""A pragmatic progressive" political party is the ne plus ultra of American political fantasy. It expresses unarguable values: Progress is what we all want, and all politics should be pragmatic. The question is: Why don’t we have it? Why do we have a conservative movement based on frantic spin and outright mendacity, but no true progressive movement opposing it based on facts?"-- Letters to the editor of The New York Times (by David Berman and Nina Bousk, respectively), published December 16, 2012, referring to the December 14, 2012, shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
"How about a Common Sense Party? It seems it’s been a long, long time since political parties have evidenced common sense."
Comment: Berman is indulging in the "only my opponent" caricature, saying that Republicans and conservatives (but not Democrats and progressives) resort to "spin" and lies. He also indulges in "pragmatic" rhetoric. Bousk, meanwhile, indulges in "common sense" rhetoric. What positions are common sense? Does anyone decide to take a position that isn't common sense?
"The assault weapons ban enacted under President Clinton was deficient and has expired. Mr. Obama talked about the need for “common sense” gun control after the movie theater slaughter in Aurora, Colo., and he hinted during the campaign that he might support a new assault weapons ban, presumably if someone else introduced it. Republicans will never do that, because they are mired in an ideology that opposes any gun control."-- New York Times editorial, December 14, 2012, referring to the shooting that day at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT.
Comment: First, this is a distortion (or at least an exaggeration). Republicans do not oppose all gun control whatsoever. In fact, they support many gun control laws, just not as many as Democrats and the editors of The New York Times do. Second, The New York Times editorial page is indulging in "ideologues" rhetoric. Lastly, The New York Times editorial page correctly points out that President Barack Obama earlier indulged in "common sense" rhetoric.
LIMBAUGH: Groton, Connecticut. Steve. Great that you called, sir.-- Radio pundit Rush Limbaugh, November 20, 2012.
STEVE [last name unknown]: A couple days after the election I just absolutely felt like I'd be kicked in the stomach. I could not understand --
LIMBAUGH: Why, did you think that we were going to win and you couldn't believe that we lost, or was it something else?
STEVE: I thought it was a slam dunk for Romney. I really did.
LIMBAUGH: Why did you think that? Seriously. I'm not criticizing. No, no. I'm not criticizing. I'm genuinely curious. Why did you think that?
STEVE: Because, you know, I had hope that the American people would exercise just a small modicum of common sense when you compare the two.
LIMBAUGH: Well, yeah. I know.
Comment: Limbaugh and the caller, Steve, are essentially saying that people who didn't vote for former Gov. Mitt Romney (R-MA) in the 2012 election lack common-sense (in other words, they're stupid). In their view, people who voted for President Barack Obama did something blatantly irrational.
"[I]n the case of immigration -- an issue of great concern to Latinos -- a bipartisan roadmap is good politics and great policy. Bringing the country together around a common-sense immigration process is not a bridge too far. In fact, while partisan politics dominated the national debate, faith, law enforcement and business leaders have worked with immigrant leaders across the political spectrum to forge a new consensus on immigrants and America."-- Immigration advocate Ali Noorani, November 8, 2012.
Comment: Noorani is using "bipartisan" and "common-sense" rhetoric, here. He doesn't seem to be making the mistake of arguing that immigration reform is good because it is bipartisan. However, he doesn't specify what counts as "common-sense" immigration policy. Everyone is in favor of common-sense -- that's a platitude -- but what is common-sense when it comes to immigration policy?
"Probably the first piece of business is going to be to go ahead and fix our deficit and debt issues and make a decision about how big our government is, and how we're going to pay for it. And, you know, I've put forward a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan. We've already cut a trillion dollars worth of government spending. We can do the rest by a sensible combination of spending cuts and some revenue. … I'll do whatever's required to get this done. And, you know, I think the key that the American people want right now is for us to tackle some big challenges that we face in a common-sense, balanced, sensible way."-- President Barack Obama, October 26, 2012, during interview with pundit Michael Smerconish.
Comment: Obama is using "Americans want" rhetoric, here. Granted, Americans probably do want common-sense solutions, but that's a platitude. What counts as common-sense when it comes to fixing the deficit and the debt? That's the key question. Is Obama saying that people who disagree with his solution to those issues lack common-sense, or aren't sensible people?
"Our platform, crafted by Democrats, is not about partisanship but pragmatism; not about left or right, but about moving America and our economy forward. Our platform -- and our president -- stand firm in the conviction that America must continue to out-build, out-innovate and out-educate the world. … We also must pull from our highest ideals of justice and protect against those ills that destabilized our economy -- like predatory lending, over-leveraged financial institutions and the unchecked avarice of the past that trumped fairness and common sense. … Our platform calls for a balanced deficit reduction plan where the wealthy pay their fair share. And when your country is in a costly war, with our soldiers sacrificing abroad and our nation facing a debt crisis at home, being asked to pay your fair share isn't class warfare -- it's patriotism. But we all know -- it's common sense -- that for an economy built to last we must invest in what will fuel us for generations to come. … Let us not fall prey to rhetoric that seeks to gut investment and starve our nation of critical, common-sense building for our future. … You should be able to afford health care for your family. You should be able to retire with dignity and respect."-- Convention Co-Chair Mayor Cory Booker (D-Newark), September 4, 2012, during his speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Comment: Booker employs a lot of rhetoric, here, that needs clarification. First, how is the platform "pragmatic" rather than partisan? The distinction between pragmatism and ideology is seldom explained by politicians. Second, Booker employs platitudes by invoking ideals that everyone favors. For instance, we all want affordable health care for everyone and to have top-notch education for our kids, the question is which policies best achieve that goal. And we all want people to pay their fair share, the question is what does fairness demand in particular with respect to taxes and spending. Third, Booker invokes "common-sense" without specifying what it is that amounts to common knowledge. Who is it in terms of financial institutions or political opponents who has behaved -- in Booker's view -- without common-sense? Lastly, Booker invokes patriotism. But, again, he doesn't specify what counts as fairness, so he also doesn't specify what counts as patriotism. Is he saying that people who disagree with the Democratic platform on taxes are unpatriotic?
"Look, they love to paint me as this Big Government, tax-and-spend liberal. The truth is that growth in the federal government is slower than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower. Taxes are lower than at any time since Dwight Eisenhower. The tax reforms I’m calling for would simply take us back to the tax rates under Bill Clinton for people above $250,000, which means taxes will still be lower under me than they were under either Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. We’re not looking for anything radical here. And frankly, the country doesn’t need radical changes. What it needs is some commonsense solutions that stay focused on helping middle-class families."-- President Barack Obama, August 21, 2012, during interview with White House correspondent for TIME Michael Scherer.
Comment: Obama is contrasting "radical" ideas against "common-sense" ones. But he doesn't specify what counts as radical or common-sense, so how are we to evaluate his claim that the changes he's proposing are the latter and not the former?