Ohio Gov. John Richard Kasich could have replayed Monday most of what he said at his first ceremonial inaugural event four years ago. Held at the Southern Hotel in downtown Columbus, the twice elected governor reprised most of the same political sermon he delivered following his narrow victory in 2010, focusing on bedrock values he said built the nation, including faith, family, personal responsibility, diversity, resiliency and empathy. And true to his hardcore and long-held inner GOP colors, the now term-limited governor hammered home the evil of being dependent on government.
Speaking to a smaller crowd than four years ago, that included Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman and General Assembly Minority Leaders Sen. Joe Schiavoni and Rep. Fred Strahorn, but not New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie who canceled due to weather conditions, the governor invoked the “spirit of life” early on as a rallying cry to make the nation and Ohio better. Hewing to his now well-established presentation scenario, he thanked his family, especially his wife Karen, and all those whose paychecks depend on remaining in his good graces. He touted their team work in making government more responsive and more efficient.
He hearkened back to 1977 when he said he was making cold calls out of the phone book during his first campaign for public office, which he won and hasn’t experienced defeat since. “We have pulled Ohio out of a ditch,” he said, repeating his standard view of Ohio’s history following the terrible impact of the Great Recession, which bloomed under President George W. Bush, then got turned around by Gov. Ted Strickland, who set Ohio on the road to recovery and whose momentum Kasich took bows for even though progress on this governor’s watch has been dialed down considerably. Kasich’s vision of the past demands that a bright future wasn’t in site to average working Ohioans at the time, and that a fear of never being able to succeed existed. “Fear had Ohio firmly in its grip,” he said today, using his adult solemn voice. He reminded listeners that jobs and savings were lost, a fact for sure, but one that isn’t as simple as he sayd. “Government wasn’t doing its part to make things better … public institutions were broken and failing … and hassling Ohioans.”
“We don’t focus on politics, we don’t care about politics,” the consummate politician said. All decisions are based on “doing the right thing,” he said. Republican to the core, he again blasted government, saying he’s run it like a business so it can do more for less. Balancing the budget in a sustainable way by filling an $8 billion and taking the state’s rainy day fund from 89 cents to $1.5 billion today are the hallmarks of his carefully crafted narrative of just how great he is. Job creation has been the “greatest moral focus” for the last five years, he said, failing to tell his hyper-friendly audience Ohio’s been unable for 25 consecutive months to out perform the national average for job creation. He tried to make his point by saying under his watch “moms” are saying, “I got hired, I got a new job,” again not be honest enough to say that that job probably pays minimum wage. He touted his “friendly job climate” attitude as one that transformed a “broken down economic development system where they couldn’t figure out how to answer the phone.” Providing no proof, he said the nation wants to figure out how to create a group like JobsOhio, his secret and private non-profit job creation agency that has under-performed the nation and that got tangled up in conflict of interest issues from the very start.
Of course, what would a Kasich speech be without talking about “people living in the shadows,” his dog-whistle phrase that ushers in his political version of the Sermon on the Mount. He called for unity and teamwork, things he said are missing in Washington, where his Republican colleagues have been anything but good teammates as they’ve opposed President Obama on every issue since 2009. The big mistake he said he wouldn’t make is getting comfortable with the status quo. “We’re not resting, we’re just getting started,” he said, adding, “We won’t ease up and slow down, that’s a deception.” The former congressman and TV talk show host underscored the need to be personally responsible, a tried and true hard-right GOP ideological tenant that ushered in his cemented view that people have unique gifts given to them by The Lord, and that government can help them fulfill those gifts. His calling, it seems, is to sacrifice immediate gratification for the long term good, even though much of his first administration has been to reward special interests groups, especially the wealthy, with immediate income tax cuts built on the back of raising a host of other taxes to pay for it. The erosion of basic values is most serious problem facing state nation today, Gov. Kasick said, adding he’ll confront greed, frustration and alienation.
“Don’t blame others … there are no excuses,” he said, reminding those listening of what his mother told him, “It’s a sin to continue to help someone who needs to learn to help themselves.” He cautioned to not be bitter at people who need temporary help, and said people should not only ask themselves what they can do for government but what they can do to help someone else. “Pick yourself up and make something of yourself,” he said. His advice is to understand the pain and problems of others and develop empathy for them. He attributed political polarization to not being able to “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes,” saying it’s the fixation on ourselves … “it’s all about me.”
Empathy is needed more than ever, the governor said, believing that holding a different opinion doesn’t make them an enemy. “We welcome different points of view … diversity makes America stronger,” he said, adding, “Don’t tear others down to build yourself .. we can’t be extreme ideologues to deal with America’s problems. The Lord created everyone with a purpose, and everyone needs to fight off obstacles. Circling back to his always-present, hard-wired Republican ideology, Gov. Kasich, whose been dependent on a government job for most of his nearly four decades as an elected public official, said, “Don’t rely on government … put people and freedoms over government.”