Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Playing to Both Sides + On Common-Sense

"...so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else."
"...go to the back of the line and learn English before they can earn their citizenship."

- White House info sheet re: Immigration Reform

I was reading up on President Obama's immigration speech from this past Monday when I came across this image from whitehouse.gov. These quotes in particular stood out to me, because they seem to use the language that would often be associated with anti-immigration statements.

Pay their taxes, play by the same rules, go to the back of the line.

The pitch here is: If you think that undocumented immigrants don't play by the same rules as everyone else, that they evade taxes but reap the benefits, that they should go to the back of the line (i.e. behind people trying to get here legally)-- this initiative should appeal to you, too.

Of course, "path to earned citizenship" is really the crux of it, one that some may object to no matter how many hardline phrases you use. But here, "path to citizenship" is implicitly presented as a solution for the alleged problems of undocumented immigrants not playing by the rules.

It's strange to see this language in a position that I feel is fairly pro-immigrant, but maybe it's necessary in order to make the case that a path to citizenship is actually the answer for everyone's concerns.


It is a move that's not unlike how recent gun control initiatives also use the phrase "common-sense." The term suggests that however you may feel about this controversial issue- far left or far right, there are certain things that are de facto true.

To deny them would be to deny common-sense.

But common-sense is a deceptively loaded term. On the one hand, the term suggests that there are a number of basic, simple things that a large group of people agree upon. Don't murder people, turn off the stove before you leave your house, etc. However, when I think of the times I most often hear someone use the phrase "that's common-sense," it's because the speaker has just witnessed someone doing something that defies the speaker's understanding of what common-sense is. Sure you don't murder people, and sure you turn off the stove before you leave your house. But what about shutting the door behind you when you walk into a room, putting trash in the trash can, or not walking three-abreast on a New York City sidewalk?

Common-sense is a way of saying that something's correct at face value, but most of the times when the term comes up, it's because someone's behaving in a way that doesn't compute with what we think is correct at face value. The only thing irrefutably true about common-sense claims is that they are common-sense to the person who's talking. For everyone else, your mileage may vary. 

Being politically moderate-left, I'm inclined to favor both comprehensive immigration reform and increased efforts towards gun safety in America, and I'd be happy to see if both efforts gain traction among conservatives and liberals alike. At the same time, it's absolutely necessary to criticize what is claimed to be the self-evident, correct course of action, even if you're on the side of the people making the pitch.