Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Rhodes vs. Kasich: A case of Identity theft

THE HEADLINE above a column on the Beacon Journal's op-ed page Tuesday asserted:

John Kasich is no Jim Rhodes.

I should say not! The column was by Joe Hallett, the perceptive senior editor of the Columbus Dispatch, and it spoke of the many ways that these two politicians differed in approaching Ohio's problems, in their views of the Feds, how they were to pay for the fixes, and the wide gap in temperament. Why the comparison at this time? Well, as Hallett notes, Kasich is now reporting that the voters see him as the reincarnation of Rhodes. "We welcome that," Kasich boasts.

What a wretched stretch. So let me add something about their political credentials as one who went at Rhodes chin-to-chin in all four of his terms. Unlike Kasich, Rhodes was no ideologue. On more than one occasion he declared that he would gladly become a Democrat if it meant that he could pass some of his pet projects. At other times during Jimmy Carter's presidential campaign, Rhodes said he didn't want to criticize the peanut farmer about anything because "Carter might become president and I might need him to help me on some of my programs."

As Hallett points out, Rhodes was a cheerleader for federal programs that would send money to Ohio. Kasich is quite the opposite in his rants to dismantle government, including the Ohio Department of Development that Rhodes created.

And how can Kasich possibly match Rhodes' "Ohio-ness."? He is fresh from Wall Street and was not a household name among most Ohioans before his announced candidacy. He began his political career as an aide of some sort to the late hard-right Ohio congressman, Donald ("Buz") Lukens, one of Rhodes' arch-enemies. After leaving Congress, he spent all of those years apparently closeted (by his description) in a satellite office in Colmubus for the bankrupt Lehman Brothers.

But Rhodes' historic success - I say as one of his detractors at the time - is that he was a dues paying Ohioan who intuitively related to his constituents with down-home humor and self-deprecating comments. Slyly, he never seemed that interested in the political class and pooh-poohed national conventions as a waste of money. To him, the delegates simply could mail in their votes. It was always a disarming style for a man in the governor's office and if pressed by a reporter on a particular issue, he would beg off, saying: " I never yes or no", for whatever the hell that meant. He lived by the credo that "Profit is not a dirty word in Ohio" which always sounded as sincere as the Boy Scout oath.

But he did pay his dues on the political ladder, always conscious about how to reach the next rung. It might have been done in an unorthodox style, but he cleverly got away with it.

Whatever else you might have thought of Jim Rhodes, he was the real thing, often a spectacle but a memorable presence wherever he went, good humored and endearing to his business apostles (and in certain cases, labor union crowd , some of whom wore his pins.) I see none of that in Kasich. If only half of his reckless plans to rip apart state government come to pass, it will take years for the state to recover.

1 comment:

Mencken said...

Kasich apparently had no choice but to skip over Taft and Voinovich to find his gubernatorial soulmate.