Common Sense? Up to a Point, Lord Copper…

In Evelyn Waugh’s hilarious journalism satire Scoop, the obsequious editor Mr. Salter is so terrified of his newspaper-magnate boss, Lord Copper, that he can’t bring himself to say “yes” or “no” to him. Instead, when Lord Copper is right, he answers “Definitely, Lord Copper” and when he’s wrong, it’s “Up to a point, Lord Copper.” For instance:

‘Let me see, what’s the name of the place I mean? Capital of Japan? Yokohama, isn’t it?’

‘Up to a point, Lord Copper.’

‘And Hong Kong belongs to us, doesn’t it?’

‘Definitely, Lord Copper.’

I’ve noticed a related tic in Republican talking points the past few months. They seem to substitute “common-sense” and “job-killing” in place of “good” or “bad.” Any policy they favor is a common-sense one, whereas any policy they dislike is a job-killing one. To wit:

In his USA Today op-ed on Monday, John Boehner shows us how this mad-lib works:

That’s why Republicans’ Pledge to America includes a plan to repeal the job-killing health care law and replace it with common-sense reforms focused on lowering costs and protecting American jobs.

Job-killing, Bad. Commonsense, Good. Got it? In a short speech delivered last month, Boehner used “job-killing” three times to describe policies he didn’t like, and “common-sense” twice to describe policies he did like. And again, early this year he penned another op-ed urging the president to scrap his “jobs-killing” (bad!) agenda and instead focus on his, Boehner’s, “common-sense” (good!) solutions.

Other top Republicans are in on the game as well. On Tuesday Mitt Romney wrote in a Post op-ed that we must “slay the job-killing beast Washington has become.” Beast would seem to convey undesirability all on its own, but a job-killing beast is really a bad beast. And Romney doesn’t say explicitly that the only way to slay the beast is by deploying common sense, but I think it’s implicit.

Sarah Palin likes describing good things as common-sense so much that she in fact self-identifies as something called a “common-sense conservative.” Palin, like Boehner, is also good at linking the two tropes, as in a recent Facebook post where she explained that only by sending “common-sense conservatives” to Washington could we hope to “hold the line against job-killing legislation.”

So if I am following, we can stop bad (job-killing) things only by counteracting them with good (common-sense) things. I wonder: Is common sense both the only known prophylactic and antidote to the epidemic of job killing? Good to know!

Anyway, I encourage you to start playing this game at home:

“Darling how do you like my homemade lemon risotto?”


“And what about this new dress I’m wearing?

“Commonsense reform.”

In the non-home edition examples, I think it’s clear that saying a policy is “common-sense” whenever you mean “I prefer it” is a way to sound like you’ve thought things through without having to actually explain how or why your preference has become so intuitive and universal as to be ‘common’. It’s the very definition of Petitio Principii. It’s also meant to contrast with the perception that Obama’s policies are egg-headed and elitist and too complex, and that Obama himself is exotic and out-of-touch. And the “job-killing” bit I guess is just a nice-sounding pejorative that makes it sound like Obama is willfully and rather homicidally undermining the well-being of Americans.

All in all, a nice bit of contentless euphemistic rhetorical nonsense? Definitely, Lord Copper.

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One Response to Common Sense? Up to a Point, Lord Copper…

  1. Dirty Benito says:

    I’m going to have a common-sense beer when I get home after a job-killing week a the office.

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