What American Sees Through the Window

We can see a lot through our window

What do you see while looking out your window? Do you see a scene from nature: an ocean view, a mountain vista, a sweeping plain? Or do you take in streets of the city just outside your door? What window view do you appreciate most?

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The Overton window gives us a political view

There’s another kind of window to consider as we witness the nation’s politics. American policy analyst, Joseph P. Overton, coined the term to explain politicial views as the possibilities of introducing and passing legislation are weighed.

Wikipedia defines the Overton window as:

[T]he range of policies politically acceptable to the mainstream population at a given time. … Politicians can only act within the acceptable range. Shifting the Overton Window involves proponents of policies outside the window persuading the public to expand the window.

The Overton window is in play as legislators consider their constituents and the resistance they’ll face from the other political party. Will their legislative agenda fall within the acceptable political range or can they see their way to lead by educating the public of the legislative value?

The Overton window is at work in Washington

Mary Clare Jalonick, writing for the Associated Press and assisted by Alan Fram, addressed such concern in her article, “Biden’s agenda: What can pass and what faces steep odds.” She noted:

President Joe Biden laid out a long list of policy priorities in his speech to Congress — and some are more politically plausible than others.

The two parties are working together in some areas, including on changes to policing and confronting the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans. But Republicans are likely to block other Democratic initiatives on immigration and voting rights.

Jalonick’s article focused on “what’s possible” and “what’s unlikely,” a direct application of the Overton window. One agenda item has already been realized via a “go-it-alone” approach: the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package.

The nonpartisan approach won’t work with infrastructure legislation, however. Republicans have already proposed reducing the $2.3 trillion cost by $568 billion. Will the $1.8 trillion families plan meet similar resistance?

Jalonick discusses the likelihood of the two political parties working together. She writes:

Democrats and Republicans have fallen out of the habit of working together. …. But they have edged a bit closer to bipartisanship on some topics since Biden took office, including on police reform, gun control and efforts to reduce violence against women.

All of those bills are still heavy lifts in the evenly divided, 50-50 Senate. But negotiations are underway, and members of both parties have signaled that they want legislation passed.

There does appear to be some legislative gaps too wide to bridge at this time, though time will tell. Election reform is one. Immigration reform is beyond the near horizon. The Overton window is cloudy as bipartisanship dims the view.

The Overton window at work in presidential elections

What does the Overton window reveal about presidential elections? As you’re probably painfully aware, a lot has been said (debated/argued/protested) regarding voter suppression evidenced by the recent flood of state legislative bills submitted!

Let’s look beyond this near horizon and see beyond the far rise ahead to see what else might be considered.

I’m often asked, “What is the biggest challenge to making presidential elections fair and equal?” Certainly, voter suppression is a big concern. But there’s more. Currently, every state suffers a lack of voter representation because of the Winner-Takes-All (WTA) approach. Because it is used, WTA causes tens of millions of ballots to not ever be considered by the Electoral College. The most recent election, for example, caused over 69 million votes to be forfeited. It’s as if these voters never bothered to check the box, sign their name, or even make the trip to the ballot box!

While that travesty is easy to identify and easy to explain, it’s extremely difficult to inspire people (voters and legislators) to take the necessary (and simple) steps to remedy the situation. The Overton window remains opaque!

There are several reasons for such resistance. One is that a remedy appears too perplexing. Equal Voice Voting (EVV), for example, can successfully address the issue but, surely, the thinking goes, it must be more complicated than what’s proposed. Believability, or lack thereof, comes into play and the window darkens.

The Overton window reveals democratic limits

Another reason for the rejection is a rejection of the EVV promise that All Votes Matter. As the EVV process unfolds, electoral votes can be gained by any viable political party within a state. Remember, the WTA problem disappears!

My home state of Oregon currently has seven electoral votes. That will soon change to eight as redistricting is enacted after the recent census. Had EVV been used in 2020, for example, Biden would have captured four of these electoral votes while Trump would have received three. It’s a voting result far closer to the sentiment (and true consensus) of this state.

Democrats reject that result! Since Democrats enjoy a plurality advantage in the state and thereby can contribute all seven electoral votes (soon to be eight), then why would any Democrat agree to erode the advantage? Curtains close over the Overton window!

This is not an isolated example. Any “red” state (Republican dominate) grips their allocated electoral votes (all of them) just as tightly.

Let’s call it what it is: political greed that denies citizens their true democratic voting rights. Perhaps America is not ready to see what’s possible.

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By Jerry Spriggs and the Equal Voice Voting Team