Buzzfeed has a collection of the best (craziest) Michele Bachmann quotes. So a friend – understandably – posts this on Facebook wondering how someone this stupid is in office.
Stupidity isn’t at play here, malicious intent is. Michele is lying to push her agenda forward. One might reasonably presume she is making effective use of the overton window – namely she is pushing an idea further to the extreme than her goal in an effort to move the discourse in her favor.
However this is not the case – I believe she is aiming for what she wants directly.
When I first started this blog I identified a style of discourse currently unique to conservatives in this country – the radical style. Imagine a royal court. In American politics most speakers either cast themselves in with the audience as a member, or try to cast themselves as the king speaking down to his subjects. A radical stylist positions themselves outside the court in an effort to create a new base of authority around themselves. When I wrote this post I wondered whether a radical style was effective. Turns out it is, and Bachmann is proof.
Imagine three points along a political spectrum for an issue: health care. A conservative might want health care entirely privatized but still subsidized by companies. A progressive might want health care entirely provided by government. Using the overton window as a progressive I’d argue we need to get rid of all private insurance and only have public insurance, hoping to at least have public insurance available as an option. A conservative might argue we need to have insurance be bought entirely by individuals – with no obligation at all for corporations to subsidize plans for their employees. Either approach would in theory push public opinion further towards the extreme, making our actual position as a progressive or conservative more likely (so the theory goes). (For fun – filter Obama’s approach to health care reform through this lens).
Now let’s apply the radical style. As a progressive I argue health care is a human right, and having tiers of service is a form of violence we should no longer stand for. I push whole heartedly for full public health care for all and cast private plans as an attempt by the rich to bribe the medical community. As a conservative I argue that health insurance itself is outdated and we need to get rid of it – people should simply pay for services rendered directly. If they can’t afford it – tough.
When you place your interests and your position together there is far more power to your argument. In other words – applying the radical style of speech to one’s arguments can be more effective than appearing even relatively more conciliatory with an overton approach – and is far more effective than arguing for the middle ground from the get go. It is precisely like tug of war over a mud pit. If one team starts in the pit, where do they think the battle will end? As progressives we are barely able to muster public speakers who can stand far enough from the mud pit to take an overton approach to discourse. But perhaps we need to aim even higher, and see if we can muster a few folks able to use the radical style. The question is – would a progressive utilizing a radical style get anywhere near as far as a conservative? When a radical like Bachmann takes the stage she gets coverage on mainstream networks like CNN. Did the progressive response to the SOTU get any coverage at all?
Even so, this seems worth looking into. The new Republican rhetoric is working against astronomical odds (they are successfully pushing the most obvious and odious lies with it), we ought at the least take a look and see if there are techniques worth utilizing.