Normality, John Kasich, and politics

In America today, "normal" is not a word that should be used in polite society.  It's a form of microaggression, since it implies the existence, and rejection, of abnormality.  Since everything is relative, and of equal worth, normal and abnormal are dangerous concepts, since they can lead to judgmentalism.  Nothing is more hateful than being judgmental.  Those who make judgments about what is good, and condemnations of what is bad, are essentially fascists.  A politician who uses this new "n"-word does so at his peril.

But when Ohio governir John Kasich said on Fox News Sunday that power should be taken from Washington and returned to the states and "normal people," he was just echoing the sentiments of fellow Buckeye Warren G. Harding from almost 100 years ago.  Wilson and the Progressives had pushed the country far to the left, and Harding promised a "Return to Normalcy."  He won by the largest margin in the history of contested presidential elections, 60-34.

Harding's victory was the last for the Ohio political dynasty that dominated our politics for 52 years.  In the thirteen presidential elections between 1868 and 1920, Ohio Republicans won nine.  For the half-century after the Civil War, "normal" was a Republican from Ohio in the White House.  This was no accident.

Ohio is and has been a bellwether state because it contains three of our four principal cultural traditions: Yankees, Midlanders, and Southerners.  Just as in the country as a whole, Yankees in the northeast of Ohio cancel out the Southerners in the South, with the Midlanders in the middle deciding elections.  These Midlanders, largely ethnically German, though with Quaker roots, are tolerant, middle-of-the-road, normal people.  They're fairly conservative, but they mind their own business.  They decide Ohio elections just as they decide national ones.

Naturally enough, successful Ohio politicians learn to speak in the language of moderation.  Go too far right, and you alienate the Yankee north.  Go too far left, and you upset the South of the state.  Stay in the middle, and win elections.

Kasich is resurrecting the Ohio way.  Because he personifies the normality of Ohio culture, he has a chance to pull it off.  He's not rich, he's not handsome, he's not slick.  He didn't go to the Ivy League or to law school.  He's a regular guy who likes to spend time with his family and go golfing with his buddies.  He's a mailman's son.  He's normal, to the extent that anyone who runs for president can be thought of as normal.

He has his faults, as most normal people do.  He can be self-righteous, abrasive, and condescending.  This is normal for a highly intelligent, aggressive, and impatient man.  He sometimes acts as though he's got a chip on his shoulder, and he can be provoked.  He's certainly aware of these vulnerabilities and is showing signs of improvement.  The voters of New Hampshire seem to be warming to him, and he's in third place there in some polls.  While these attributes need to be held in check, they are also signs of authenticity.  With John Kasich, what you see is what you get.

It’s easy to see a Kasich-Rubio ticket carrying Florida, Ohio, and the electoral college.  If the country wants to return to normal, Kasich is prepared to lead the way.

Fritz Pettyjohn is a former Alaska state legislator and a co-founder of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force.  He blogs at his website,

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