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April 04, 2014

One Reason The Overton Window Doesn’t Open For Conservatives…No One Is Really Trying To Do It

On this week’s podcast Ace and I disagreed over the importance and virtue of the latest Ryan Plan budget. As I wrote earlier this week, I think it’s a waste of time that will be of no benefit to the GOP. I brought this up as my quick hit and Ace brought up Kevin Williamson’s piece pointing out that there’s nothing close to a majority that supports big spending cuts. Obviously I agree with this because disagreeing with that notion is like disagreeing with the idea that the Sun will rise in the east and set in the west. It’s just a fact.

My problem with the Williamson/Ace position is that unlike the Sun’s daily path, public attitudes toward public policy are not fixed for all time by the laws of physics. America was not always enamored of big government. Liberals spent decades building support and banking incremental victories when that’s all that was available and making big leaps ahead when opportunities presented themselves. What liberals never did in their long march to the left was go right and agree to shrink or limit government.

Conservatives and the GOP have not marched steadily to the right. Quite the opposite in fact. When the GOP had both houses of Congress in the 90s they passed Ted Kennedy's SCHIP health insurance plan as a consolation gift to the Democrats after the defeat of HillaryCare. When they had both houses of Congress and the presidency they passed Medicare Part D, pushed the federal government further into controlling education through No Child Left Behind and generally spent money at historic levels on everything they could.

Yes, to his credit George W. Bush tried and failed to fundamentally reform Social Security. And having failed, unlike the Democrats and SCHIP, no Republican has mentioned it since.

One side sees rejection by the public as a temporary obstacle to be overcome and the other simply turns tail and never tries again.

Maybe Republicans are just responding to what people wanted but they certainly were not offering an alternative. They were not making the case that fiscal restraint isn’t an option but an imperative.

Given the opportunity to use the catastrophic failure of ObamaCare to discredit the liberal program of big government, Republicans have responded by promising to deliver much of what ObamaCare was supposed to do but by different government sponsored means.

No wonder the Overton Window never moves in our direction. The GOP is too busy trying to follow the Democrats through the space they've already opened.

If there had been a comparable failure by conservatives or Republicans you can bet the left would be proposing all sorts of new programs, spending and regulations. That’s how the Overton Window opens…you use the environment you find yourself in to push the things you want.

Another status quo GOP budget that has no effect on the sequester busting Ryan-Murray agreement, that when push comes to shove Republicans won’t vote to actually implement if it means cutting a dime of spending or worse yet, missing the chance to spend even more money, is meaningless.

Right now the GOP’s position amounts to saying, the path to smaller government involves giving back measures that shrink government and increasing government and once the public demands something that no one is offering, shrinking government, they will get right on delivering it.

Unfortunately that's not how politics works or how attitudes change. The Overton Window will not open itself. It has to be moved by an entire party, or at least a sizable chunk of it, committed to promoting and delivering something different first.

If you really want to start changing what's possible in politics, you're going to have to find and support candidates who are trying to move the electorate in your direction. Without that you'll keep getting told that the most direct path to where you want to go involves going in the opposite direction of your desired destination.


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posted by DrewM. at 10:09 AM

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