'Glenn Beck': A Peek at The Overton Window

This is a rush transcript from "Glenn Beck," June 16, 2010. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.

GLENN BECK, HOST: There are two ways to go through life. You can be the kind of person who loves to eat sausage and you just don't want to know where it came from, or you're the type of person who has to know how the sausage is made.

If you watch this show, chances are, you're the second type. Personally, I struggle with this concept. Not on sausage. I don't want to know — but on the way our world is going. I think it would be easier to tune everything out, but that's unfortunately not the right answer because we're not going to solve anything that way.

So, I've done it. And you have, too. Dug in, done your homework, and we've seen how the political sausage is created and it's more disgusting than I ever even thought. And, yes, you will find a shoe or a finger in it once in a while.

In doing my research on what's happening in America and also for my new thriller, "The Overton Window," I came across the ingredients that they put in the political process called the Overton Window Theory.

Now, you may not know it by name, but you've had it used on you over and over again. And I want to expose exactly what it is and how it works.

With me now is Joseph Lehman, president of the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, which is the Michigan think tank that named the technique, the Overton Window, which was actually Joe Overton.

JOSEPH LEHMAN, PRESIDENT, MACKINAC CENTER FOR PUBLIC POLICY: Joe Overton was the Mackinac Center vice president. He was a policy strategist who wanted a way to show how the think tanks influence policy. They don't vote in the legislature.

BECK: Right.

LEHMAN: But they have influence. And so, he needed to show how it works.

BECK: OK. And this is — show me with education because we have a graphic here of education in the Overton Window.

LEHMAN: At any given point in time, a politician can't choose any policy he wants, he can only choose those things that the voters will find acceptable, or else he risks getting unelected.

BECK: Right. OK.

LEHMAN: And so, here's a spectrum that shows possible policies in education. At one extreme, you might have the private schools are outlawed and only government's — indoctrination in government schools.


LEHMAN: Over here, you might have no government schools whatsoever.

BECK: Yes.

LEHMAN: All right. Now, where we are today is somewhere in the middle. Around here, we've got a little public school choice in most states, you can choose from a couple of different public schools or maybe even a charter school.

Now, that window has shifted. There were actually policies — proposals in the 1920s proposed by the Ku Klux Klan to outlaw private schools, but where the labor unions would like us to be today, particularly the teacher unions. They want to us be down here. You have just regulations on the private schools that are very heavy and no school choice at all. You go to the government school you're assigned to.


LEHMAN: But what parents want is they want choices. Parents want things like vouchers and tuition tax credits.

BECK: Right. So, how do you get — so, how do you move the window?

LEHMAN: You move the window, if you're a think tank, you focus on facts and you focus on logic and persuasive arguments. You explain for example, this is how vouchers would work. Here's why the things they say about vouchers aren't as bad. But there are other things that can influence the window as well.

BECK: OK. So, can a politician move the window?

LEHMAN: In rare cases. See, politicians are very good at knowing what the people will accept and what they won't. Sometimes, you get politician like a Ronald Reagan, who can actually bring the people along with him.

BECK: Let's go with — is next one welfare? Do we have welfare?


LEHMAN: We do have welfare.

BECK: Bring up welfare, because I think what we've done is welfare — we have started moving past and health care as well, outside of the Overton Window. Am I right? Am I right? It feels like that.

LEHMAN: In some cases we are.


LEHMAN: That's right. But it's moved a huge deal.


LEHMAN: For example, at one extreme, you can have — there isn't such thing as a private charity.

BECK: Which is Obama administration tried to do when he first got into office.

LEHMAN: Some of them want to make private charity harder. They want to take away tax deductions for charity.

BECK: Right.

LEHMAN: They want to ladle more regulations on top of charities.

BECK: Right. OK.

LEHMAN: At the other extreme is, you've got welfare only as a last resort and all assistance is private.

BECK: And this is where we actually were 100 years ago?

LEHMAN: We used to be here. In fact, Grover Cleveland has this excellent statement. In 1887, President Cleveland said, "Though the people may support their government, the government shall not support the people."

BECK: That's great.

LEHMAN: That's somewhere near the far end of the scale.

BECK: Right.

LEHMAN: Lawrence Reed of the Foundation for Economic Education has done great research on what Grover Cleveland, his vision for welfare.

BECK: OK. But we changed this in the — in the '90s and then we changed it back.

LEHMAN: Well, that's right. This began to creep — it's began to creep in this direction in the progressive era. And then the New Deal brought a lot of new kinds of government assistance programs that began to crowd out charity. And by the time you got to the Great Society, you had very generous entitlements. They were generous and you were just –

BECK: Aren't we here really that everyone is entitled almost? Aren't we —

LEHMAN: Well, not exactly, because we had a very positive change in 1996. It was small but positive, due to the intellectual work of people like Senator Moynihan, you had Charles Murray, you had Marvin Olasky. They made the case that these hand-out with no strings attached were harmful and then we got this policy where we are now. We still have welfare but there are some work restrictions on it.

BECK: OK. All right. That's the basic Overton Window.

Now, there's two things that happen and we'll be talking about this later. There's two things that happen. One, a politician, or a group, radicals, could decide they're going to move it way past where you are comfortable. And there's something called, what is, it Overton's Revenge?

LEHMAN: There is an Overton's Revenge.

BECK: Yes, Overton's Revenge. Also, how the politicians have moved this window. They know one thing. And when you see this, you'll never watch a politician the same ever again.

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