OHIO GOV. John Kasich is as conservative as the next Republican. What sets him apart in the GOP presidential race is not ideology: It is his avowed commitment to governing in a way that used to be more common — open-minded, cooperative and constructive.
In a wide-ranging interview with us Wednesday morning, Mr. Kasich attacked the politicians who encourage voters to wallow in grievance and tell them that “everything is horrible, all we are is a bunch of losers, we have nothing, everything’s going to hell, and, by the way, you have been ripped off.” Against the doomsaying of his party’s front-runners, Mr. Kasich argued that “We’ve over-dramatized our situation.” He added, “we’ve had worse times in this country — far worse times in this country. We’ll be fine.”
There are legitimate reasons for people to feel anxious, he said, but “you can appeal to them in two different ways. You can appeal to them by driving them into the ditch or you can appeal to them by giving them a way out.” In a pluralistic democracy, that way out does not involve ramming policy down the throats of those who disagree. It means resisting the urge to say, “You’re wrong, he’s a Democrat, he’s a Republican,” Mr. Kasich insisted. Instead, he argued, “The strength of our country is we can disagree a little bit,” but ultimately we can “relax.”
He offered some evidence that he meant what he said during his 90 minutes with us. “That’s a good point,” he granted, when we pressed him on the unfairness of residents of the District paying taxes and fighting in wars but having no voting representation in Congress. He did not promise to change his position but said he would keep an open mind. Similarly, when we asked what he would have done after Russian jets buzzed a U.S. warship earlier this month, he said his first response would have been to “take a deep breath,” communicate dissatisfaction, but keep the right priorities in order, telling the Russian leadership that “you’re not destabilizing the Baltics.”
To our way of thinking, Mr. Kasich is far from an ideal candidate. He is as committed as any Republican to reality-defying tax cuts. Though he claims credit for helping to balance the federal budget in the 1990s, he has released so few details about his budget plan that his is the only one that independent analysts could not model. He bases the figures he does have on the unrealistic prediction that the economy will grow nearly 4 percent per year during his presidency. He opposes President Obama’s climate policies and does not have a credible plan to replace them.
Unlike many Republican officials, however, he does not dismiss science; he recognizes that human activity is causing climate change. And he accepts that policy disagreements should be debated vigorously, with an eye toward eventual compromise and achievement. That, and his rejection of fear-mongering, might not be exceptional in normal times. This year, they are traits to be admired.