Hiding behind 'common sense' and 'fairness'
Democrats and Republicans need to improve the quality of the conversations they're having about fiscal responsibility
I very much liked the suggested point-counterpoint opinion pieces on the front of the Outlook section in today’s Washington Post. Actually it was not so much a debate with pro-one side vs. the other arguments, but rather a one-two-punch critique of the rhetoric used on both sides.Skip to next paragraph
'EconomistMom' (Diane Lim Rogers) is Chief Economist of the Concord Coalition, a non-partisan, non-profit organization which advocates for fiscal responsibility, and the mom of four (amazing) kids to whom she dedicates her work. She’s been blogging since Mother’s Day 2008.
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First, University of Virginia history professor Sophia Rosenfeld warns that the GOP’s talk of “common sense” when it comes to fiscal responsibility really has little to do with striving for “common good” type strategies. Her central thesis (emphasis added):
Once democracy is established and consolidated, common sense is rarely a match for the messy and complicated business of governing. No matter how many times politicians invoke the term today, there can be no such thing as a single, simple, common-sensical solution to the problems confronting the nation. The mind-boggling complexity of the issues surrounding climate change, economic recovery, multiple wars and, yes, federal and state budget deficits outstrips the authority of common sense either as the basis of workable policies or as a critique of those already on the table.
The divisions in American public opinion also pose a challenge to “common sense” rhetoric. The federal budget and the family budget are decidedly different beasts. Once we get past the level of real common sense — as in “don’t put your hand in the fire if you don’t want to get burned” — one person’s common sense is generally another’s misguided thinking.
The political appeal to common sense is thus best understood not as a call for clearheaded solutions but rather as a form of pandering — an effort by pundits and politicians to channel real popular anger and to lather voters with collective flattery. Calls for common sense like Beck’s or Palin’s start from the premise that the hard-working majority can instinctively tell right from wrong. That their enemies — self-serving Washington politicians, greedy Wall Street bankers, immoral Hollywood entertainers, out-of-touch scientists and “experts” — cannot be trusted. (After all, these are the elites who got us into the mess we’re in.) And that it’s time for the rest of us in the majority to “unite” and apply our “innate common sense,” in the words of Beck, to the real issues confronting the world.