Common Sense begins with the opinion that representative democracy is simply the extension of the Welch House meeting where all residents would convene to determine matters of utmost importance. This small meeting expands to become the Trinity College Meeting, which becomes the Joint College Meeting. Finally, the population becomes so large that it is impractical for everyone to convene in one place at a single time and individual constituencies elect one of their own to represent them.
If the representative is typical of the citizens, he will faithfully advance their interests — because they are his interests. If the representative is not cut from the same cloth as his electors, he will not be in touch with their needs and wants.
So far, Barack Obama has been a very charismatic candidate and present: a seemingly regular person doing an important job who believes that family comes first, enjoys playing sports, and advocates a transparent administration. The media has showered the new president and his family, news headlines have focused more on moving into the White House and inauguration dresses rather than the issues of the first 100 days. In creating a new celebrity family, society has ignored the fact that the two year electoral cycle has created a country where only a select few possess the wherewithal to contest high office.
Obama may inspire a paradigm shift in politics and new constructive solutions but for the moment he is a link a chain of elite presidents that has included Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush. It seems as if the last representative to honestly personify the electorate was Ransom Stoddard.
In his inaugural address, Obama meant to quote George Washington but usurped the words of Thomas Paine instead: “Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it.” Paine wrote that account in his work: The American Crisis; In Common Sense, he logically outlines a case for separation from England, detailing how each citizen could gain.
Whilst discussing the potential economy of the new country, Paine describes how the thirteen colonies could make hundreds of ships – in order to make war or for sale – foreshadowing the United States reliance on the military-industry complex (I also read Hugh Laurie’s The Gun Seller recently; it was fair but much less amusing than A Bit of Fry and Laurie). Paine goes on to say that “America doth not yet know what opulence is.” The philosopher criticizes the divide between rick and poor yet has no idea of the absurdity of the size the gap will grow to. Common Sense claims that Americans fight neither for revenge or conquest.
Paine proceeds to address an appendix to the Quakers, advocating peace and the separation of church and state. My edition included a chapter entitled Agrarian Justice, which argued for a sort of natural type of justice without property ownership. Paine’s intent was to raise the standard of living of every citizen, not just the richest landowners. Perhaps the new administration will finally make good on that promise of equality.