Review: Two Paths

Two Paths

Two Paths: America Divided or UnitedJohn Kasich. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2017.

Summary: The presidential candidate’s memoir of his campaign and the choice of the low and high paths of political engagement we face and his vision for that high path.

No matter who you favored in the recent presidential campaign, you probably would agree that it was one of the most rancorous and ugly on record. John Kasich, current governor of Ohio and one of sixteen Republican candidates was determined not to pursue the coarse, mud-slinging style pursued by other candidates. He describes observing the behavior of the other candidates at the first Republican debate and determining, “I will not take the low road to the highest office in the land.”

This memoir describes Kasich’s campaign journey from his wrestling with whether to run to his second place finish in New Hampshire and the joy he found in town hall discussions with prospective voters to his decision to suspend his campaign under pressure from Republican leadership, including Reince Priebus. He recounts the reasons why he refused to endorse Donald Trump after reviewing numerous video clips of his campaign rallies. Weighing heavily for him was the fact that he is the father of two teenage daughters, and given what Trump did and said, he considered it “unthinkable” that he could ever endorse Trump. Consequently, he spent the convention outside the convention hall and voted for John McCain as a write in during the election.

Kasich argues that his faith as a Christian shaped the convictions that led to a refusal to stoop to the tactics of others, or to endorse the paragon of these tactics. He writes:

“What does God expect of me? I believe He expects me to live on a higher plane, all the while knowing that I will surely fail. I believe the higher plane he sets before me is a call to resist the gravitational pull of life on earth, which is just a lot of the base stuff that can fill our days in negative ways: envy, hatred, jealousy, intolerance, self-aggrandizement, looking merely to accumulate wealth or fame. If you think about it, when it’s time for us to leave this earth, these negatives can all seem kind of mundane. Yet, in the ills of society we see these negatives on full and forceful display. It’s the way we sidestep those negatives and walk in the light that will come to define us after all” (p. 122).

He contends that our present character of politics reflects not only leadership but also “followship.” He believes we all share responsibility for amplifying “fake news” and perpetuating the echo chambers of one-sided discourse. Political followers need to hold leaders to higher standards, and hold those standards as well.

Toward the end of the book, he includes much of the text of his “Two Paths” speech to the Women’s National Republican Club in New York, which outlines his vision both for an elevated discourse, and probably provides the most concise summary of the policies Kasich would have pursued as president.

I had two reactions as I read this book. One was the recurring thought, “if only….” I do not know if Kasich could have defeated Hillary Clinton. But what a different country it would have been if he’d had that chance. The other was thinking it was Kasich’s focus on the ethos of his campaign, which became his message, that probably was one of the reasons he lost. It wasn’t a compelling message for most Americans, apparently.

Is Kasich as good as he appears in this book? He presents himself as a man of faith, a family man, a principled and determined politician willing to reach across the aisle. Living in Ohio, I’d say most of this is true, except when he has a majority behind him, as he has enjoyed during his tenure as governor. Only a voter referendum reversed efforts to break up unions for public workers, similar to what was done in Wisconsin. It is not apparent to me how much he has “reached across the aisle” in our state and certainly our legislature has engaged in the gerrymandering of districts he says must be ended for electoral reform.

Still, this book gives a good glimpse of what the country missed in overlooking Kasich. Truth was that I urged my friends in other states to join the island of sanity that was Ohio during the primaries and vote for Kasich on the Republican side. If only….