DES MOINES, Iowa — John Kasich delivered less of a stump speech than a sermon on life, purpose, and happiness during his visit to the Iowa State Fair Tuesday.
“I believe that all of us have to be a center of justice and a center of healing,” Kasich said, “and to realize that life is not just about us alone. Life is about us doing something bigger in our lives for someone else.”
It was an unusual speech, especially in its striking contrast to days of soapbox polemics from other Republican presidential candidates. Part of that was the venue: Kasich’s address was moved indoors in response to unrelenting rain. But mostly it was because, instead of railing against Democrats’ plans or even touting much of his own specific agenda, the sometimes-brusque Kasich spent 20 understated minutes musing about “empathy,” self-fulfillment, and “the value of teamwork.”
While rivals, led by Donald Trump, tap supporters’ palpable anger and frustration, Kasich declared that there is “too much anger in America today, too much division.” He spoke in hopeful tones of worldwide inclusiveness.
“When a young boy or girl dies in Africa, we all lose a little bit of ourselves,” Kasich said. “And when we save a young boy or young girl’s life in Africa, the world moves up. Because we’re all connected.”
If Kasich’s goal is to be a different kind of Republican candidate, he succeeded Tuesday.
At one point, the Ohio governor and former House Budget Committee chairman noticed a young man in the crowd wearing a purple Alzheimer’s-awareness shirt. “Standing for something, huh?” Kasich said. “Yeah, we do need to double the NIH [National Institutes of Health] budget and begin to do the vital medical research, and it should be a priority of the government.”
Kasich voluntarily brought up his decision — derided by many conservatives — to expand Ohio’s Medicaid program as part of President Obama’s health care law. And he touted his efforts to soften criminal penalties for the mentally ill in his state. “Does anybody think that we ought to lock up someone who is bipolar or schizophrenic?” he asked. “We’re treating them in Ohio now.”
Kasich also spoke about the need to confront ISIS, calling the group’s existence “an attack on Western civilization.” But he quickly shifted focus to the broader moral purpose of such a battle.
“I have to suggest to you that we, as human beings who represent the Western ethic or the Western tradition — we need to realize that we have a purpose here on Earth,” Kasich said. “Our purpose relates to healing those who live in our world, and I believe that our purpose involves justice in this world.”
Kasich infused his speech with references to his faith, at one point declaring himself a fan of Tim Tebow, the deeply religious quarterback who has struggled in pro football.
After his remarks, Kasich told reporters that spreading justice, healing, and goodwill can manifest itself in big ways — he said he’s running for president to set an example for the nation — and small ways. “When you call your grandma,” he said, “… you just feel good doing something for someone else.”
“It’s in us. We just have to bring it out,” Kasich said. “Leaders can help.”