirt tails of tradition.

How you might come to trust in this interpretation is in the meaning of Tory – I will quote the etymology for your convenience:

“1566, “an outlaw,” specifically “a robber,” from Irish toruighe “plunderer,” originally “pursuer, searcher,” from Old Irish toirighim “I pursue,” related to toracht “pursuit.” About 1646, it emerged as a derogatory term for Irish Catholics dispossessed of their land (some of whom subsequently turned to outlawry); c.1680 applied by Exclusioners to supporters of the Catholic Duke of York (later James II) in his succession to the throne of England. After 1689, Tory was the name of a British political party at first composed of Yorkist Tories of 1680. Superseded c.1830 by Conservative, though it continues to be used colloquially. In American history, Tory was the name given after 1769 to colonists who remained loyal to George III of England.”

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Bruce Wilder 11.12.13 at 4:43 pm

The Tories were those, who remained loyal to the monarchy as a fount of power and honor; the Whigs were those, who favored a constitutional monarchy, and the independent power to govern of the landed aristocracy and landed gentry, in Parliament. Neither Tories nor Whigs constituted any formally organized political party; those were labels applied variously to factions and attitudes, as they emerged. It was rarely a sharp division of persons, or specific disagreement on policy.

My point was that both the Tories and Whigs represented pretty much the same social classes and same vested interests. It is anachronistic and misleading to assert that the Whigs were “liberal progressives”. Liberalism and the idea of progress were ideological inventions of the French. If you want to find the template for liberal progressives, look to Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot. The ideology of the Whigs was born of paranoia in the War of the Three Kingdoms, the name derived from the Whiggamore Raid, when the Kirk party of the Covenanters marched on Edinburgh to take power from those, who would engage with Charles. The Whigs interpreted every thing the King did as part of a plot to impose a despotic tyranny and restore Catholicism; in time, this habit of paranoid thinking — which proved to be not a bad guide to the course developments would take — became an ideology, which was deeply concerned with analysis of the institutions of the British constitution, and advocacy of reform. It would become the ideology of the American Revolution, as Bernard Bailyn and Gordon S Wood showed.

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William Timberman 11.12.13 at 5:21 pm

Ed Herdman @ 128

How did it come to be that these two radically opposed sentiments, apparently both pro- and anti-science as I read them, found their way into one paragraph?

It’s a novelist’s device, shamelessly borrowed for more mundane, i.e. more polemical purposes. First the author pretends to be himself, then he pretends to be the people whose judgment he questions. The turning point comes at <To think that we are…

In his arrogance, the author presumes that a) he’s left enough breadcrumbs, and b) the reader is nimble enough to follow them through the maze of viewpoints. Did the author outsmart himself in the process, and risk being dismissed as an obscurantist, or worse yet, a confused Romantic? We report, you decide….

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Schadenboner 11.12.13 at 7:00 pm

@120 This is the best and model of American opinion dynamics I have read in a long time. Like all great observations in the social sciences it has provoked a forehead-slapping “oh, of course” reaction. Well done.

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ZM 11.12.13 at 7:36 pm

Bruce Wilder,

I would say those who were for parliament ahead of the king during the so-called glorious revolution were liberals.

“Liberalism and the idea of progress were ideological inventions of the French.”

I have heard John Locke referred to as a liberal, though I’ve not read him, and he wrote during the glorious revolution..

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Ed Herdman 11.13.13 at 6:46 am

@ WT: I thought something like that would be the case. And, just my luck, we’re here sniffing at the corpse instead of having a second go at the content of the discussion…

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SC 11.13.13 at 6:28 pm

“@120 This is the best . . . model of American opinion dynamics . . . “

I agree. That’s probably worth reposting when it’s more likely to be discussed.

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Nathan Shpritz 11.14.13 at 12:36 am

Very interesting post and string of comments.
I would propose, quite possibly wrongly, another explanation to the hard right edge to the opionion distribution.

Just possibly, most very conservative voters are:
(a) single or at most two or three issue voters,
(b) not blindly conservative on all issues across the spectrum, and
(c) team voters looking for team wins rather than deliberative voters looking for well discussed ideas from all angles leading to effective compromise government.

Possibly, if all of the above are true, a successful conservative politician has to be conservative enough on all issues important to her constituents that she can prevail in primary elections but not so far right that she alienates some important group in her district. One cannot become an Akin even though some faction may agree because the “don’t tax me too much” or the “don’t make me register a gun”, or the “don’t give those unionized teachers another cent” or the “don’t you tell me what my police officer can’t do when fighting crime in that neighborhood”… become just too squeamish or nauseated to stay on the same team.

They want to win elections – we get that. They want to pulverize the left and make sure they can exercise no power at all – we get that too. But there are limits – the usual conservative voter will support politicians with extreme right views because they agree with some, not all, positions. And that holds back the herd………thankfully.

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Jamey 11.14.13 at 3:53 am

“But what is it that keeps the range of acceptable right-wing opinion from naturally spreading out ever further to the right, as much as you might expect?”

If they end up getting involuntarily committed then they won’t be able to own or purchase firearms. That’s enough reason for most of them to pretend to be saner than they are. Not much saner than they are. But just sane enough to keep from getting a label of paranoid schizophrenic slapped on them.

It’s not the journalists that “hold the line against norms of acceptability shifting”, it’s the psychiatrists.

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Jamey 11.14.13 at 4:00 am

Hah! I just noticed your post was titled the Overton Straitjacket. Maybe it really is the psychiatry profession and the DSM-V that’s setting the outer limit on the right’s nuttiness. If the New York Times calls you crazy, people just dismiss that as the liberal media. On the other hand, if a psychiatrist calls you crazy…

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Patrice Ayme 11.14.13 at 4:10 am

Holbo says: “the left-wing of the left-wing party, the Democrats, is so wimpy, comparatively, that it sounds funny even calling the Democrats ‘left-wing’, per se. “

I have noticed recently that more than 90% of my comments sent to the New York Times have been judged unworthy of publication. (I used to have close to 100% acceptance, even two years ago.)

However, I did not change, I am still for universal single payer public health care. Yet I came to view the democratic main stream, in theory and practice, way too similar to the Republicans (GOP). I came to that conclusion after working hard, exclusively, and without compensation, for 2 years for Obama’s 2008 election. (Culminating with influence on, or co-writing of, several pro-Obama books.)

So it’s clear to me that there is a sharp swing to the right. The Tea Party is clearly winning hearts and minds, even at the New York Times. Voices like mine are viewed now, even at the New York Times, as crazy left wingers unworthy of consideration. After all, who proposed, say, sequestration? The crazy right wingers? No, the Obama cabinet.
PA

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Keshav Srinivasan 11.14.13 at 7:20 am

Here’s an explanation: From a liberal perspective, the stated positions of Ted Cruz and those espoused by his father are so extreme that liberals consider them as almost the same, but from a conservative perspective there’s a world of difference between them. It’s similar to how advocates of single-payer see Obamacare as a very moderate, almost right-wing healthcare reform proposal compared to single payer, while conservatives view both as a socialist takeover of the health insurance system, one just slightly more extreme than the other.

So just as Obama would have to take what in his view would be a very big step to the left if he wanted to endorse single-payer, Ted Cruz would have to take what in his view would be a very big step to the right in order to endorse his father’s view. So that’s why you don’t see a lot of politicians willing to espouse positions like those of Ted Cruz’s father.

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John M. 11.14.13 at 10:09 am

Apologies if this point has been made above, I confess to just quickly scanning most of the comments. To the post I would add this: have you considered that by general standards the mainstream Democratic Party views are basically centre right? So the vast majority of voters are in fact right wing. So my case is that you don’t worry about the shape of the curve, you just need to shift the centre point. I think this is very similar to what New Labour did to the Tories. They shifted labour to the centre right and it took the Tories nearly twenty years to realise that their reaction should not have been to move further rightward (making themselves unelectable) but to contest the centre. They are nearly allowing the same thing now by permitting UKIP to pull them rightwards but seem more aware of the folly of doing that. Just a thought.

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Jameson Quinn 11.14.13 at 12:32 pm

Part of the story may be what happens when “beliefs” and expectations get out of whack. Conservatives “believe” that Obama is a communist, Muslim, anarchist, effeminate, uppity Kenyan; that is, they like hearing and telling stories which imply these conclusions, because they think that sharing such stories is a sign of virtue (which is rich, Christian, authoritarian, macho, high-status, and American). However, deep in their hearts, all but a literally insane fringe know that these stories are not in fact true; that it would be a very bad idea for them to put their money where their mouths are. Offer a wingnut a money bet about some future implication of his “beliefs” (say, give strong odds that an eyewitness to Obama’s mother in Kenya around his birth will never come forward) and you’ll start to see some fast backpedalling.

So whenever the subtext becomes the text too blatantly, in a way that could imply putting their money where their mouth is, they pull back. This leads to the dynamic in question: politicians doomed to eternally dance at the edge of the crazy cliff.

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Bloix 11.14.13 at 3:33 pm

Brad Delong has something interesting to say about this in the specific context of the primary challenge to Mitch McConnell. If there were a continuum, McConnell would sit at the right-edge just before you cross the red line into bizarre-world:

http://delong.typepad.com/sdj/2013/11/zombie-senator-mitch-mcconnell-rule-and-ruin-weblogging-the-view-from-the-roasterie-xxxiii-november-14-2013.html

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Conrad Phillips 11.14.13 at 5:05 pm

It’s the reactionaries that force Republicans to the edge of the Overton window. The Republican party is a coalition of business interest folks and reactionary folks plus a few libertarians. A coalition is needed because there aren’t enough business folks to win elections on their own. The reactionaries started out based on race and desegregation which led to the Southern strategy but now includes reaction to feminists, gays, immigrants, and atheists. A key thing to remember about reactionaries is that they need to be ginned up regularly. Their emotional grievances need to be stoked. Demagogues are necessary. But this is a tricky proposition. There is always the temptation to push the rhetoric just a little to far and inevitably some candidates will step over the line as they try to boost reactionary turnout either in a primary or a general election. Closed primaries in gerrymandered districts don’t help either.

Democrats don’t have a significant reactionary base yet. Perhaps the occupy movement is the largest one today but it is not so large that candidates try to outdo each other calling for ever more radical policies. (This may change in the more liberal urban centers.) Turnout for Democrats depends more on traditional organization techniques with some new high tech methods thrown in. Demographics and widening income inequality are on the Democrats side so they can comfortably stay in that Overton window.

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Lee A. Arnold 11.14.13 at 5:12 pm

Many fascinating comments above.

I am not sure that Overton “Window” is a useful concept, but the Overton “Straightjacket” is obvious.

Overton Window seems, to me, to be a sort of “discourse analysis”, determined by the available channels + the ownership-control over them (on the “pitching” side), and personal attention budgets + intellectual capacity (on the “receiving” side). These things could change, over time.

On the other hand, the “Overton Straitjacket” in U.S. culture and politics is defined by, or is coextensive with, the “U.S. secular religion”.

The U.S. secular religion is described by something like the following: “individual self-determination; all people are created equal; freedom of speech; equality before the law; private property”, etc. — ideas which are projected and protected by the “secular bible”, comprised of the Declaration and the Constitution. (These are general principles, because circumstances may introduce variations: eminent domain, for public works, infringes upon private property valuations, etc.)

If a person’s political statements run outside of these general principles, then most of the rest of us will stop listening. Therefore that person cannot win an election.

I think the discussion about the far right should begin by dividing the discussion into two parts: 1. the current circumstances which have led to this rightwing resurgence (or perhaps coalescence, see below), and 2. the more basic nature of the right vs. left polarity, with the greater number of rightwing resurgences in U.S. history.

1. The current rightwing resurgence is up against the Overton Straightjacket because people in pursuit of political power, in a democracy, need to sway voters in order to get elected. That persuasion is mostly emotional, with intellectual concomitants and catchphrases to distinguish the position: it is a matter of rhetoric. The U.S. Republican Party has received the rhetoric of Reaganomics, has indeed made it a subsidiary religion with a Ronnie avatar. This is now an enormous circumstantial problem they may not be able to overcome, because we are heading into future with a slightly-larger welfare-state.

2. It strikes me that the right/left distinction in U.S. politics is misconceived, because they may be logically distinct KINDS of things. What if the right is a polar position, but the left is a directional arrow?

Remember in elementary school? You were taught the number line, stretching from the negative numbers through the zero point into the positive numbers. Now, the teacher says, erase the positive side of the line, from the zero point: you have what is called a geometric “ray”.

I think right and left may be a unipolar ray. The rightwing is the point. The left wing is the arrow.

Then, the rightwing is a POLE, a position, coalescing more easily and frequently in U.S. history, and always right up against the U.S’s Overton Straightjacket, i.e. the secular religion.

The left is not a “wing”, not a position, it is a DIRECTION, — and always a little slipperier to hold onto, conceptually.

This would make the U.S. a rightwing political structure, which is always ameliorated by the left. All within the “straightjacket” of the Declaration and the Constitution.

The left will proceed a little bit further now, in the immediate future, due to things like “capital-biased technological change” and increasing inequality.

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mattski 11.14.13 at 5:41 pm

Lee @ 144

I do think it is useful to constantly remind ourselves what Left & Right signify. To me ‘left’ refers to the interests of the group and ‘right’ the interests of the individual. We could also say the ‘many’ vs the ‘few’. But this simple metric implies that any group discussion of this question is going to favor the Left! Thus, CaptFamous:

If you also accept the idea that conventional wisdom is far more convention than wisdom, it stands to reason that a moderate, reasonable discussion of issues would consistently lead left.

Yes. And this is why I see the left/right spectrum as also an intellect/emotion spectrum. As you move right along the spectrum the arguments become more and more emotion-based until you reach complete incoherence. Which is basically the ZLB that Holbo is brushing up against.

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mattski 11.14.13 at 5:45 pm

***This is also why the worker bees in the mainstream media have a visceral, pre-conscious awareness that promoting a calm, rational discussion of the issues is not what their employers want.

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Ed Herdman 11.14.13 at 7:00 pm

@ Lee Arnold (ref. point #2) and mattski:

A bit of both – the bag of issues that motivates Democrats and Republicans is different. The traditional “left vs. right” dichotomy seems to suggest where many differences should lie, but of course it is just a model and should not be used in place of the actual issues we know inflame support and hatred. For example, some conservatives are very quick to trot out the “downfall of society” arguments in support of gay marriage and abortion (which both seem to be individual rights issues).

I would hope that, being enmeshed in the fabric of society that sees these differences, we would know enough about what motivates people to not need to appeal to a gross oversimplification to understand what motivates people whose beliefs and feelings we don’t share, and instead be able to point to and intelligently talk about the actual issues (even if they are just “dog whistles” intended to inflame support). If we do not, then we can’t hope to talk intelligently about what “the other side” feels.

This is also why I feel reluctant to go along with descriptions of the “sanity in their heart of hearts” underlying negative feelings about Obama. They don’t read, talk about, or fraternize people whose opinions challenge their notions; in fact they do the reverse. They leave no empirical bread crumbs for us to support a view that they “secretly” believe the opposite of what they profess. Please remember this is a country where many people believe that JFK was assassinated by a shadowy (and perfectly hidden!) cabal; there’s no reason to believe that people who fervently believe such a thing also “secretly” believe fervently in the decency and honesty of political (and other) players at the levers of power. The two beliefs are close to incompatible. Even if a conspiracy theory (about JFK’s assassination or Obama’s true motives) is poorly reasoned and ultimately dead wrong, it can still be honestly believed.

The power of jumping to conclusions is immense. I recently had my first exposure to the obscure story of the CIA’s secret war in Tibet, on behalf of the Dalai Lama, from the period from the 1950s to 1972, canceled before Nixon met with the Chinese. One account I saw of it places the blame for the decline in support for, and the ultimate cancellation of that program, squarely on JFK. This was completely false; Ambassador Galbraith made known his opposition to Kennedy’s approval of continuing the program (as requested by John Foster Dulles) as potentially catastrophic to American interests in India. It is also instructive to note that this area of “we quit the war too soon” challenges so much of the prevailing Right narrative about big government – so again we see that it is better to talk about political differences as a bag of arbitrary issues, rather than things that conform to a simplistic left-right model.

The basic outline of the Tibet story being presented accurately made that one matter of interpretation being dead wrong jump out at me as inconsistent with the rest of the story. You can be right 99% of the time but if you fail to keep your partisan impulses in check, the whole effort is arguably wasted. It is a disquieting thought that something as fundamental and strong as party identification can rise up to destroy much of the value of your otherwise completely accurate view of the world, and it can do this with only a small reference taking up the smallest fraction of a page.

I admit that I simply find it hard to see places where liberals sign on with this poor methodology. Maybe I haven’t seen enough cases pointed out where liberals are jumping to conclusions, and of course we tend to be talking about things that people felt important enough to write down on the ‘net – as different from the thought processes of the general public who I know also tends to make inexcusable shortcuts in their reasoning processes, but don’t necessarily think it interesting to write them down. It does seem to be the case that there is an imbalance on message boards in this area – between people who try honestly to engage with history and people who take shortcuts they should know not to.

Perhaps this really is the result of the needs of a political group, hoping for political ascendancy, in reinterpreting every little thing in a way that is preferable to them, against the “keep the status quo” needs of liberals. Quick reflection on rebellious rabbles throughout history does seem to support my idea that power needs can excuse all kinds of divergences from reality.

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mattski 11.14.13 at 9:09 pm

Ed,

For example, some conservatives are very quick to trot out the “downfall of society” arguments in support [sic] of gay marriage and abortion (which both seem to be individual rights issues).

You’re right to point out that when we move from economic to cultural issues things get murky. It certainly seems to be the case that the left tends to agitate for change while the right is all ‘don’t rock the boat.’ To me, that is evidence of a greater faith in human nature on the left compared to a serious deficit of such on the right.

Even if a conspiracy theory (about JFK’s assassination or Obama’s true motives) is poorly reasoned and ultimately dead wrong, it can still be honestly believed.

Ed, not all conspiracy theories are paranoid and delusional. Do me a favor, read Anthony Summers, Not In Your Lifetime. This is a broad overview of JFK’s assassination. Very dispassionate, very well done. THEN, read Gaeton Fonzi’s, The Last Investigation. If you are not awed by Fonzi’s investigative skill and courage I will seriously eat my hat.

Please, read those books. You will not be the same.

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ZM 11.14.13 at 9:14 pm

@ John Holbo,

If I recall correctly you and Belle and your family live in Singapore. I was wondering if perhaps this has influenced your interest and your slant on US politics, of liberal-democrats versus liberal-republicans?

I found it rewarding talking and working with Singaporean students in classes, because they had quite different perceptions in some ways but not in others, and they also seemed to be quite aware of things and Singapore’s place in things in a way that some other students are not and they were open to taking what woukd amount to risks in the australian context with assignments (this is from a very small range of encounters, so i don’t know what a great many Singaporean students are like?)…

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anon aka linguo 11.15.13 at 12:41 am

http://screen.yahoo.com/will-ferrell-snl-skits/george-w-george-sr-cold-000000232.html

originally aired before the 2000 election, I thought this might be somewhat relevant.

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Charles Peterson 11.15.13 at 5:51 am

It seems to me that Republicans are always perfect Conservatives if, at the end of the day, they respect the privileges of property above all else…and that’s what’s really at stake. Social issues are the glue to hold the base together. Craziness doesn’t matter, it’s even become mandatory, so long as the bottom line holds, it’s the Barry Goldwater formula, zealots in defense of liberty (aka the privileges of property). And increasing craziness is even necessary to continue ignoring all the disasters that are just beginning to come from respecting the privileges of property above all else. Democracy, transparency, civil rights, continuity, sanity, none of that matters, in fact, they’d rather be rid of it all anyway, and just let the money have it’s way, that’s all that counts.

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nick s 11.16.13 at 5:27 am

I’d class this as “elected crazy wingnut” vs “unelected crazy wingnut”. Elected crazy wingnut, even as a product of gerrymandered districts, is a kind of anointing, and the window moves through the election of someone crazier. So Steve King and Louis Gohmert and Michele Bachmann and Ted Cruz are anointed crazy.

That’s not a clean: there are wingnut welfare crazies who are considered acceptable to the DC (and even NYC) media because political media in the US is astonishingly lazy and enjoy being able to fill space or airtime with people who have too much time on their hands and always answer the phone.

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me 11.16.13 at 11:32 am

To be politically “rightwing” or “conservative” in America today is to be the political equivalent of a religious fundamentalist. The reason it appears so monotonic is because with all fundamentalisms, you’re either in on it or completely out of it.

Sorta like being pregnant, but not exactly.

And this probably explains why there is not a moderate cavalry stationed just beyond the hills, assemblying to swoop in and save conservatism.

The political future of “moderate” Republicans is either to join this monolith, or to switch parties and become a democrat.

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AJ 11.17.13 at 12:48 am

> In terms of what wins elections, this is false because it is incomplete –
> because not all voters “have ‘inertia’.”

I have been rather busy in the past few weeks and have not put in the time to look back at the comments, and so I will simply reply to the one person who (from my quick check) has replied to me.

-+-

No, I do believe that this analysis holds for the last 50 years at least.In fact, it even applies to George W. Bush’s second election. (Of course, I believe that American voters made a disastrous mistake in re-electing Bush and that it was a terrible, terrible turn of events for America). So, let us see how we can apply the “inertia” argument here.

First, it is obvious from the 2004 election that people don’t use “all available information” (denoted by ‘&’) to make electoral choices. Proof of this fact- the “Swiftboat Veterans” made a dent in John Kerry’s chances of being reelected. Second, let us think a bit about what really happened. Because there is heavy discounting going on voters’ minds of ‘&’. New information I2 (the Swiftboat allegations) that comes close to the election seems somehow rather more important than it should have been as compared to old information I1 (the disastrous outcomes in Iraq).

What time discounting means is that the bodies in inertia can be moved decisively in some direction (‘L’ or ‘R’) by means of unfair attacks and smear tactics.

QED.

-+-

See? It is a very clever model. Basically, what underlies this model is the fact that (organizational) leadership in America is believed to be based on charisma. Charismatic (organizational) leadership is a huge part of what wins and loses elections in America – going back to JFK’s television debate win. Of course, people are *too* “inertial” in this sense – without any question.

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AJ 11.17.13 at 1:12 am

> I believe this encapsulates your view

That does not encapsulate my view – although I can see why you might have been led to believe that. The mere fact that so much emphasis is placed on personality means that voters can be swung one way or another based on who is :
(a) supposedly dishonest (Cf. Reagan, “There you go again”) OR
(b) supposedly hypocritical (Cf. Kerry’s swiftboating)
(c) supposedly untrustworthy (Cf. Nixon and his appearance & his shifting gaze)

Something as bizarre as how fast a person’s beard grows and the chemical properties of a cosmetic such as Lazy Shave can have a *material* effect on the outcome of an election.

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AJ 11.17.13 at 1:13 am

> the chemical properties o
Lest someone is looking to swiftboat, I might also add – also, the physical properties of a cosmetic such as reflectivity.

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AJ 11.17.13 at 5:20 am

@Herdman – A word of clarification would be in order here. I would like to clarify that I am talking in the context of a specific social scientific model.

Note that every social scientific model has the following properties: one, it makes asumptions and two, it explains only one part of the space S. There are parts of the space that are not explained. That does not make the model wrong. It is simply an abstraction of reality.

This model is a response to the question of why America’s politicians are not moving towards the center. This model doesn’t explain the undecideds. I am quite aware of that. But it does explain why people are voting for the Republican party in spite of its being so far to the right. One mustn’t assume that everyone in America has: one, access to the same information I2 and is as competent at decision making as everyone else has (how else does one explain the reelection of Bush); and two, the same utility functions. (Some people may get a lot of utility out of having a President who is a Christian AND thinks long-term as opposed to short-term and that may be tied into the religious groups from which she gets her information. So, this person may not be voting for a Christian only because she is a Christian but also because that person is doing a better job thinking about the long-term). Again, the utility functions vary and possess the property of “inertia”.

It must also be noted that the Republicans, once they come into power, are not as right wing any more. Policy is enacted with a good deal of centrism.

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Ed Herdman 11.17.13 at 9:23 am

Hey, I’m also late to check back, so that worked out well! Fair points mainly, and I see that I seem to have gone on a tangent – although I am now confused about why you would say I assume that everyone in America has “access to the same information” (I assure you this is not the case; I do mention low-information voters) and then promote a model that appears based on assumptions like those in the rational man model voters…even though that doesn’t imply an even level of information, I think that it’s not a useful generalization because the differences in how much information is available to each person are profound. I think it likely that any useful model of the electorate will have to distinguish at a minimum between multiple different groups independent within the electorate, so that independents don’t distort the partisans and the reverse.

I’ll admit that I don’t get what is meant by “utility functions” when we are talking about people responding emotionally to dog whistles, five o’clock shadow, lipstick, and other things of a similarly whimsical nature, as well. I am out of my depth, but I don’t get utility out of calling something that is apparently decided by a psychologically salient impetus “utility” or using what I thought is the language of rational decision-making.

About your comments on the model – I found your response about the model not needing to cover the entire electorate very useful to get myself back on-point, but I would like to try and make a cogent re-statement of what I was attempting to convey earlier: When you state that “People -will- predictably (statistically speaking) vote” a certain way, you seem to be implying that this is akin to a major determinant.

I agree that a model doesn’t have to explain everything – and I wouldn’t say that a model which tries to smash everything into an average isn’t a model (because it still is a model). I would just say that it’s likely to fail too often to be useful.

When I look at many recent elections, I see the inert blocs of voters (i.e., aging New Dealers) all arrayed against each other and moving gradually out of political life in a relatively orderly fashion. So those “inert,” stable fragments of the electorate rarely move away (the big shift, which appears to be continuing through at least the 2008 election, is of men away from the Democratic party, which has been underway since 1964). What’s left which is interesting is what happens with voters who are relatively less inert – the people who get caught up in the short-term forces.

So yeah, some elections appear determined by the partisan blocs. But other elections are determined by voters acting measurably under the influence of short-term forces. In short, I agree that the model is useful despite not being definitive (enough).

I also would like, though I am not sure yet what to do with the belief (I am not able to credit myself with an insight) I expressed that the conventional left-right distinction (or its psychological underpinnings) is perhaps not a timely abstraction if we have the ability to use big data to find with more precision what actually motivates people. (Of course, this is a big “if.”) Additionally, when any of us try to reason out what the left-right continuum entails in terms of views, we will certainly make some errors. Big data should help prevent this. All this being said I am intent on keeping firmly in mind that even in the light of more promising sources of information, that other model can still remain useful – I would not like to follow up an apparent blunder with a stubborn blunder this time!

@ mattski:

There are some well-thought-out conspiracy theories regarding JFK. I am sure you are also aware there are many rabidly scene-chewing self-promoters who’ve entered the scene over the years to promote their own JFK conspiracy theories.

I will take a look at those books, but I think at this point I have become pretty inured to the reality that sometimes things just look more compelling than the actual evidence (which we don’t have access to) would have actually warranted. There has been entirely too much ink spilled on the assumption that the limousine JFK rode in had its seats all level with one another, and so the majority of people never get past the catchphrase “magic bullet,” which turns out not to have been magical at all.

I’m not ashamed to admit that I credulously read some of the latest allegations in relation to Princess Diana’s death. I would be ashamed to admit some of the things I’ve read credulously, in previous lives, so I agree it’s useful to try to reflect on whether one has a reflexive bias against arguments based on their format, but my major problem with many conspiracy theories is that they argue for psychologically or empirically unlikely events, like the perfect exclusion of contrary evidence from the public sphere and the perfect silence of what is likely a sizable group of people.

It is easy to become convinced about things that one has no means to decide one way or another, based on the luck of your draw of who got to you with an account first. This is not to say that the conspiracy theories are necessarily wrong, but unfortunately if a person is without means to analyze much of the purported evidence around a topic, then one must delve into even less rigorous modes of reasoning, like trying to weigh authorities – it’s a nasty business but nobody else has done it for us.

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