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The Confusion Of Common Sense

An organization that calls itself Americans for Common Sense has reported to the FEC that it spent about $120,000, yesterday alone, to tell people how to vote in a congressional election in New York State. Americans for Common Sense isn’t based in New York State, though. The group is headquartered in a big office building in Washington D.C., at 1250 Connecticut Avenue, NW, in Suite 200.

americans for common sense virtual officeThe odd thing about that office suite is that it’s also the address of The National Association of Government Contractors, Mark S. Zaid (Esquire), The James Madison Project, NuKor Consulting, MC Thomas and Associates, the Law Office of Lawrence J Joseph, the Construction Labor Research Council, the Clark Law Group, DataPrise, RLG Defense, the Fay Law Group, Decernis, The Seniors Coalition, The Pacific Legal Foundation, CrossFit, Clean Air Watch, the DC Charter Bus Company… and on and on. How can one office hold all these people? It defies common sense!

It turns out that address isn’t really a permanent office so much as it is a place that individuals and organizations can pretend is their office, when they want to impress clients with a professional appearance, for the fee of just $75 per month. It’s called the Connecticut Avenue Business Center, run by a company called DaVinci Virtual Office Solutions. It’s a good way for organizations to claim a street address without making themselves available to people who actually walk in off the street.

americans for common senseSo Americans for Common Sense doesn’t have the kind of corporeal reality that organizations traditionally have held. At least they stand for common sense… which means… what?

When I think of common sense, I think of things my parents taught me, like looking both ways before crossing the street, keeping my keys in a place where I can always find them, and putting on sunscreen before I spend a long period of time outdoors in the summertime. Are these the issues that Americans for Common Sense promotes?

It’s hard to say. If we look at the independent expenditures that Americans for Common Sense has made, it’s impossible to tell what Americans for Common Sense actually stands for. Every penny that Americans for Common Sense has spent in the 2014 congressional election cycle so far has been to express opposition to political candidates, not to express what common sense solutions the organization actually wants to promote. Americans for Common Sense hasn’t had the common sense to create a web site through which it can explain just what its common sense ideas are.

What counts as common sense in politics, anyway? There’s a separate group called the American Common Sense Party that supports increasing military spending even though we’re not at war, siphoning tax money away from public schools into private schools that aren’t accountable to voters, and drilling for crude oil in wildlife refuges. Those are ideas that don’t sound like common sense to many Americans.

Another organization that carries the phrase “common sense” in its name, but is separate from Americans for Common Sense, is Americans for Common Sense Solutions. Americans for Common Sense Solutions opposes investments in clean, renewable energy sources. How is it common sense for Americans to keep using dirty, non-renewable energy sources?

Then there’s Americans for Common Cents, which is organizing in opposition to plans to eliminate the penny coin. I don’t have any particular position on the issue of whether to preserve one cent coins, but I can’t see how the issue could really have a “common sense” solution. It’s not as if people commonly walk around giving each other widely held bits of advice about coinage policy. The economic arguments about whether or not to abolish the penny seem rather technical to me.

The very idea of “common sense” solutions to hotly contested political issues seems contrary to common sense. Anybody who has paid even the slightest bit of attention to politics in the United States can see that citizens have strong fundamental disagreements about most issues that prevent genuine consensus from being arrived at. What one person calls “common sense”, other people will call balderdash.

For example, I would say that it’s common sense that an organization that spends over a hundred thousand dollars a day to influence public elections in congressional districts where its own leaders don’t even live is corrupting our democracy. Americans for Common Sense doesn’t seem to agree with that assessment, however, and appears to believe that if its donors want to buy seats in Congress, it’s common sense to help them do it.

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