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It's 'common sense' – or is it? The politics of Obama's new favorite phrase.

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The use of “common sense” to woo the public is as old as the nation. In 1776, activist Thomas Paine wrote the best-selling pamphlet “Common Sense” to promote the idea of colonial independence from Britain – and the term has been deployed regularly for political use ever since.

“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. 

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