A few weeks back I attended the Toner Prize dinner in Washington, held in memory of the late New York Times reporter Robin Toner. The award is given to journalists who distinguish themselves in their political reporting.
The keynote speaker was the Republican Governor of Ohio, John Kasich. Now, I must admit that during the presidential primary season, I wrote a piece for The Hill that wrote Kasich off as just a one-state winner (his own).
When he was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1983 to 2001, I thought of him as knowledgeable and hardworking, but highly partisan and prone to outlandish rhetoric and manner. He had positions of serious responsibility (chair of the Budget Committee, for example), but I did not take him seriously.
But after listening to his speech, I’ve changed my mind about Kasich. His message is one that needs to be listened to and — most of all — followed.
Talking about his experience in Congress, Kasich noted that party label was not an obstacle or impediment to members developing genuine and close friendships.
“We got along,” he said. “We played basketball in the gym. … We kidded and joked. … We had dinner.”
And just imagine this one: “We called our Democratic colleagues on holidays.”
He went on to say that nowadays, compromise is the “dirtiest word.” There is “no tolerance.”
For good things to happen, Kasich declared that “we have to listen to what other people say.”
Kasich, I believe, does not believe it’s all about winning. He wasn’t afraid to say that “people need more content.” He pleaded for citizen participation in the civic arena: “The public have to come out of their silos.” He described that sentiment “as not Republican or Democratic.”
All of these words were not just phony, insincere pabulum. That evening, it was obvious Kasich was not just giving a speech; but he was trying to change the world we now live in.
The age of Trump is neither uplifting nor inspiring. It’s demoralizing and depressing. Notably, Kasich never endorsed Trump, and I really don’t recall him even mentioning the president name during his keynote address.
Kasich’s mission that night was an appeal to the best in us. It wasn’t your typical pol speech. He even had the audacity to talk about “our humanness.” He delivered it with a certain joy. He didn’t read from a teleprompter or from a script. The words seem to come from his head and, may I be permitted to say it? From his heart.
After the speech, he stood in the center of the room and talked to everybody. It looked like he didn’t want to leave.
Now, maybe Kasich feels liberated. He’s term-limited as governor. A new chapter is starting for him. Whatever his motivation that night, he made people think. He called on them to change the political atmosphere and carry on with purpose.
I now have a far different opinion of him and I hope he continues to be active and does not go away.
Kasich is good for the Republican Party and the country. His voice and his presence are needed — especially now.
This editorial originally appeared in The Hill on April 7. Mark Plotkin is a contributor to the BBC on American politics and a columnist for The Georgetowner. Previously, he was the political analyst for WAMU-FM, Washington’s NPR affiliate, where he co-hosted the “D.C. Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin.” He later became the political analyst for WTOP-FM, Washington’s all-news radio station, where he hosted “The Politics Hour With Mark Plotkin.” He is a winner of the Edward R. Murrow Award for excellence in writing.