We all know that Sarah Palin loves the words "common sense." And "conservative." She's recently adopted another one, a favorite of Tea Partiers: "Constitutional." Alas, she's also taken to combining them: things she likes are now "Common Sense Constitutional Conservative." Hmmm...make that "Commonsense Constitutional Conservative," as in the candidate she's supporting for the GOP nomination over incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski.
You know what, though? I won't get into whether conservative ideas are common sense, or Commonsense, or not. But I'm certain that the Constitution of the United States of America is not common sense. It's a sophisticated document, based on a complex and subtle theory of politics. It was drafted by brilliant men, who relied not on common sense but on serious study of politics, history, and philosophy. Chief among them was James Madison. Madison was a practical man, and certainly had practical political experience, having served in the Continental Congress and the Virginia General Assembly. But he did not believe that the sorts of things that he learned from practical experience were enough when he took it upon himself to organize the Constitutional Convention and to prepare a draft plan for a new government. So Madison made a study of it. Bandwith being somewhat limited in those days, what Madison did was ask his good friend Tom (who happened to be in France on government business) to scour the bookshops of Paris for books about...here's Adrienne Koch (quoted in William Lee Miller's wonderful The Business of May Next):
Madison specifically requested Jefferson to purchase for him "Treatises on the ancient and modern Federal Republics, on the law of Nations, and the History, natural and political, of the new World," adding to these subjects "such of the Greek and Roman authors, where they will be got very cheap, as are worth having, and are not on the common list of school classics...Jefferson's thoughtful provision of books for Madison, including some thirty-seven volumes of the coveted Encyclopedie methodique, which Madison called "a complete scientific library," treatises on morality, and histories of European countries, surely made Madison the most cosmopolitan statesman never to have quit American shores.The Constitution was, in large part, the product of what Madison learned from studying the books that Jefferson sent him (as well as, presumably, those Greeks and Romans he already knew from the "common school list"). It's a serious insult to Madison, and to the rest of the framers of the Constitution, to belittle their efforts by referring to it as nothing but applied common sense.
The Sage of Wasilla isn't going to take my advice to cut it out, but I think I'll start referring to her as "Madison-insulting," to go with whatever other names she should be called. Framer-belittling? Hmmm...if you have a good one, drop a comment below and I'll adopt it.
Two notes, one serious. In my opinion, that Jefferson happened to be off in Paris when the serious work of writing the Constitution needed to be done is one of the most amazingly lucky things in American history...really, in the history of democracy. Second, don't miss the Madison-insulting former governor's explanation (follow the link above) about how she's really not feuding with Murkowski. Classic Palin. By the way, my guess is that at this point her endorsement is going to be worth a lot more in South Carolina and Nevada and other places that don't know her so well, but I guess we'll see what happens.