June 24, 2002

The trouble with common sense arguments…

Bush outlined his vision for a Palestinian state today in a well-written, well-delivered speech that deserves admiration for the hope it encourages. Early in the speech, Bush says:

“My vision is two states, living side by side, in peace and security. There is simply no way to achieve that peace until all parties fight terror. Yet at this critical moment, if all parties will break with the past and set out on a new path, we can overcome the darkness with the light of hope.”

This has the ring of good ol’ American common sense and the under tone of a head-slap and an “ah-ha!” Putting aside the past will, in fact, be the single hardest thing for Israel, the Palestinians, and the balance of the Arab world to do. Creating a workable government and economy for Palestine–as difficult as that will be to achieve–will be easy by comparison.

I’m left to wonder, then, who the real audience is for this speech. Bush suggests certain values and institutions to the Palestinians that are held in few cultures in the Middle East. And his words today, as stirring as they are for Americans, are not likely to stir Palestinian hearts. So I am left to suppose that Bush is speaking only to Americans, and our Western allies, and that this speech is mostly show.

This speech demonstrates the problem with common sense arguments. What is common sense for one group is pure folly, or worse, for another. I do not mean to suggest moral equivalence. Rather, even a culture in error or crisis holds its values dear. Americans will buy into the “common sense” of this speech. We should, instead, be questioning the credibility and effectiveness of the President’s vision.

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