- - Sunday, May 10, 2015

John Kasich says, “I’m just an ordinary guy with a big job.” Oh?

In style and manner, Gov. John R. Kasich, Ohio Republican, does not seem to have much in common with his hero, Ronald Reagan. But there are some similarities.

Both have served as enormously successful governors of large important states; both grew up in Small Town, USA (Mr. Kasich in Pennsylvania, Reagan in Illinois); both came from Democrat backgrounds and ended up as Republicans; and both were heavily influenced by previous presidents — Reagan by Calvin Coolidge and Mr. Kasich by Reagan. Both are also known for their sunny personalities and quick wit.

There is something more important, however. Reagan re-defined the Republican Party and probably saved it from a long exile in the wilderness if not reduction to second level status, like the Whigs in 1856 whose place was taken by the Lincoln Republicans in 1860.

In 1932, Franklin Roosevelt had set the new and radical standard of American culture and political philosophy by popularizing his view that the federal government is the last resort for the solution of national emergencies. The fact that, in the end, it took a world war to extricate the nation from the Great Depression in spite of all Roosevelt’s efforts was not understood at the time – nor even now by some modern liberals and socialists.

The Roosevelt standard remained more or less unchallenged for almost 50 years. It became the war cry of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But the final triumph of the Roosevelt standard was Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, which firmly entrenched the federal government as the custodian of American society. There was really no effective challenge to the Roosevelt standard for the nearly 50 years before 1980.

There was one very significant exception however. In 1966, a retired Hollywood actor named Ronald Reagan ran for and won the governorship of California under the banner of “Law and Order” amid the chaos of the 1960’s. He won nearly 2/3 of the vote. By 1980, his political philosophy had crystallized into the slogan, “Government is not the solution; Government is the problem!” — a direct repudiation of the Roosevelt/Johnson standard.

This was a radical idea in 1980, one which flew in the face not only of all the Democrats, but also of the “get-along, go-along” Republicans who had acquiesced to the Roosevelt/Johnson standard. This counter movement to the prevailing standard was called the “Reagan Revolution” (among other things). The Reagan standard of smaller government, closer to the governed, supply-side economics, strong national defense and fewer federal regulations prevailed more or less through the next twenty-eight years.

Until 2008 — when Barack Obama succeeded in painting the Republicans as rich, callous war-mongers and won two elections with his revival of the expanded Roosevelt/Johnson standard that there is a government solution for every national problem (not just emergencies).

There has been a backlash to this socialistic view of government called the “Tea Party” a largely unorganized movement, which has been only moderately successful as a political force. Putting aside its lack of organization, its underlying political theory is narrowly concentrated on economic issues, starting with the national debt and extending to some domestic issues such as immigration and welfare, defined primarily as employment problems.

The so-called “establishment Republicans” (called derisively, “Rinos” (Republicans in name only) have been targeted by the tea partyers as soft on budget discipline and ineffective in their opposition to the Obama Democrats.

The resulting tension between the tea partyers and the Rinos has left the Republican Party in turmoil and confusion, and potential presidential candidates are already being identified with one or the other wing of the party. This lack of a unified Republican voice cost the party a loss to an unpopular president in the last presidential election, and threatens to do so again in 2016. The survival of the Republican Party as a national force depends on a new definition of the party, in the mode of the Reagan Revolution of 1980.

So, what are the differences? Primarily, the deficiency of the tea party is its lack of answers to any other problems than the national debt and deficits. It is a single issue movement rather than an organized political entity. The problem with the Rinos is that they can’t solve the fiscal problems because of their preoccupation with all the other problems of the country. What is needed is a bigger tent.

Enter Mr. Kasich, the hugely successful Republican governor of Ohio.

His resume is very comforting in the sense that he is not a first term senator like our current president was. He is an experienced politician who knows how government works and how to work the government.

Mr. Kasich was the principal architect of the balanced budget legislation of the late Clinton years, who learned about foreign and military policy issues during his service on Congressional committees for 18 years. He then spent more than a decade as a corporate executive and television personality. He has also authored three national best sellers. Mr. Kasich is now in his second term as governor of one of the largest states in the union. But his resume is not the most important factor in the John Kasich phenomenon.

What transcends his background is his emerging theory of the role of government. Like the tea party, he is sharply focused on the economy and on reducing deficits and capital debt. He has performed the same miracle in Ohio as some other Republican governors in eliminating deficits and even building a healthy budget surplus, while consistently reducing personal taxes. He has presided over an employment renaissance in his state with lowering business taxes and attracting new businesses. All this is the playbook of every Rino. Nevertheless, Mr. Kasich has DONE it.

The key to the Kasich revolution, however, comes next. Mr. Kasich believes that a sound and growing economy is not an end in itself. The creation of wealth has as its rationale, creation of society’s ability to raise ALL ships, including those he describes as “living in the shadows”. He is not talking about income redistribution; he is talking about extending opportunity — and about government’s role in assisting in these efforts. His programs include reaching out to addicts and prisoners, to the handicapped, and the aged, to the inner cities, and to local governments.

This view of wealth creation’s function in the betterment of society is a new idea in the Republican theory of government. It provides an ethical basis for capitalism, a rationale for the collection of government funds, and a discipline for the expenditure of government funds. From a political point of view, the Kasich standard undercuts the most basic charge of the socialists against the Republicans, namely that Republicans are interested only in money, only for themselves. This charge was developed by Franklin Roosevelt, himself ironically an heir to a great fortune, against the Republicans of his day. It was so effective that it is still used today by Roosevelt’s successor Democrats.

The Kasich standard answers that charge in the most convincing way. The government’s job is to promote prosperity by promoting opportunities for everyone to participate in this prosperity, even those in the shadows. To complete the circle, Mr. Kasich believes that bringing more and more people into the productive economy extends the general prosperity to even greater height by improving utilization of human capital.

There is a humanism about this approach which is seldom associated with the Republican Party, even though the Bard of the Reagan Revolution, George Gilder, spelled out in detail the causes and cures of the welfare society in the 1980’s. Tommy Thompson, Newt Gingrich, Jack Kemp and John Kasich among others heard him and reformed the welfare system in the 1990’s, but got no farther. Mr. Kasich is carrying on what Mr. Gilder was talking about.

The Kasich standard provides a tent big enough to cover both fiscal conservatives and opportunity advocates. It stresses the fundamental, overriding responsibility of ALL levels of government to promote the good of ALL the people, ALL the time. To protect the integrity of this goal requires engagement, openness, and above all determination to do what you agree to do.

Mr. Kasich’s foreign policy is not revolutionary: he wants a military so strong that no one dares challenge us. Like Reagan, he is flexible on means to the ends, as long as the means support the basic goals of government. This approach seems to apply to tax policy and regulatory reform, on which he has taken positions which leave room for refinement. For example, he is in discussions with Steve Forbes about adopting Mr. Forbes’ version of the federal flat tax.

Can John R. Kasich unite the Republican Party and expand its base? That answer will depend on a multitude of factors between now and November, 2106. But his standard of fiscal discipline and government promotion of opportunity, even for those most in need, can be a clarion call to every American seeking a new “Shining City on a Hill” in 2016.

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