John Kasich, policy analysis

Once again, I look at a major party Presidential candidate, and the policies he favors. So far, I’ve done Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio. Now it’s time for John Kasich.

Kasich’s appeal is that he’s not crazy. That’s how he presents himself, as the serious, thoughtful alternative to the more extreme Republicans running. When Rachel Maddow appeared on Trevor Noah’s Daily Show, and he pressed her to name the Republican she’d support if she had to pick one, she very reluctantly named Kasich. It makes sense. He probably is the most reasonable Republican running. Granted, he’s probably not going to be President; he’s a poor debater and not much of a public speaker. But he comes across as a decent guy, and I expected his website to be substantive, sober in tone and well put together. And so it was.

For example, there’s a website link to ‘Issues,’ which I found welcome and refreshing, unlike Rubio’s, which is so busy you really have to search to find anything substantive. And the issues Kasich highlights are mostly important ones: Education, National Security, the Economy. Of course, he’s a Republican, and Republicans care about gun rights, so that’s a category. I don’t get it, but conservative voters expect it, so okay.

There’s also a pro-life link; also de rigueur for conservatives, I suppose. I checked out that section, and it’s sensible. He opposes late-term and partial birth abortions. But, as governor of Ohio, he streamlined the adoption process, making it easier for people to adopt. I like that; offer an alternative to abortion. He also added a private/public partnership with the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, in which the state hires specialists tasked with finding families for older kids in foster care. Good for Ohio. He also created (but underfunded) a Parenting and Pregnancy Support program that provides new mothers from underprivileged backgrounds practical support; cribs, formula, diapers, plus basic parenting advice.

His Education section is similar: conservative, but sensible. Of course, he sees education as a state issue, and resists federal standards. I’m okay with that. He wants parents to help set state education standards. Ohio, under his leadership, has a program to identify third graders who can’t read, and provide them with remedial help, another good idea. I’m not wild about school choice and voucher programs. Still, the picture is of a hands-on conservative governor with a strong commitment to education in his state.

Website links suggest policy priorities, and he’s got a whole section on ‘Lifting Up the Most Vulnerable Americans.’ Good for him. Again, the specifics he offers are a mix of venerable Republican nostrums: workfare, expanding the EIC. But Ohio also has increased spending for mental health facilities, and early childhood intervention programs. Yay! And, of course, he was one of the few Republican governors to accept the Obamacare Medicaid expansion. Here’s my takeaway: John Kasich is a genuine Christian, a decent, conservative man who wants to help people who are struggling, and is unafraid to use the resources of government to accomplish it. Boy, we could sure do worse.

I was very interested to explore his link Fiscal Responsibility and Balancing Budgets. I found that section very disappointing, however. He doesn’t really make any specific budgetary proposals. That page’s entirely focused on the past, and on his achievements in Congress and as Governor of Ohio. He claims that as Chair of the House Budget committee, he ‘led the effort’ to balance the budget and pay down the debt. Well, no. In fact, leadership on the budget was provided by President Bill Clinton, who make tax hikes the center of his plan, tax hikes that Kasich opposed.

And Kasich’s own record in Ohio essentially involves making the Ohio tax code more regressive, and therefore less progressive. See, for example, this analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy:

Kasich’s legacy in Ohio is a substantial tax shift from the wealthy taxpayers of his state toward low- and middle income families. At the same time, he has deprived the state of revenue to pay for critical investments in infrastructure, education and public safety.

What would he do as President? He doesn’t say. There’s no budget proposal, no tax proposal, no economic plan. There’s another economic link on his site: called Creating Jobs and Strengthening the Economy: it’s also non-specific, and focused entirely on his past record, with no sense of a plan for the nation’s future. And, as governor of Ohio, he cut the Estate tax, cut the highest brackets of state income tax, and tried to cut capital gains taxes. Those would all be budget-busting priorities if applied on the national level.

The fact is, Kasich became governor of Ohio in 2010. The narrative his website supports is: Ohio was in bad shape before I took office, but now it’s doing so much better. Well, that’s true enough, but it leaves out the most specifically relevant historical context. Ohio’s economy suffered in 2010, because all state economies were struggling; the aftermath of the world-wide economic crisis. Ohio’s recovery tracks the US economic recovery. In other words, his record as governor is only superficially impressive; in fact, Ohio benefited from the Obama recovery, which is still continuing. His plan, to the extent that he has one, is pure Republican orthodoxy: cut taxes, cut regulations, balance the budget. Burn down the forest, then build the ship.

And then we get to National Security. And there it is:

Wiping ISIS off the map requires a complex, collaborative strategy involving mutual defense action by NATO—as well as regional allies—in the wake of the attack on France, intensifying international intelligence cooperation, increasing support to the highly-effective Kurdish military, creating safe havens and no-fly zones, combating human trafficking in refugees, a NATO & regional coalition with ground troops, and more aggressively fighting the war of ideas to discredit ISIS.

It sounds impressive. He sounds like he knows what he’s talking about. But there is it, right at the end: ground troops. NATO troops, which means, American ground forces. He’s talking about another foreign war. American men and women on the ground, in a war that really, actually, doesn’t involve American interests, in a region where their presence is already resented. You liked Afghanistan and Iraq? John Kasich has part III spooled up, ready to air.

And yet, once again, in the middle of the paragraph cited above, there’s one line that reflects Kasich’s basic decency: ‘combating human trafficking in refugees.’ No one else is talking about this issue, but it’s a real problem: Syrian refugees in the Middle East are being preyed upon. There may be as many as three quarters of a million Syrian refugees entrapped in what is essentially slavery, mostly in Kuwait and Saudi Arabia. Both nations are classified as Tier Three Human Traffickers, the worst designation, by the US State Department and the UN. It’s a human rights nightmare. And of all the Presidential candidates running, John Kasich is the only one talking about it.

But that’s Kasich. My impression of him is that he’s a decent guy, with the instincts of a philanthropist, a Christian in the best sense of the word. Not an ideologue, an effective practical politician. But, as far as I can tell, he has a budget-busting economic plan, and proposes a foreign policy that would involve US troops in another unnecessary and unworkable foreign intervention. There are worse candidates running. But there’s at least one candidate who is better.


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