Tom Paine wrote “Common Sense” in 1776, his entreaty to the common sense of colonists to support independence.
Alexis de Tocqueville wrote “Democracy in America,” volume one, in 1835, hailing Americans’ “strength and common sense.”
President Dwight Eisenhower campaigning against Adlai Stevenson in 1956 linked American common sense and politics saying, “I do not believe that any political campaign justifies the declaration of a moratorium on ordinary common sense.”
Alan Simpson, co-chairman of the Simpson-Bowles deficit reduction commission and former Republican Senator from Wyoming, in 2012 described the growing absence of common sense from politics, saying “common sense … seems to escape members of our party.”
As we exit independence month and enter the last 100 days of political campaigning, it may be a time to pause and reflect upon the consequences of our corroding common sense.
Simpson, a friend and colleague of the late Sonny Montgomery, is one of the more colorful, de Tocquevilleish, common sense guys around. Like Tom Paine he uses plain language that people can understand.
He sees Obamacare as unsustainable. “It can’t work because all you have to do is use common sense,” he said, pointing to the costs to sustain it. He sees today’s seniors as “the greediest generation” for opposing Social Security reform. He sees wars as extraordinary events that should be paid for. “We’ve never had a war with no tax to support it, including the Revolution,” he said.
And he sees politics as the art of compromise. “If you want to be in politics you learn to compromise….Show me a guy who won’t compromise and I’ll show you a guy with rocks for brains.”
The unwillingness of Washington leaders to find a common sense compromise on debt reduction galls Simpson. Their willingness to put the economic well-being of citizens at risk as they posture for re-election and squabble over debt ceilings, tax cuts, and the like galls him even further.
“If (re-election) means more to you than your country,” he said, “when we need patriots to come out in a situation when we’re in extremity, then you shouldn’t even be in Congress.”
Simpson longs for the patriotic common sense Paine tapped in his time. “Instead of gazing at each other with suspicious or doubtful curiosity,” wrote Paine, “let each of us hold out to his neighbor the hearty hand of friendship, and unite in drawing a line, which, like an act of oblivion, shall bury in forgetfulness every former dissension. Let the names of Whig and Tory be extinct; and let none other be heard among us, than those of a good citizen.”
“Good” citizen…hmmm. De Tocqueville said, “If America ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.”
Maybe that’s why Simpson calls it “good ol’ common sense.”