John Kasich | Photo: kansascity.com
November 18, 2015
Tuesday night I watched the fourth GOP debate in an upper East Side of New York political club founded by Teddy Roosevelt. This fourth debate was housed in the Milwaukee Theater, a venue about which Politico this week told a fascinating story:
“The fourth Republican presidential debate will be Tuesday, Nov. 10, live from the Milwaukee Theatre in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The venue has a loaded history: On Oct. 14, 1912, candidate Teddy Roosevelt was shot in the chest by an assassin outside a Milwaukee hotel. Instead of heading to the hospital, he continued to the Milwaukee Auditorium (now the Milwaukee Theatre) to deliver a 90-minute campaign speech. In front of a horrified audience and with the bullet lodged in his rib, he pulled a bloodied 50-page speech with bullet holes in it from his coat pocket and declared, ‘It takes more than that to kill a bull moose.'”
You see, Teddy Roosevelt’s life philosophy, his theory on life, meant everything in that situation. Without the theory he would have offered little to the world to stand out. He created himself a virtue, a story, an ethic, an identity that fit his life and shaped his life and he then followed through with it.
Roosevelt, once a sickly little boy, became a true giant among men, almost larger than life. His great spirit made him an indomitable man and a figure that remains lionized to this day as a key personality in the cult of rugged American individualism that is so intertwined with the common definition of what it means to be American.
Everything about that moment was lost on Kasich when he said (emphasis added):
“Neil, that’s the difference of being an executive. And let me just explain: when a bank is ready to go under and depositors are getting ready to lose their life savings, you just don’t say we believe in philosophical concerns.”
“You know what an executive has to decide? When there’s a water crisis, how do we get water to the city? When there’s a school shooting, how do you get there and help heal a community? When there are financial crisis, or a crisis with ebola, you got to go there and try to fix it.”
“Philosophy doesn’t work when you run something. And I gotta tell you, on-the-job training for president of the United States doesn’t work. We’ve done it for 8 years, — and almost 8 years now. It does not work.”
He became a pliable Jeb Bush rather than a principled Rand Paul. You can say a lot of good things about the political record of Jeb Bush, but principled is probably not at the top of the list. You can say a lot of bad things about the political record of Rand Paul, but pliable is probably not at the top of the list. They are both politicians, and as such are of questionable value in the grand scheme of things, but one has a rigorous identity of principled limited government that he follows. The other has a philosophy of pragmatism and flexibility that he follows. Though they are both life principles, they are not both principled. Just as I like the Hasidic Jews who do so much I do not yet understand and hold views so contrary to my own religiously, I appreciate people in the world who stand for something. I appreciate individual shows of strength and my experience has often found that there’s something accurate about the core philosophy of a passionate person.
Rather than understanding and elevating the passionate person who disagrees with us, we are more likely to feel alienating by the person’s passion and to miss out on the opportunities offered by whatever insight such a person has. There are more important tests to an idea’s validity than “I disagree so it must be wrong” or “I don’t like the form that person uses, so his ideas must be wrong.”
Often, the only thing stopping the world from accessing that beauty and figuring it out is a lack of insight caused by being intellectually disobedient to an idea that I often like to touch on called the Hinlicky Rule, developed by Paul Hinlicky, it is a tool for, among other things, finding a sense of empathy for others, for modeling good behavior in others, and for ensuring intellectual honesty. The Hinlicky Rule is part of my life philosophy, part of the standard I aspire to:
“You shall not criticize the position of another…until you can state that position with such accuracy, completeness and sympathy, that the opponent himself declares, ‘Yes, I could not have said it better myself!‘ Then, and only then, may you criticize. For then you are engaging a real alternative and advancing a real argument. Otherwise you shed only heat, not light.”
Philosophy informs all. We all have life philosophies. We all have stories we tell ourselves, some good, some bad. The finest among us tell ourselves good stories about who we strive to be and stick to those stories, modifying them only when we see an even higher standard we can aspire to. That discipline and rigor ran contrary to the Slavic candidate Tuesday night from Cleveland when he presented a low brow philosophy on life and in governing: “Philosophy doesn’t work when you run something.” To the contrary, philosophy informs all.
Everything in life flows out of the identity we have for ourselves, the stories we tell ourselves, the standards we set for ourselves, the people who we surround ourselves with, the philosophy we have. All these ideas are near synonymous.
Kasich can be the most disagreeable fellow in the room, but if I believe he has a philosophy on life that will surround him and others with principled success he is likely to have my support.
He chose last night to dismiss that whole concept and to pretend to be a flexible, go along to get along politician, with no standard for himself. “Someone has to be president, so why not let it be me?” Is what I heard. “At least I’m not Obama, at least I’m not Hillary,” is the standard I heard.
I have huge complaints with Theodore Roosevelt. I have huge problems with cults of personality. I think politicians are by-and-large a joke. The office of President of the United States is so unimportant in the grand scheme of things. Government is proven less and less meaningful with every passing day as technology develops and the world marches on toward brighter (non-governmental) ways of organizing man’s potential.
All that being said, I continue to agree to participate in the fiction that is the presidential elections. The president is a figurehead. A figurehead put under tremendous strain. That figurehead better stand for something before being put under that strain. John Kasich joked last night about standing for little, about momentary pragmatism being more important that life philosophy. Having a hard time reaching the common voter, he tried something so base that he came across as an idiot. He came across as a person of diminished mental capacity.
That stage was the stage that Roosevelt stood on in a moment of passion, a moment of great toughness.
Kasich stood on a historic stage with an opportunity to have a historic moment, and he shrugged his shoulders at that moment, and then made fun of anyone who would appreciate the symbolism of that moment.
He kept true to his identity, a stodgy peasant descended from generations of stodgy peasants, laughing at the world.
I appreciate tradition and I appreciate peasant tendencies, while I also realize it’s out of the American melting pot that something better than Old World tendencies can be formed. Kasich did not rise to that key moment he had. He backed down from it. So much about his background told me there was potential in him to be something more.
America desired something greater. America desired a sense of hope and change in 2008 in the Obama presidency. America desired something greater in the Tea Party revolution of 2010. Still unfulfilled, that hope is still very much alive waiting for a leader who will take up that torch. Americans want something reliable to believe in. In our era of unprecedented change, principle is poised to trump all.
I don’t know who our imperfect electoral system will elevate to the highest office of the land. I know America is hungry for principled people who stand for something.
Philosophy can have limitations and it can also feed a man unwilling to accept limitations.
Kasich proved himself so very Old World in thinking when he chose to dwell on the limitations and to present it in an appeal to the American people. Perhaps good for the role of ambassador to an Old World, Old Europe European continental government like Germany’s or Austria’s, as a cog in the wheel, Kasich does not belong in the Oval Office where life philosophy can have an impact on America, and arguably philosophy is the most important impact that office can have on the world.
Allan Stevo writes on Slovak culture at www.52inSk.com. He is from Chicago and spends most of his time traveling Europe and writing. You can find more of his writing at www.AllanStevo.com. If you enjoyed this post, please use the buttons below to like it on Facebook or to share it with your friends by email. You can sign up for emails on Slovak culture from 52 Weeks in Slovakia by clicking here.