We could use him.
Oh, there are those who think they’re radical, or they’re anti-big government, or they’re leaders of men during troubling times. Hike Goat Hill. Knock on the doors of our city halls. You’ll find some of them there. Disappointments abound.
Common sense? A dose of that would help. Common Sense the pamphlet of Thomas Paine lore — a bible-like presentation of the road to take, of the pitfalls to avoid, written in everyday language so no one can say it’s only for the privileged. And — you got it — common sense the human trait, which, unfortunately, isn’t as prevalent today as it should be.
If Paine emerged in modern-day Alabama, he’d step into a state beset with the worst kind of politics: the politics of no change, no alterations, few improvements. He’d see record unemployment, slow job growth, a horrible track record of providing social services for children, a deplorable history of giving lip service to public education funding, and a quality higher-education system that too many Alabamians can’t afford.
And what are we arguing about?
If Paine came to northeast Alabama, he’d step into a region that’s among the state’s most picturesque — the drive up Alabama 9, Talladega National Forest, Mount Cheaha — and among the state’s quirkiest. He’d see a town destroying not one but two Native American cultural sites and tying their argument to a scholar’s outdated information. He’d see a town’s city council and mayor try to govern with a working relationship that needs an intervention. He’d see an entire county that has great people but needs brave and plucky leadership so that Alabama’s version of progress doesn’t pass it by.
Which it is.
Sure, Thomas Paine would have a hard time blending into Alabama culture. Being the South, and the Bible Belt, and Alabama, we only allow a certain amount, and a certain type, of radicalism in our midst or our government. Vermont this isn’t.
Since there is no revolution, Paine might have a hard time replicating his French sojourn. There’s really no comparing the Ten Commandments judge and Attorney General Troy King to Danton or Robespierre. And since Alabamians are a God-fearing bunch that wear their beliefs — proudly, admirably — on their sleeves, Paine might want to keep some of his more radical religious views to himself.
Just ask the collection of candidates and misfits vying to replace Gov. Bob Riley: That wouldn’t be the best way to rise to the top.
One of the best passages from Paine’s Common Sense was one of its first. A few hundred years later, it still bears repeating:
“Society in every state is a blessing, but government even in its best state is but a necessary evil; in its worst state an intolerable one; for when we suffer, or are exposed to the same miseries by a government, which we might expect in a country without government, our calamity is heightened by reflecting that we furnish the means by which we suffer.”
Oh, we know calamity, don’t we?
Common sense says Alabama’s legislators and governor must spend more time on what’s important and less time on political victories.
Common sense says Oxford needs to admit its grievous errors with its twin Native American sites, seek a viable, culturally acceptable solution and move on.
Common sense says Alabama government has to do better for its people. Oh, it’s kept taxes low. Thanks. But what about a state Constitution that concentrates power with the most powerful and prevents change more than it promotes it? What about a tax system that demonizes the poor and rewards the well-to-do?
Common sense says Anniston … well … let’s just see what the next three years hold for the city’s current council. Today, I’m not sure where common sense fits in with that group of men.
Common sense sounds so easy. Just do the right thing. Admit mistakes and learn from them. Seek defensible solutions. Take care of our fellow men. Don’t be morons. And be honest.
Of course, common sense often gets misplaced in the haze of politics and hubris.
Thomas Paine — the revolutionary, not the abashed radical — would be the first to tell you that.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor.