Just a block away from a recent Kasich campaign event on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C., a young veteran sat on a bench in the dark shadow of the U.S. Capitol dome. Tony had lost his leg in the Iraq War, is suffering from bone cancer, and he is homeless.
In my long chat with Tony, my heart did nothing but ache for him. A precious life, a loose thread of the frayed and torn fabric of our society.
Governor Kasich learned just how precious a life is when he suffered the painful loss of both his parents to a drunk driver some 30 years ago. And he knows how awful it is when the winds blow the wrong way for people like Tony. Kasich’s dad carried mail, his grandfather was a miner, and both struggled to make ends meet, particularly during rough economic times.
He says he’s fortunate in many ways and grateful that “the Lord has laid the notion on me that everyone matters and that every job is noble.”
After the Oregon shooting, he was asked if he’s for keeping guns away from the mentally ill. His view? There is never a simple yes or no answer in social policy. Or any policy. And, more importantly, that we need to look very closely at our social fabric as thepicture is not just different but very complicated.
With guns, he avers, it’s more than control: Families are no longer connected, we don’t even know our neighbors, children barely talk to their grandparents much less see them, and more people are living by themselves than ever before. The social glue that keeps the fabric together is melting into alienation and loneliness. And feeding drug use and mental illness.
As in Tony’s case. Or the Oregon shooter who could have gotten treatment.
“We need to end this drift into isolation even before we can fully address the gun issue,” Kasich passionately exclaims.
It’s why, as governor of Ohio, he restored $26.8 million of Medicaid funds for mental illness after years of cuts by a Democratic administration. And against a lot of screaming from the opposition. But leaders don’t scream because good policy shouts louder.
This is what Kasich calls sensible conservatism and what he espouses. His heart embraces the person while his mind analyzes each situation with clear and far-sighted insight. It is a moral sense for social justice; a moral sense for what is pragmatic at the individual level and for the economy.
Pure ideology can’t interpret human nature or its needs.
Sensible conservatism understands individuals beyond the need to eat. It doesn’t force the threads of society into place but knows that each thread helps sustain the others, like business partners. It’s no coincidence that the word society is from the Latin for companion or partner (in some Latin and European countries companies and corporations are called societies). Together the threads interconnect and contribute to the common goal of strong economic growth via strong individual growth. With work and personal fulfillment they generate wealth for themselves and for a strongly woven socioeconomic fabric.
To be sure, this is not Mao or Stalin but Hayek.
Sensible conservatism trusts people to know what works. Just as an airline CEO does not tell a gate agent how to re-organize the boarding process because he may not have that front-line experience, neither should a president dictate teaching standards as he’s never had to make a lesson plan, grade papers, or stand in front of a class.
Good leaders don’t micro-manage.
In the early 1980s, unions petitioned the Democrats in Congress against the Reagan Administration’s rulemaking that would allow women the freedom to knit at home for local garment companies in Vermont and New Hampshire. Who knew better their needs than the women and the businesses themselves? But, alas, for the Democrats these were the special interest votes (unions) to be paid back and to be had, so they justified intruding into homes and businesses with the faux justification that they needed to prevent women from wounding themselves with knitting needles. Imagine such weapons of self-destruction.
Sensible conservatism doesn’t rely on votes or on polls to determine government spending. It doesn’t blindly pump millions into schools and create arbitrary education standards determined by lawmakers, to name one. It doesn’t choose a goliath of a Department of Education versus a local school board to decide what is best for students.
And neither does it scream seductive sound bites — No Child Left Behind — that are empty but easy to swallow. We all know what low grades both that program and the children got. Not to mention the untold millions.
Kasich’s parents taught him that it’s a sin not to help those in need, but that it’s also a sin not to teach those how to help themselves. The Democrats’ appetite for big government turns the loose threads of society into prisoners of a hollow largesse by making them dependent. It’s no different from parents who do the homework for their kids. It robs them from not just learning but learning how to do things for themselves.
Big government tightens the threads of the social fabric by preventing them from moving about and growing. Under the guise of helping, it’s short-changing people’s potential in exchange for easy votes. This populist approach frays the fabric as it also alienates us from each other by forcing us all to compete for a piece of the same government pie.
It’s why we have complex benefit systems that the disenfranchised like Tony can’t understand or, much less, navigate. It’s why thousands of vets like him are still waiting for urgent medical treatment while the Veterans Hospitals are too busy sorting out their self-made disasters instead of providing care.
A government’s role is to strengthen the links of the social cloth by ensuring a healthy economic climate and the ability of businesses and people to produce goods and services. It needs to keep taxes low so businesses can thrive and keep unemployment low.
As chairman of the House Budget Committee Kasich was successful in sponsoring and passing a bill to balance the federal budget that trimmed $127 billion in government spending over five years and after what was described as “30 years of red-ink.”
“Why is government choking us with regulations?” Kasich asked recently. “We need a people’s court so people can tell them to foster business and not kill it. Just take a look at countries like Brazil where the infinite red tape and regulations do nothing if discourage job creation and bring the economic gears to a near halt.”
When he became governor, Ohio had out-of-control government growth and spending so he created a more competitive tax environment by cutting taxes by $5 billion (since 2011) to spur job creation while simultaneously turning an $8 billion budget deficit into a $2 billion surplus.
We don’t want government to chew up taxpayer dollars and a disproportionate amount of the GDP on itself — government for government — as this stunts its ability to reach out to those in the shadow, the loose threads.
In Ohio, Kasich cut red tape and reduced the size of state government bureaucracy to its lowest levels in more than 30 years. The state is now up more than 300,000 private sector jobs and its unemployment rate remains below the national average.
All of this helps explain why he was re-elected with 60% of the vote.
As president, there is no scintilla of doubt that Kasich would continue to shake up the system with the same heart, the same mind. And, quite uniquely, with the same organic diplomacy to recruit and align the opposition while not stepping on toes. Well, not too hard anyway.
With his same faith and values, he will be sure to put together a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people” to ensure that under a Kasich presidency, that bench near Pennsylvania and 3rd Street will be empty, for Tony, and others like him, will be busy at work in a fulfilling job.