On Jan. 30, 2016, The New York Times “endorsed” (I use this term lightly) Governor John Kasich for the GOP presidential nomination.
Though conceding that “Mr. Kasich is no moderate…he’s gone after public sector unions, fought to limit abortion rights and opposed same-sex marriage,” the Times nonetheless praised Kasich as a level-headed candidate whose positive and hopeful rhetoric stands in contrast to the many of the more inflammatory statements made by rivals Senator Ted Cruz and Donald Trump (The New York Times, “A Chance to Reset the Republican Race,” 01.30.2016).
However, the paper grossly understated some of Kasich’s more unsavory policies while serving as governor of Ohio and ignored some of his extreme policy proposals during his presidential campaign. The omission of proper insight into Kasich’s career and his actual political agenda disregards the unpleasant reality that Kasich’s perceived moderation is, as Ohio Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni states, “just prettier packaging for the same right-wing agenda of the GOP presidential candidates” (The Washington Post, “Myth of the ‘moderate’ John Kasich,” 08.18.2015).
The Times correctly cited John Kasich as both an experienced politician (once again, juxtaposed with the likes of Cruz, Trump and Carly Fiorina) and as one of the more centrist candidates running for the GOP nomination. In this election cycle, that’s not saying much. Nonetheless, Kasich’s compromises have included the expansion of Medicaid in Ohio and speaking out in favor of a path to citizenship for undocumented migrants. Lauding these compromises needs to come with a giant asterisk. Hailing Kasich as the best GOP nominee needs to come with a giant asterisk, too.
As Senator Schiavoni described in his Washington Post column, Kasich spearheaded Ohio’s refusal to establish health insurance exchanges. The exchanges functioned as Internet-based markets where citizens could shop for insurance subsidized by the federal government and served as one of Obamacare’s most significant provisions.
In 2013, The New York Times discussed Ohio’s troubled relationship with Roe vs. Wade and Kasich’s stringent anti-abortion campaign, commenting that “Ohio has become a laboratory for what anti-abortion leaders call the incremental strategy—passing a web of rules designed to push the hazy boundaries of Supreme Court guidelines…Many of the rules, critics say, are designed to discourage women from getting abortions or to hamper clinic operations” (The New York Times, “With New Abortion Restrictions, Ohio Walks a Narrow Legal Line,” 10.09.2013).
Kasich referred to these borderline-illegal restrictions as “reasonable.” Meanwhile, his administration significantly increased the pace at which these regulations were passed. His problematic relationship with Obamacare and women’s reproductive rights complicates the position of moderates who praise Kasich’s Medicaid expansion. A woman’s right to quality healthcare must encompass proper access to reproductive services as well, something that Kasich has not only opposed, but profoundly weakened in his state.
As Schiavoni points out, Kasich’s curtailing of women’s health rights (which included cutting Medicare benefits for pregnant women and those with breast and cervical cancer making between $16,000 and $23,000 a year) is set against the tragic reality of Ohio’s extremely high infant mortality rate (The Washington Post, “Myth of the ‘moderate’ John Kasich,” 08.18.2015). Kasich’s policies not only contradict the narrative of his moderation, but also negatively impact the health of Ohio women and children.
In the era of legislation as monumental as Obamacare, such attitudes towards healthcare should by no means be considered “moderate.” His legislative history speaks more than his words, emphasizing the reality that he is much more similar to his GOP counterparts than many pundits and media outlets are willing to admit. His demeanor and deliberately (and fallaciously) constructed rhetoric have fed the illusions of his moderation. He chooses his words carefully, ensures that he comes off as not too inflammatory and has emphasized the importance of government in bettering the lives of the sick and the poor. His service as governor contradicts such notions.
Schiavoni further describes Kasich’s cutting of $1.8 billion of funding to public schools, which crippled dozens of schools with deficits. This occurred while “steering hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars into a scandal-ridden charter school system, which has seen failing grades and has been called ‘the most troubled in the country’—a move pushed by charter-school operators who made the maximum legal contribution to Kasich’s political campaign along with his wife.”
In a nation where financial crises involving higher education are currently plaguing students, Kasich’s record on education is not reflective of the type of candidate needed to properly address education at the federal level.
On the campaign trail, Kasich’s policy proposals have ranged from sensible to downright absurd, the latter seemingly not affecting his image.
In November 2015, Politico reported that Kasich spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, saying that the United States “must be more forceful in the battle of ideas.” He thereafter proposed a federal agency that would “promote the core, Judeo-Christian Western values that we and our friends and allies share: the values of human rights, the values of democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of association” (Politico, “Kasich calls for new federal agency to promote Judeo-Christian values,” 11.17.2015). The logistics of creating the agency were unelaborated, and Kasich has not addressed the proposal in full since the speech. This proposal went by relatively unscathed by the media.
When asked about the atheists, Muslims and various other religious groups that constitute our country, Kasich gave a weak, unfocused response that barely answered the question. (He still did not address Eastern religious traditions, atheists, agnostics, areligious people and others).
Such a ridiculous proposition that undermines the inherent religious (or areligious) plurality of the country should have been torn apart by the media, pundits and other presidential candidates. The statement by its very nature excludes groups and individuals whose traditions and beliefs don’t fall under the arbitrary category of “Christian-Judaeo values” that Kasich vaguely outlined, while also failing to uphold the separation between religious dogma and political institutions as promised by the First Amendment.
It’s nonsense. It undermines basic Constitutional principles. However, in the context of the offensive and astronomically outlandish statements made by Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the creation of such an agency doesn’t seem so ridiculous. Nonetheless, advocating for the creation of an agency to spread religiously established principles in the United States is incongruent with moderation. Once again, a giant asterisk.
John Kasich is not the candidate he—and the media—wants you to think he is.
In comparison with the other inexperienced extremists masquerading as legitimate candidates, he is the best shot that centrist Republicans have at instilling balance and sensibility into the GOP right now. However, it would be naive and intellectually dishonest to ignore Kasich’s political history and statements, which have been largely overlooked due to the fanatical ravings of the other candidates.
The Ohio governor has proven to be a decently effective compromiser in terms of reaching across the aisle and making ideological sacrifices for the good of the state and his constituents. However, his pushes to erode women’s rights, his outlandish Judeo-Christian Values Agency proposal, his support for a state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and his ineffective education policies must be noted at the forefront of public discourse about his campaign.