In A Theory of Justice, John Rawls argues that society should be designed from behind a “veil of ignorance” – the idea being that the person who constructs the rules, welfare system and taxation policy of a country should do so without knowing the position they will occupy within the community. This eliminates the temptation to provide privilege to the demographic to which you belong; so no gender, race or sexuality would fare better than any other, and the least well off in the nation would still be taken care of, since it was created by somebody who had no idea where they would fit in. This philosophical tool has long been something I have considered as an excellent way to approach building a just system of government, but the success of the Republican parties in elections in the United States makes it evident that people do not always vote according to their own interests, even when they know the position they hold in society.
As was covered in detail in my 2012 election preview, the GOP has outstanding success in garnering votes in states where federal aid outweighs the amount sent back to Washington in taxes, yet the Republicans’ core belief is for self-reliance and to decrease government handouts. This contradiction is achieved by the selling of the American dream, convincing people that they want those earning the most in the United States to pay a lower percentage of tax on their income, as one day it might be them getting the large paycheck. Of course, not every voter is solely motivated by economic causes, but on social issues the success of Republican candidates does not become any clearer – indeed such is the antagonism they show towards any type of diversity, the only group of the electorate the GOP appears to target is rich, white, male, straight, gun-toting Christians. Nevertheless, even with a comfortable re-election for President Obama in November, 46% of voters still cast their ballot for Mitt Romney, far outweighing the percentage of the population that would fit into this narrow grouping. The Republicans have done this by changing the message away from questions such as: “Do you believe in gun control?” to “Do you believe in the Second Amendment of the Constitution or are you not a Patriot?”; instead of the past two campaigns being: “Who do you think would be the best President for the country, Barack Obama or John McCain/Mitt Romney?” it is now, “Do you want to lose the substance of this nation to a Kenyan-Born, European-Socialist type, secret Muslim?”
Knowing that many are convinced for one reason or another to cast their vote in a manner contradictory to what logic would suggest, it did not completely surprise me when a former boss of mine, who is African-American, in a conversation about politics told me that he was a Republican because of his economic views. On social issues, he admitted, he found the match less than perfect, but that was often outweighed by financial thoughts and thus the GOP often received his vote. What did surprise me, however, was the thought that there would be black people in the Tea Party – a far-right group that essentially grew as a reaction to the election of President Obama and a section of the political landscape I have often considered (and am not alone) to be inherently racist. This appears to be a con too far, the electoral equivalence of selling snow to the Inuits – how could the Tea Party possibly have convinced some African-Americans it was in their interest to be part of the movement?
But here-in lies the rub…I do fully understand it yet. At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in March, a video from a break-out session called “Trump the Race Card” – which was supposed to be about the frustrations Republicans felt about being called racists when they knew they were not – showed someone saying that a slave should have been thanking his former master for providing accommodation and food during his time of enslavement. This footage was recorded by Kevin Dotson as part of a documentary he is making called “Black Tea – The New Civil Right” which promises to be a fascinating look at the reasons African-Americans have aligned themselves with the Tea Party. As with all such projects, funding is of course an issue and I encourage everyone to check out his Kickstarter page for more information about the documentary and hopefully support it too. This is a topic that I believe will be of interest to many and is important to help fully understand the current political landscape in America – not to mention, it would also enable me to finish this article.
Support Kevin Dotson’s Black Tea documentary by visiting his Kickstarter page: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1213662578/black-tea-the-new-civil-right