They don't like the common sense conservative solutions that I think I represent and I articulate as I explain what I believe are some solutions to the great challenges facing America. They don't like to hear it. We want these common sense solutions with health care, with jobs, with the economy, with the war on terror to be implemented so we can get back on the right track.
- Sarah Palin, on the O’Reilly Factor
I believe I may have discovered a new logical fallacy: The fallacy of “Common Sense” or perhaps The Appeal To Common Sense.
Bear with me.
Today marks the one year anniversary of the Obama Administration.
For the most part I’m reasonably happy with this president.
At this point, I’d vote for him again.
Oh, don’t get me wrong – there are a number of things I think he has yet to make good on. Gitmo, for example. But overall I think he’s doing a hell of a job, especially considering the giant steaming crapfest he inherited, and more especially considering that the “loyal” opposition has done its best to slice off its own nose at every single turn solely out of some kind of insane spite filled ideology, and most especially considering that his own party has spent the last five years demonstrating over and over again that they are their own worst enemy and that they seem to delight in pissing away their once every other decade opportunity like a bunch of squabbling halfwit siblings fighting over an inheritance.
I think the majority of Americans are better off today than they were a year ago. I know I am. I think America is. We have a president who is revered the world over, instead of reviled. The end of the Iraq conflict, at least for us, is in sight and we have a sound plan for Afghanistan. We have returned to a nation of law, we don’t torture people, we don’t disappear them either.
And, most of all, the economy is recovering, not fast but it is recovering. Things are getting better.
For a lot of folks though it is not recovering nearly fast enough.
And I think that this more than anything is Barack Obama’s biggest foe. Time. And the Economy. And especially those who would seek to exploit it for their own ideological gains.
See, when it comes to the economy Americans don’t seem to understand that there’s a tremendous amount of inertia in an economic system as big as ours. It’s a juggernaut whose wake affects all around it and is, in turn, is affected by all that surrounds it. And the bigger the economy, and the faster that it is moving, the greater the inertia. When the economy began to founder two years ago, I likened it to the RMS Titanic – and I think that analogy is still apt. The ship was plowing towards the icebergs at flank speed and it was far too massive to alter course easily, or at all, even when it began to grind along the ice. Wall Street embarked on that fatal course over a decade ago, building up steam and plowing headlong into a known ice field heedless of the danger. It takes time and energy and will to change that course, to overcome inertia. It takes a keen weather eye to see that the ship is standing into danger and it takes a belief that the course can be changed and that it should be changed. Those of us who have piloted ships across the ocean know this. And while some sailors are superstitious, most are pragmatic. The ones that survive are not those who chase the mystical St. Elmo’s Fire, but the ones who understand that the best course of action is always to keep a keen watch ahead, avoid the known dangers, employ effective risk management, take action sooner rather than later, and above all stick to the rules and regulations that those of us who go down to the sea in ships have worked out over millennia of navigating the unforgiving water. We’ve heard the bell toll, we remember the lessons of history – and we know what happens to those foolish enough to venture out upon the sea without an eye to the currents and the wind and the waves and that red glow on the horizon.
The economy of the United States is massive and dynamic and powerful and its course is the result of many, many diverse forces – many both divergent and convergent at the same time. It is a phenomenally complex system that only a few very experienced experts can visualize and no one can truly understand in en toto - though many pretend to. And like a ship at sea, the best course of action is to look ahead, beware the danger, take timely and effective action, and always heed the lessons of history in order to avoid disaster.
Should you ignore these things, the ship will founder.
And if, when, disaster strikes, well, then you must begin damage control. You bail and you pound oakum into the breaches and you shore up the failing frames and you weld up the sprung plates - and should you be skillful enough to save the vessel, then you damned well proceed with caution, humbled by the power of the sea, wiser perhaps, least you make the same mistakes again.
It is a foolish, and usually short lived, seaman who thinks that native wit and reckless abandon are effective substitutes for true knowledge, experience, certification, expertise, education, and hard won wisdom on the ocean.
And it is a foolish person indeed who thinks that the economy of the United States of America is any less complex, any more responsive, or is without massive inertia on a grand scale. The trick is not to founder in the first place - through prudent and thoughtful and careful management. Forget this at your peril.
And every couple of decades, we do forget it – and then we have a long and painful and sustained effort to set things right again.
It is in crises that you find out what people are truly made of – whether that crucible is a disaster at sea, or one on Wall Street.
In any crisis, there are those who inspire, who exhort and encourage, who rally others to work together for the common good. There are those who extol the human spirit and believe in optimism and who give others hope – and know that more often than not, these traits have carried the day when things looked the most bleak.
Then there are those who panic and cry and scream and run about in random fear and who cling to anything and anyone they can reach and will not let go no matter what – even as they drown.
And always, always, there are those who cry “every man for himself!” and who try to force themselves into a lifeboat at the expense of others. There are always those who gleefully throw gasoline into the flames and bemoan their fate and they stand on the deck and spread rumors and conspiracies and scream “I told you so, I told you so!” all the while managing to do nothing but block the efforts of everyone else – even as others drown around them.
And this last year I’ve witnessed all three.
A rather large number of simpletons apparently expect Barack Obama to wave a magic wand and make everything all better, to magically wipe away decades of bad decisions and failed policy and mismanaged regulations and a culture of selfish self interest and greedy short term visions and bald faced avarice writ so large that it staggers the imagination - and when that doesn’t happen they seem to think it’s because the president won’t, rather than can’t – and they stand on the deck crying “I told you so, I told you so!” in anguished tones.
These self same idiots have spent the last year screaming in outrage. They want the “government out of the way of business,” and yet in the same breath demand that the government do something, anything, to fix the economy now - right now, instantly, magically – without ever once realizing or acknowledging that unfettered business is what got them into this mess in the first place.
They believe in the myth of common sense.
And what they want is some of that common sense right now.
Common sense is exactly what the usual band of blowhards are demanding, they are standing on the deck crying and wringing their hands and gleefully spreading false information all in order to make things worse – so they can then say “see? I told you so, I told you so” – and no one is louder about it than the Queen of Teabaggers herself, Sarah Palin.
Instead of helping, she throws gasoline into the fire, she pours water into the hull instead of pumping it out and she delights in rabblerousing for her own personal gain. She speaks loudly and passionately – but says nothing. Her answers, those common sense solutions, are meaningless sound bites – the kind of answers a beauty queen gives. She projects the appearance of leadership – and yet there is no depth, her leadership is only a shallow veneer over a hollow shell. Read a few of her recent interviews, it doesn’t matter which, pick any at random. I guarantee you that within the first two paragraphs she will have trumpeted good old American “common sense” at least twice, and derided “the elites” at least once.
From last night’s interview with Greta Van Sustern:
I don't think it was a misstep on her part and one that you can pinpoint, but it was this overall message of arrogance this go-around wasn't going to win. Common sense victory is what was going to be seen coming from Scott Brown's candidacy, and that's what you saw. It was going to be independence and common sense. And I think it was quite evident there at the end of the day, when you look at the way that Scott ran his campaign, it was quite simple and it was shoe leather and it was that tough work ethic that a lot of Massachusetts residents are known for. That's what he employed, versus calling on the big guns from D.C. and bringing in the elite to do the speaking for him. It was sort of American. He represented that.
From her interview with Bill O’Reilly on FoxNews in response to the question “Do you think you’re qualified to be president”:
I believe that I am because I have common sense. And I have, I believe, the values that are reflective of so many other American values. And I believe that what Americans are seeking is not the elitism, the kind of a spinelessness that perhaps is made up for that with some kind of elite Ivy League education and a fact resume that's based on anything but hard work and private sector, free enterprise principles. Americans could be seeking something like that in positive change in their leadership.
During her Glenn Beck interview on Fox last week she repeatedly appealed to common sense, and invoked the founding fathers as an example of such. Yet when asked which founding father was her “favorite” she couldn’t answer, when pressed she finally blurted out “George Washington.” When Beck obsequiously compared her to Washington, she readily agreed with the comparison – demonstrating a profound lack of knowledge of the first president, a man almost entirely at odds with Palin’s own political ideology, religion, and background. Of all the founding fathers, Washington is the one most likely to be condemned by Palin as an “elite.” But in her mind Washington is some humble backwoods American farmer who skipped coins across the Potomac while reading the Christian bible, came from some podunk town, signed the Declaration of Independence, fought the British with nothing but his trusty slingshot and a winsome wooden smile, became president, and then retired to the role of grandfather of Democracy. In her mind Washington might be the epitome of common sense, but in reality he was just the first person she thought of.
This is typical of Palin and her ilk. She speaks in shallow and meaningless sound bites, but there is nothing behind them, there is no common sense, or any other kind of sense for that matter. Palin is a phony. She appeals to America’s Founding Fathers, but she has absolutely no idea who they were, what they stood for, or what they believed in. She’s never actually read a damned thing that they wrote, she’s never read the Federalist Papers, she has nothing more than a grade school understanding of their struggle and beliefs and actions – and even that shallow understanding is clouded with common American myths and warped by her own preconceptions.
She parrots the words “common sense, common sense,” one wonders then why she named Washington instead of Thomas Payne. She didn’t, of course, because she doesn’t actually know who any of the founding fathers were (and obviously neither does Glenn Beck nor do the morons who fill the ranks of the Tea Party movement. Q.E.D.)
Palin and her supporters and the groups like the Tea Party grass roots organization repeat the mantra of “common sense” over and over like some kind of magical talisman. Google “Palin Common Sense” and see what you get. I like this one best.
But what does “common sense” really mean?
What is common sense? What is “Good old American common sense?” What is a “common sense conservative?” What exactly are Palin’s “Common sense solutions?”
What is “common sense?”
Really, define it, out loud right now.
Did you have to stop and think about it? Were you able to articulate an answer without hemming and hawing and starting over? Did you Google it? What does “common sense” mean? Everybody is supposed to know, so nobody defines it in this context, and yet…
In the article I linked to above, the author states that “common sense says you don’t destroy the system to fix it” in reference to healthcare reform. Really, is that what common sense says? Because you know, we destroyed the ever living hell out Iraq’s government in order to fix it – that was a conservative solution, wasn’t it? If you’ve got a rickety old termite eaten crack house of a building, do you pour money and effort into patching it up? Or do you raze it to the foundation and start over? Isn’t that what both Palin and the author of the above article are demanding we do with the healthcare bill itself? Destroy it and start over? Common sense, I guess.
Last week, tongue firmly in cheek, I likened common sense to a magical superpower. But truthfully, that’s exactly how Palin and other rightwing conservatives seem to regard it. They keep saying over and over what we need are common sense solutions. And they seem to feel that President Obama is lacking in “common sense” because he is an “elite” – and an Ivy League Elitist to boot.
Let me ask you something.
In all candor, who would you rather have take out your child’s burst appendix? The elitist Harvard educated surgeon? Or some high school dropout who happens to be a crackerjack transmission mechanic and has lots of “common sense?” Seriously. If common sense imbues you with the ability to run the United States of America – as Palin says it does for her – surely then it will give you the ability to do something as simple and routine as taking out a ruptured organ.
Who would you rather have at the controls of your airliner right after it sucked a bunch of geese into the engines and was falling towards the skyscrapers of New York in a cloud of smoking jet fuel and stalled turbines? A formally trained, educated, and experienced elite pilot like Captain Sully Sullenberger? Or that kid out there in the Pacific Northwest who keeps stealing Cessna light planes and flying them into the ground with nothing more than a bit of native cunning? Go on, be honest – after all, anybody with good old American common sense can deadstick a jetliner into the Hudson.
What if you were accused of murder with the death penalty on the line? Who do you think would be more likely to get you off? That Harvard educated lawyer? Or the guy who got his sheepskin from Bubba’s Bait, Tackle, and Discount Law Degrees? Really? But why not not Bubba? He’s got loads of common sense. No, of course not, that would be silly – I mean when your life is on the line anyway.
But running the country – for that you’d prefer some bumfuck small town ex-beauty queen with a community college degree in journalism who quit her job when it got too tough over one of them elite Ivy League types. Right? Because hey, anybody with common sense is better suited to running the largest, most powerful, most complex economy, industry, and military in the world.
But it’s all a little vague, these common sense solutions.
Hell, even her fans, like the article I linked to above, can’t actually describe Palin’s common sense solutions in any detail whatsoever. Barack Obama gave us a detailed plan for getting out of Afghanistan based on sound military doctrine and the advice of his on-scene commanders, Palin condemns that and calls for a common sense solution to the “war on terror.” She doesn’t actually articulate what that is though. Perhaps as President she’d do what her favorite founding father did and pay tribute to the terrorists – for eight years. Obama and the Congress have spent a year working on healthcare legislation, I’m not sure they’ve got it right but it’s better than Palin’s don’t get sick common sense solution, Palin who gave us death panels and abstinence only birth control and who never has to worry about affordable healthcare ever again. The president and some of the smartest and most savvy folks in the country have spent the last year working to fix the economy and now that it’s finally showing signs of turning around, Palin and the teabaggers call for free market solutions – the same free market apparently whose unfettered avarice and mismanagement caused the economy to implode in the first place and who have obviously learned their lesson without government interference – so much so that they gave their CEO’s multimillion dollar bonuses again this year.
Yes, common sense.
Of course, I’m not the first to point out that Palin’s “common sense” solutions make little sense and aren’t, in fact, solutions at all. But what the Huffington Post and others seem to buy into is that while there may be nothing of substance to Palin’s particular brand of snake oil, common sense itself is a real and bonafide ability.
The truth of the matter is that common sense is nothing more than a myth. It’s a make believe unquantifiable quality, something that we all assume we know the meaning of – and yet when pressed we discover that the definition of common sense is neither common nor sensible and provides no answers at all.
This of course, doesn’t stop people from blindly believing anyway.
If they really had any common sense they wouldn’t be listening to Sarah Palin in the first place.