Sunday, January 14, 2007

Impeachment and the Overton Window

Recommended at Daily Kos

Disclaimer: Some of my comments yesterday were obviously misconstrued by a few fellow kossacks. I tried to explain in a few comments but don’t know if it clarified things more than it muddied them. So now, in an effort that will no doubt muddy the waters even further, I will try to explain the big picture as to where I am coming from here.

Before going any further, I urge you to read this most excellent diary by thereisnospoon from last May. To me, this is probably the most important diary I have read here in terms of how to frame and move discussions forward. Or, if you want the more abridged version, you can get a definition here.

What I want to do here, is to point out that while this has been used to enormous success by those on the right, we should get ourselves more and more acquainted with it as we push policy and play our respective roles in steering the country in a more progressive direction. And we have our own case study right here, right now, as it relates to impeachment.

To understand my comments from yesterday regarding the “impeach now or else you do-nothing Democrats” comments made by a few, I will say two possibly contradictory things right up front: (1) I personally don’t agree with this line of thinking, and (2) I think it is both necessary and important that this line of thinking is out there (although I would prefer it without the “or else” part).

The Overton Window, in its’ briefest terms, makes the unthinkable thinkable or unpalatable more palatable. Per the wiki link above:

It describes a window of majority acceptable ideas in public discourse, from a spectrum of all possible options on an issue. It provides a plan of action to make the options one would prefer acceptable to the public by priming them not with the leaders of the political movement, but with media spokespeople.

The steps an idea takes to full legitimacy are roughly as follows:

- Unthinkable

- Radical

- Acceptable

- Sensible

- Popular

- Policy

It's a means of visualizing where to go, and how to assess progress.

As spoon mentions in his diary:
Systematically, piece by piece, the GOP takes what had been considered impossibly radical positions and makes them worthy of consideration just by talking about them--and then makes what had been considered outside possibilities truly possible.


But the important thing to remember is that the Republicans are carrying out this same exercise with every public policy debate today--from invading Iran to making birth control illegal to eliminating Social Security. The once unthinkable becomes possible--and they don't care if they take some heat for it initially.

We need to recognize this – BOTH SIDES of this. The one side that, while something (i.e., impeachment) may initially be unthinkable or radical, if it isn’t talked about, then it will NEVER progress towards acceptable, let alone sensible or popular. Hell, without our pushing, we would never get to the point where Congress thinks it is acceptable to investigate. But we are there now with investigations. And while pushing for impeachment – and getting it to the point where it is not taboo for the public to hear it, think it, say it – is a HUGE step.

The key is to do it in a manner that continues to move the debate and process – not in a destructive manner (i.e., “impeach now” vs. “if you don’t recant your words that impeachment is off the table, we might as well abandon the Democratic party”).

We have seen the right do this with Social Security – look at how “personal accounts” or “privatization” made its way into public discourse. We saw them do it with the entire run up to the invasion of Iraq – the focus from bin Laden and Afghanistan turned to Saddam slowly, then once Saddam and Iraq became part of the discussion, the window shifted and gave the opportunity to shift it even more away from bin Laden and Afghanistan.

And we are seeing it right this very moment with respect to Iran and the escalation in Iraq. This diary by vernonlee from Friday gives a great example of the shifting rhetoric on Iran and Syria has entered the equation – at a time when the Iraq Study Group, as well as nearly 80% of the population polled feels that we should be negotiating with Iran and Syria.

We have to start using the Overton Window here on our side. Not just at Daily Kos, but in our daily discussions. But first, we need to keep our eyes open as to when it is being used by those on the right and not only point it out loudly and forcefully but counter it.

As for impeachment, or anything else that we want to push – we must realize that many many ideas and ideals start out as unthinkable or radical. I’ll copy a partial text of an email that I sent to spoon yesterday which will show you how it has worked so far on the impeachment side:

One year ago, nobody thought that anything would be investigated or that Bush would overstep. But we talked about it, and started to spread the word (and others caught on - many independently, but a good amount not independently of our efforts). And the public then became very interested in some levels of investigation. Of course, there were things that went on since then that changed the public's view, but it could easily have gone the other way.

Impeachment? One year ago you would have been laughed out of the room. Or even more recently than that.

Six months ago, noone really even thought too much about it. At least not seriously at all. Even the polls were qualified and iffy. And we were debating this quite loudly and angrily (still are....)

But now it is out there. People are talking about it with some level of interest, where it wasn't even in the vocabulary not too long ago.

So, where am I going with this? I think that there is a need to talk about impeachment. I think that it needs to get out in the public discourse. But I don’t think that it is at the “sensible” level yet. Maybe it is at the “acceptable” level already. The key is to move it along all of these levels until it becomes “policy”. To rush through it will defeat its purpose and will doom it to failure. That is true whether we are talking about impeachment, withdrawal from Iraq or anything else for that matter.

It is a process. Sometimes much longer than we would like it to be. But this process works. It has worked wonders for the republicans and neocons who have turned some completely unacceptable things into either “popular” or “policy”. And it will also work for us.

We just have to recognize it and use it right.

1 comment:

Causal said...

The Nation Demands Impeachment Monday (Jan 15), Help us...
Take a moment, and help convince Nancy Pelosi to Impeach Bush/Cheney..

Pelosi most likely said impeachment was "off the table" to remove any appearance of conflict-of-interest that would arise if she were thrust into the presidency as a result of the coming impeachment.

What we need to do is to pressure Pelosi not to interfere with impeachment maneuverings within her party. Sending her Do-It-Yourself impeachments legitimizes her when she is forced to join the impeachment movement in the future.

Sacks and sacks of mail are about to be sent to Nancy Pelosi's office initiating impeachment via the House of Representative's own rules this Monday January 15th. This legal document is as binding as if a State or if the House itself passed the impeachment resolution (H.R. 635).

There's a little known and rarely used clause of the "Jefferson Manual" in the rules for the House of Representatives which sets forth the various ways in which a president can be impeached. Only the House Judiciary Committee puts together the Articles of Impeachment, but before that happens, someone has to initiate the process.

That's where we come in. In addition to a House Resolution (635), or the State-by-State method, one of the ways to get impeachment going is for individual citizens like you and me to submit a memorial. has created a new memorial based on one which was successful in impeaching a federal official in the past. You can find it on their website as a PDF.

You can initiate the impeachment process and simultaneously help to convince Pelosi to follow through with the process. Do-It-Yourself by downloading the memorial, filling in the relevant information (your name, state, etc.), and sending it in. Be a part of history.