Think like a quarterback

Last column I mentioned our human tendency to narrow things down to two alternatives, usually a clear for-against division.

So it’s refreshing and heartening when some public figure does more than unthinkingly follow the party line, especially when their religious beliefs are a main reason for their independent course.

Who would have thought one such person would be John Kasich, governor of Ohio? Not me. He seemed as anti-public worker, anti-pension, anti-welfare and pro-Wall Street as the governor of my home state of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.

Both are staunch Republicans, elected with Tea Party backing. Both are Christians. Both say their religion is important in shaping their political vision.

In Kasich’s case this is true. He is walking the talk.

During his governorship, taxes have been cut and a deficit turned into a surplus. Yet, as reported in the Wall Street Journal, “this is just a prelude to a larger mission, one his Christian faith has called him to shoulder: ‘helping the poor, the beleaguered and the downtrodden, and trying to heal them and lift them up.'”

“More than any other leading Republican, Gov. Kasich is using his perch to promote a blend of conservative orthodoxy leavened with liberal policies meant to help the poor, the mentally ill and the uninsured.”

He is one of only five Republican governors (out of 30) who have signed on to expanding Medicaid. He has been outspoken about this including in crowds of Republicans strongly against this move.

At a conference in California hosted by the conservative Koch brothers, he wouldn’t apologize for his Medicaid policy. “I know this is going to upset a lot of you guys, but we have to use government to reach out to people living in the shadows.”

At a packed Medicaid rally in the Ohio statehouse, he directly confronted those who question the motivations of the poor: “As Americans we need to beat back this notion that when somebody’s poor, somehow they are lazy. It is unbelievable that we live in America and there are people who don’t have health insurance.”

Tea Party folks are, of course, not pleased. A prominent conservative leader in Ohio, Tom Zawistowski, who campaigned for Kasich in 2010, vows help “un-elect” him next year.

The governor seems undeterred. He sees himself as following in the footsteps of Jack Kemp, the late Buffalo Bills quarterback who was a US congressman and 1996 vice-presidential nominee and who once described himself as a “bleeding heart conservative.”

Driving back to Ohio recently from a family East Coast vacation, Kasich stopped in Buffalo, N.Y., for lunch. He asked a few people if they’d ever met Kemp. “It was Jack, over and over again, about hopes and dreams. Jack had a profound impact on the conservative moment. Maybe I have a chance to do that, too.”

Reading this reminded me of watching Evans and Novak on their old TV show, interviewing Kemp. They were surprised that he disagreed with their proposal to cut Social Security benefits for the mentally disabled, unemployment compensation, and other welfare programs.

Kemp politely but firmly objected to their seeing needy people, like those in his Buffalo area whose jobs had been shipped overseas, as somehow being undeserving. He also mentioned how those troubled by mental and emotional disorders deserve our help through government programs.

Kemp didn’t preach, but he spoke up for the people he represented. This interview may have been when he came out as a bleeding heart conservative and when he began building “a reputation as a Republican who focused on urban minorities and the poor.”

Kasich, of course, never played in the NFL. But he thinks like a good quarterback, surveying the entire field, the bigger picture, seeing more than two narrow and opposite options.

On the football field, and certainly in our complex economy and society, a narrow and inflexible focus is insufficient.

Just look at our political gridlock. It won’t be solved without more leaders who observe, listen, consider, even pray and meditate, before acting. Unthinkingly following party lines won’t do it.

(James Lein is a community columnist for The Minot Daily News)