Because I said so

“Who ya kidding” looks at the real meaning of a phrase in vogue with politicians.
Exterior of the Maine State House during the winter with trees missing all their leaves.
The Maine State House in Augusta.


“Our welfare system has major problems with waste, fraud and abuse. We proposed common-sense welfare reforms, but liberals fought to keep the status quo.”


Gov. Paul LePage in his weekly radio address of April 22 titled, “Rejecting Common-sense Legislation Hurting Mainers.”


Gov. LePage has made changes in the state’s welfare benefits a priority issue for his administration and his re-election campaign. His most recent proposals included prohibiting using welfare cash benefits to buy alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets; prohibiting using electronic benefits cards out of state; and requiring applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to show that they have applied for at least three jobs before receiving benefits. Democrats opposed the changes, saying there is not enough evidence to support LePage’s position on extensive fraud. Instead, they passed legislation requiring the state Department of Health and Human Services to provide an annual accounting of efforts to fight fraud, waste and abuse in welfare programs, which LePage then vetoed. The veto was sustained by the legislature.


Citing “common sense” to support an argument allows politicians to avoid making their case based on evidence. It is an attempt to cut off debate by putting your opponent in the unenviable position of opposing the thing every person — regardless of education or social status — is supposed to possess in spades: common sense. While associated with the populist movement of the late 19th century, the appeal to what is common — the common man, common sense, etc. — has become the default argument for pols of all stripes. The Maine Democratic speaker’s office, for example, did the same thing to Republicans that the Republican governor did to them on the welfare issue, in a press release dated just a week ago:

“AUGUSTA — Republicans chose to put politics ahead of a common sense measure to fight fraud and promote good management at the Department of Health and Human Services.”

Just in the last two weeks of April, between the governor’s office and the Democratic and Republican legislative offices, “common sense” was cited 12 times in press releases.

Often, as in the case of welfare, opponents in an argument claim common sense is on their side. On the national level, President Obama and Republicans both lean on common sense to support or oppose the Affordable Care Act.

“Common sense is as rare as genius,” said Ralph Waldo Emerson, that fountain of old New England wisdom. Republicans who misappropriate the common-sense argument may well take his remonstration to heart since he authored an essay whose title they love to parrot: “Self-Reliance.”

Albert Einstein — a hero of the liberals — had something to say on the topic as well: “Common sense is the collection of prejudices acquired by age 18.”


Whether it is the governor or the president or a local state senator waving the common sense flag, what they really mean to say is, “I can’t make a convincing argument for my opinion, so just do it because I said so.”


John Christie

John Christie is the co-founder, former publisher and former senior reporter of the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting. He has covered local, state and national politics as a reporter, editor and publisher at newspapers in Maine, Massachusetts and Florida and holds a BA in political science from the University of New Hampshire.
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