By Jasper Boers '18
It would be easy for me to answer this question in the affirmative. Sure, I am STA’s conservative president for Government Club and thus you may already have your suspicions about what I think of this issue. Nevertheless, I’ll attempt to make the claim that what we may consider to be the institutional stifling of conservative voices by unseen political currents of the left—whether on the close, in academia, or in America—is really just an example of a concept political scientists call the Overton window.
Also known as the window of political discourse, the Overton window is the idea that there is a defined latitude of political viewpoints which constitutes the extent of public discourse. What can drag the Overton window to the left or right are the voices of the extreme left and right—say, HuffPost and Breitbart (to name two). What we really think is the stifling of conservative voices by academic institutions is just the Overton window gradually moving to the left, alienating some of the farther right views from the scope of public discourse. I’d believe that the Overton window is just about as far left as it can get right now. As a result, conservative voices have less standing in the sphere of political debate.
Earlier this year, a few of my friends and I had a lengthy argument about whether or not there exists such as thing as a ‘conservative bias.’ We all know what ‘liberal bias’ is from our favorite specimens of loud-mouthed yellow journalists like Rachel Maddow and Michael Smerconish. Even late-night television is contaminated with an unhealthy dosage of political agenda (look no further than John Oliver and Seth Meyers). Not to justify the lies of the aforementioned “journalists” (circus clowns more like it), but I do believe that there should exist naturally in the American media a liberal tilt. It makes sense that an institution built upon a liberal value such as freedom of speech would have a slight leftist lean to it.
But what about conservative bias? The Ben Shapiro Show obviously has a conservative bias, but that’s explicit. Ben doesn’t intentionally deceive his listeners. His show is explicitly opinion. To an untrained eye, CNN appears to be straight news, but news mixed with opinion isn’t news.
While conservative bias doesn’t exist today in media on the same scale as liberal bias, it certainly has infected American journalism before. Consider the Red Scare—a stark reminder of the dangers of identity politics and demagoguery. That was the 1950’s, and conservatism has since evolved, though its standing in the mainstream media has declined significantly. We hear much more of liberal bias than we do of conservative bias.
When most all our facts are filtered through a sieve of deception by a leftist media disguised as the vanguard of an unbiased free press, free thought is more or less unattainable. The prevailing voice in political discourse today screams from the left, drowning out any the voices of dissenters. Liberal bias has dragged the Overton window so far left that many conservatives feel suffocated by their friends, their schools, their country. What we perceive as a problem with our two schools, then, is really a problem with what we listen to, what we see on TV, and what we read online.
This phenomenon of the Overton window does sound like an uncontrollable force, but the solution to our perception of the political views of others is simple. Turn off the TV. Stop getting your news from Facebook. Pick up a magazine, a newspaper—anything but a screen.