Monday, December 14, 2009


I noticed something familiar in a quote from today's New York Times article about John McCain. The speaker was J.D. Hayworth, who's considering a primary challenge when McCain runs for reelection:

"The question that people are asking is this," Mr. Hayworth said in an interview. "Do we want to send John McCain back to the United States Senate again, or is it time to change to a clear, consistent, common-sense Republican?"

A while back, many of us noticed that Sarah Palin was talking about "common sense" over and over and over again in interviews. It's becoming obvious now that this wasn't just a Palin tic -- it's a meme Republicans think could really catch on.

* Governor-Elect Bob McDonnell of Virginia, discussing the budget deficit he'sfacing: "I think this provides us an opportunity to put our common-sense, Republican, conservative ideas in place."

* John Boehner, talking about a GOP motion in the House of Representatives to end the TARP program: "This common-sense Republican proposal takes an important step towards getting government out of the bailout business and stopping wasteful Washington spending."

* Vermont's Bennington Banner, in an article about GOP Senate aspirant Len Britton: "Britton said he will look to unseat [Pat] Leahy as a 'common-sense Republican,' in the mold of prominent Republicans from Vermont's past."

* The Times Record News of Wichita Falls, Texas, in an article about GOP DA candidate Mark Barber: "Barber described himself as a lifelong Republican, and said he would bring 'common sense conservative values' to the office."

* Ethan Hastert, son of Dennis, responding to the news that fellow Republican Mark Vargas wouldn't challenge him for the GOP congressional nomination in Illinois's 14th District: "I know that Mark got into this race for Congress because he believes that the Republican Party needs to return to its common-sense conservative roots and that new leadership is needed to accomplish that goal."

And that's just from the past week.

I hope you realize what the Republicans mean by "common sense." They mean whatever seems to jibe with simplistic home truths; they mean the opposite of "counterintuitive."

But in real life, we do all sorts of things that seem counterintuitive because experience has determined that they actually work. If you have cancer, we may heal you by poisoning you with drugs and radiation. If there are wildfires, we sometimes fight them by setting more fires -- back fires that draw the main fires away from areas we don't want them to go. We vaccinate against diseases by injecting people with forms of the very disease agents we don't want them to be sickened by. And on and on.

Deficit spending in a recession seems counterintuitive -- but if done right, it works. Government spending on health care seems like a bad idea in a recession -- but if it can reduce health care costs for struggling individuals and small businesses, it strengthens rather than saps the economy.

America elects presidents like Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush when it decides that the smarter you are, the less you really know about how the world works -- ignorance is seen as the rode to true wisdom. When Republicans say "common sense," that's what they mean -- they want us to trust pure uninformed instinct rather than knowledge and experience.

Barack Obama was elected with a very small window of time to prove that smartness is actually good for America -- even after eight years of Bush proved disastrous, the burden of proof was on him to demonstrate the efficacy of an anti-Bush approach. The Republicans are trying to close that window as fast as possible. The repeated use of "common sense" is a big part of how they hope to do that.

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