“It has been a hallmark of populism on both the right and left,” says Sophia Rosenfeld, a historian at the University of Virginia and author of “Common Sense: A Political History.” “It was used to argue for abolition and also for slavery, for women’s suffrage and against women’s suffrage.”
In the modern era, one way for an interest group to project a hint of populism is to put “common sense” in its name – such as Taxpayers for Common Sense, a Washington-based watchdog group that tracks federal spending (and named Alaska’s infamous “Bridge to Nowhere”). Some tea party groups, like Alabama's Common Sense Tea Party Patriots, have also incorporated the phrase into their titles.
Other Republicans have been prone to recent pleas for “common sense” as well. During the 2012 presidential campaign, GOP nominee Mitt Romney called for repeal of the Affordable Care Act and replacement with “common-sense, patient centered reforms.” In 2009, the House Republicans’ answer to Obamacare was a bill called the Common Sense Health Care Reform and Affordability Act.
So what does this “common sense” rhetorical flourish really convey? And does it work?
It’s a way of asserting that an issue has been decided – when in fact, just the opposite is the case – and of depicting opponents as unreasonable ideologues, say experts on language and political rhetoric.