Common Sense, or is it?

begsPoliticians using the phrase “common sense” usually “beg the question”–they seek to get the reader to agree with an argument before they make it. Here are some examples:

In 46 states across the nation, a Balanced Budget Amendment (BBA) has been enacted in their state constitutions. I have long been a proponent of adopting the same principle for the Federal Government. As President, I will work to authorize common sense solutions that will solve our nation’s fiscal crisis. –Rand Paul

Here Rand Paul, appealing to common sense, seeks to persuade the reader that:

  1. What is appropriate for State Government is also appropriate for the Federal Government.
  2. Our nation has a fiscal crisis which a Balanced Budget will solve.

These arguments are false. There are many differences between State and Federal Government; Federal Government is sovereign while State Governments are not is one. Paul leads the reader to assume that our nation has a fiscal crisis. Paul gives no reason that the Federal Government should have a balanced budget. Does he really believe a balanced budget is appropriate at all times, during the Great Depression for example. Does he really believe the US could have and should have paid for WWII out of pocket?

My amendment (to H.R. 50– the Unfunded Mandates Information and Transparency Act) ensures government identifies the impact its action will have on private property. I think of it like this: we have environmental impact tests to assess the community cost associated with government action; why don’t we also have a private property impact test to assess the cost borne by individuals due to that same governmental action?  It is only common-sense and fair to property owners for this to occur. –Rep. Tom Reed

Here Tom suggests that costs to property owners are equally important as damage to the environment. That may well be the way Tom sees it; by suggesting it is common sense, he leads the reader to see it that way too.

This (voter ID law) is a common sense reform that protects the integrity of our voting process, making it easy to vote and hard to cheat.–Gov. Scott Walker

The voter ID law may in fact make it hard (or harder) to cheat, but it is unlikely that it makes is easy (or easier) to vote, quite the contrary. By citing common sense, Walker tries to persuade us that the voter ID law is reasonable.

When politicians say common sense, it is common sense to stop to consider what they are attempting to sell, what argument they choose not to make.

© William Hungerford – April 2015

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* Contributor at where we discuss the politics, economics, and events of the New New York 23rd Congressional District (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, (Eastern) Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben,Tioga, Tompkins, and Yates Counties) Please visit and comment on whatever strikes your fancy.
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7 Responses to Common Sense, or is it?

  1. whungerford says:

    On April 2, on his public facebook page, Tom wrote: “I am working with No Labels to find common sense solutions to the biggest problems facing our country.” Tom goes on to cite No Labels’ list of problems, having already led the reader to accept the list and his proposed solutions as “common sense.”


  2. Deb Meeker says:

    You are so right William. The phrase ‘common sense’, (and I would add, with it – common decency) has been contorted into a catch-all “just trust me, I’m on your side, everybody knows this” crutch. I’ve read many (not just Republican) politicians using this phrase to achieve consensus with nodding heads. But when asked to clarify why these partisan policies are ‘common sense’, no straightforward answers are available. For example, Tom Reed’s use of the No Labels branding may well be common sense for his political gain, but the results of his pledges would not be common sense to most.


  3. josephurban says:

    Isn’t it “common sense” not to believe a word that comes out of Reed’s mouth?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Anne says:

    That’s exactly how I feel about it. In my mind, Reed’s use of the phrase “common sense” (or his occasional ungrammatical lapse into “common-sense”) is nothing more than a piece of dog-whistle politics. Kind of pejorative shorthand for “this is just how stupid I think you people are.”


  5. Yes—“Common Sense” is a linguistic tool used to appeal to “sentiment” and not rational reasoning. They all use it.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. BOB McGILL says:

    Common Sense would tell anyone with half a brain that if you were right about Tom, he wouldn’t be where he is now. 🙂


  7. josephurban says:

    Bob. You may be correct. As you so aptly put it, folks with ” half a brain” will agree with you.


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