The common sense and principled Republican governor of Ohio, who would not launder his conscience on the altar of political expediency, is teaching other politicians a lesson in history: country first, before party.
John Kasich’s stance as a powerful moderate voice throughout the 2016 campaign, and now in the ongoing health care reform debate in Washington, is an indication that the country needs more of him.
“Both parties ought to be worried about poor people, because I don’t think either party particularly cares about helping poor people,” Kasich told CNN in a June 25 interview.
“You look at the rates of poverty, the problems in this country. We have not designed a system to get people to work. Everything we’re talking about now, getting people healthy, giving them health care is designed to get them to work. It’s designed to give them an opportunity to have a better life. This is not some kind of welfare system.”
Kasich is correct. The Republican and Democratic parties don’t have a poverty platform. It is difficult to get politicians in either party to even use the word poverty in policy discourse.
Their debates begin and end with the middle class, while millions continue to suffer in abject poverty. Millions are only a paycheck away from being homeless and hopeless.
When you take away health care from some 22 million people — as the current Senate bill is projected to do over time, according to a Congressional Budget Office estimate — you are bound to create more misery, more despondency. You will be piling on to the problem, instead of meticulously addressing the issues affecting masses of people.
Giving people an opportunity to have a fresh start in life — with a sound health care program — does not amount to a welfare check as Kasich rightly pointed out. It is the right thing to do, and it is refreshing to hear Kasich deconstruct the myth around welfare, and to illuminate the truth that poverty has no particular skin color.
His statesman-like X-ray of our political parties leads us to ask: Does America really care about its poor?
Though the United States is widely regarded as the world’s greatest democracy and largest economy, this country is steep in baffling contradictions especially in relation to standards of well-being. How else can one explain the fact that millions of people, including children, seniors and veterans, wake up in poverty, misery and hopelessness amid the bountiful resources that we have as a nation?
That is why Kasich’s pricking the conscience of the powerful in Washington and state capitals is an important reminder to them that they have misplaced their priorities. They are in office to make life better for people, not make it worse. Those in Congress, particularly, derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed, not the other way around.
And if the move to drastically change an imperfect health care mandate will consequently render millions more vulnerable, every member of Congress — regardless of party — should be alarmed, or perhaps ashamed.
Like a voice crying in the wilderness, Kasich is sounding an alarm other governors — Republican or Democrat — should also be sounding to protect the most vulnerable in their states.
That includes the countless children condemned to poverty just because they were born into it. They will have no chance to grow healthy, happy and wise without health insurance coverage — if the current Senate bill passes.
These children and their families live in our urban and rural areas. They are the ones Kasich is defending. Only the few courageous and conscientious politicians like Kasich speak about their plight.
Partisanship has replaced the need to focus on the collective well-being, as Kasich noted in the CNN interview.
“I don’t think we have enough leadership,” he said. “I think there are too many people that cower in the wings because of partisanship.”
Well, it may just be time for another “Poor People’s Campaign,” to drum home the point that Kasich is making from an unlikely position, putting country first above everything else.
The writer hosts “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” which is broadcast at noon weekdays on Super Station 910AM. This column appears Mondays and Thursdays.