Glenn Beck has written a novel called The Overton Window, which I have not read, but is being vilified by the press and liberals, so it must have something meaningful to say. I bring it up here because the effect upon which his story is based is very much in play today. Joseph P Overton (1960-2003), former vice president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, described it as a “window” in the range of public acceptability of ideas in public discourse, along a spectrum of all possible options on a particular issue. In other words, what people will stand for at any given time.
Dr Overton ranked ideas on a scale from Free (no government intervention) to Not Free (total government intervention), and that at any given time, people will find acceptable only a narrow range of those rankings in their public policy. The window naturally slides along this scale, driven by events and perception – sometimes closer to the “Free” end, and sometimes closer to the “Not Free” end. In a vacuum, the American people tend to be center-right – that is, an Overton Window that is somewhat centered on the scale, slightly favoring the “Free” end.
One of the things that drives the window to the left is crisis. People want their government to take control of national response to crises, and are more forgiving of government’s overstepping its traditional limits in solving them. This is precisely what Rahm Imanuel means when he says “never waste a crisis” (read: we can now get away with stuff that nobody would stand for, en absentia a crisis). He is advocating artificially pushing the Overton Window to the left until the issue of interest falls within the Window.
Hence, cap and trade takes a privileged place in this administration’s response to the Gulf Spill, even though it has nothing to do with mitigating the damage (the only thing which government can do at this point). While there might be applicability to the idea after the situation along the Gulf Coast is stabilized, it won’t be as likely to pass judged on its own merits (en absentia of the Gulf crisis atmosphere).
This is a Machiavellian flavor of what I call the Grapefruit Syndrome of government in action. Give Congress the problem “2+2=?”, and they will, after much serious debate (and countless hearings), return, and defend, the answer “Grapefruit”. Politicians don’t solve problems, they manage them. As long as the problem exists, there is raison d’être for politicians’ existence. They also don’t solve problems within the discipline that the problem arose – i.e., they solve all problems with political responses. They add two and two and get grapefruit.
With the Gulf Spill, the misdirection is less an instinctual response than a calculated one. In a White House bereft of answers, misdirection, obfuscation and ideology are all that’s left. We have been dragged to the left since Mr Obama entered office – on the pretext of crisis after crisis – and now we are being told we must “accelerate” weaning ourselves from a carbon dependency. As “nice” as that sounds, their plan involves making the way we live too expensive to continue. The cost of using our existing energy infrastructure is going to become too expensive to operate, while we wait for the undefined Utopia of Green Energy to kick-in. But having Congress micromanaging our energy sector should be a hard sell in the shadow of Big Government failures in housing, stimulus and healthcare.