Geoff Nunberg Talks with the Christian Science Monitor about the Real Meaning of "Common Sense"

From the Christian Science Monitor

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

By Linda Feldmann

In these early days of his second term, President Obama isn’t just promoting legislation on guns and immigration. The president and his surrogates are promoting “common-sense proposals” to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and the mentally ill, and a revamped, “common-sense” immigration system.

Indeed, it is rare in recent Obama administration pronouncements that the terms “gun measures” and “immigration reform” appear without the words “common sense” nearby....

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....

“Political figures say something is ‘just common sense’ when they want to imply that it's obvious to anyone whose thinking isn't fogged by ideology or strained by excessive cleverness,” says Geoffrey Nunberg, a linguist at the University of California, Berkeley's School of Information....

“It's like saying that an issue is ‘not political,’ which more or less guarantees that it is."...

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