"We do not learn from experience, we learn from reflecting on experience." -John Dewey
This Associated Press photo taken by Steve Bisson shows Jack Kingston, candidate for Senate in the state of Georgia, giving a stump speech.
Republican Rep. Jack Kingston raised plenty of eyebrows recently when it was revealed that the congressman paid for US$4,182 worth of lunches for his office using congressional funds in the past three years.
The revelation, initially discovered through a WSAV channel 3 investigation, comes roughly a month after Kingston made controversial statements about there being “no such thing as a free lunch” and suggesting that Georgia’s public school students from low-income families clean cafeterias in exchange for subsidized meals. Kingston defends these comments, saying his intent was to initiate a conversation about work ethic.
In addition to his US$4,182 lunch bill for taxpayers, a figure reports say could have bought 2,000 lunches in the Georgia public school system, the would-be state senator enjoyed as much as US$4,289 worth of free lunches supplied by banking associations and other third parties. His privileged status as a member of local government also garnered him more perks, food-related and otherwise, not accessible to his low-income constituents.
A recent report by the Huffington Post also claims that Kingston in the last four years has also benefitted from franking privileges to the tune of US$124,613. Franking privileges have to do with taxpayer funds that go toward postage fees. Kingston advocated the demise of franking privileges during his congressional campaign in 1992.
Although the work culture of elected officials might easily lend itself to these institutionalized perks, politicians that campaign on their removal for low-income citizens and others will find it difficult to avoid the charge of hypocrisy. More fascinating still, this case and others like it beg the question of how politicians and their staff, especially confronting the heightened scrutiny of an election cycle, can fail to recognize and ameliorate these contradictions.
Furthermore, this case touches upon perpetual themes of awareness and alienation. Although it may be no easy task to perfectly square one’s campaign or office administration with one’s political ideology, that is the proper level of coherence that suits elected officials tasked with imposing their collective political will on the population at large. As the cliche goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Thus, elected and would-be officials should not be excused their lack of self-awareness concerning the personal implications of their political views.
Although perhaps bordering on the hopelessly idealistic, this expectation is a reasonable and accepted standard in the public forum, as evidenced by the initial public reaction to media investigations into Kingston’s spending patterns.
Lack of self-awareness falls into particularly sharp relief in cases of hypocrisy. Alienation might be a useful term to describe the disconnect between Others that deserve certain restrictions versus the I or We that don’t.
John Rawls‘ moral theory sought to mitigate the problem of alienation by advising people to imagine themselves under a “veil of ignorance.” Under the hypothetical veil, you would have no ability to distinguish your particular level of privilege. You wouldn’t know your age, level of health, occupation or any other trait that might affect your standard of living. Rawls believed that this mental posture was ideal for forming political policies because it attempts to annihilate the alienation among social groups with different socio-economic needs and capacities.
Of course, a free market capitalist may critique the theory for emphasizing the concerns of the least advantaged, arguably at the expense of the most productive in society.
At any rate, the veil of ignorance offers at least one method for counteracting the political liability of alienation and poor self-awareness. Perhaps Kingston and his staff could benefit from it.