Reviving Common Sense

What is the solution to ending the gridlock in Washington?

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“These are the times that try men’s souls.” These simple words by Founding Father Thomas Paine were read to the Continental army in the opening months of the American Revolution shortly before the Battle of Trenton in December of 1776. The circumstances in 1776 were certainly much different than today, however I am afraid that we are again living in times that try men’s souls. Turn on the news and it is impossible to avoid the toxicity that surrounds Washington. While the broader economy has shown signs of improvement over the last two quarters, it’s still hard to remain positive with the barrage of bad news that we are subject to on a daily basis. High unemployment, natural disasters, low consumer confidence, and no significant traction on legislation surrounding financial reform, healthcare, or jobs creation make this as trying of a time as any in recent memory.

Thomas Paine gained widespread renown after he published a pamphlet entitled Common Sense in January of 1776. He adopted a straight forward, no nonsense approach regarding why it was unreasonable for Britain to continue its rule of tyranny over the colonies. Paine’s ideas became so popular that his Common Sense became the most published document in American history up until this point.

Common Sense

I can’t help watch the happenings on Capitol Hill these days and draw the conclusion that our government is seriously devoid of this most basic principle. Paine remarked in the opening paragraph of Common Sense that “A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong gives it a superficial appearance of being right.” Our political system is wrong. Partisan politics has become the poison of this generation. To call any legislation, or committee, or decision that comes from Washington “bipartisan” is laughable at best in recent history. Thomas Paine was extremely critical of big government in his writings. “Government, even in its best stage, is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one.” I believe the time of the intolerable has arrived. President Obama was elected on the premise of “hope” and “change,” but the realities are far from that. Promises of transparent and open door negotiations on health care have gone by the wayside. Getting tough on earmarks and frivolous government spending has been largely ignored as Washington has determined that spending money it doesn’t have is the way out the recession. “Pork barrel” spending increased 14% to $19.6B during the first full year of Obama’s presidency. This is on top of a $700B financial system bailout, a $787B in stimulus, and a health care proposal that increases the national debt by trillions over the next decade. A trillion of anything is almost an unfathomable amount. A million seconds is about 11.5 days. A billion seconds is 32 years. But how much is a trillion seconds? 32,000 years. Most of you reading this article won’t live more than about 70 more years from today. If you had $1 trillion dollars and spent $10 million dollars a day for the next 70 years, you would still have almost $750 billion dollars left over.

It may just be me, but it seems that the whole global financial crisis was birthed out of spending money that we didn’t have. In 2005 and 2006, Americans racked up the first negative savings rate since the Great Depression. In other words, Americans on average spent approximately $100.60 for every $100 in take home pay during that period. The Federal Reserve during the same period turned its back on the idea of regulating mortgage companies that weren’t banks as subprime lending grew from a $20B industry in 1993 to s $1.3 trillion dollar industry in 2007, an increase of 6400% in less than 15 years. Perhaps worse, the companies and banks that perpetrated these loans knew in advance that they were bad for borrowers, but they didn’t care. They often took in excess of $10,000 in fees up front and if they had to foreclose they could resell the property for a profit in the wake of double digit growth in the real estate market. In addition, if banks or mortgage companies did take a loss on an investment, they shared the burden with Wall Street which bundled subprime securities en masse and sold them to investors. Of course it is easy to be critical in hindsight; what is more interesting is the situation in Washington today.

The greater lesson about how we got in this mess is that the mess came about because common sense was detached from everyday thinking. Perhaps I am too cynical in my thinking, but it seems like all of the big issues that matter in our government today have been clouded by the lack of common sense. Jim Bunning’s filibuster on extending unemployment benefits is absurd. The principle of not passing legislation until it is paid for is certainly noble on the surface, but why punish those who are unemployed largely because of the government’s failure to prevent a financial meltdown? Democrats and Republicans alike are divided on so many issues that the end result is stagnation. Stagnation stinks. Evan Bayh is perhaps the first of many to grow weary enough of the stench to pack up his bags and exit Washington politics. So what will the future hold? The answers are difficult, but I for one believe things can’t go on this way anymore.  Perhaps the time has come for a new national party. I propose that we launch the Common Sense Party, a party that remembers that we are governed “by the people” and “for the people.” We need a party of leaders that is less interested in spending taxpayer dollars on resolutions honoring Michael Jackson, designating the 1st week in April “National Asbestos Awareness Week,” or reaffirming that school lunch programs are a good idea. We need a resurgence of common sense in national politics that tackles real issues that affect the average citizens or else we will become more and more subject to the incompetence and abuses of government that we fought for over 200 years ago.

Image credit: Tony the Misfit

Dave Baldwin

Dave Baldwin is a businessman, musician, and divorced father of two boys. They live together in El Paso, TX.

2 thoughts on “Reviving Common Sense

  1. I agree whole heartedly that there are issues everywhere in the government. My first thoughts about a year ago when I started to think about this were “Where do we start?” and “How do we make a difference?”. One day I stumbled upon this site: http://www.fixcongressfirst.org/ and they have great material and seem to have some semblance of action and not just someone making noise. They realize there are issues everywhere but that we need to focus on one problem – the one that seems to be the core and then we can focus on the others. I just thought I’d pass that on to you.

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