I respected his unapologetic attitude: Love me or leave me, I know what I know, and I’m sticking to it. He talked about tangible results he’d achieved as governor in Ohio and of the importance of keeping the mentally ill and drug-addicted out of prisons and off the streets. Many of his suggestions were sound, constructive, and palatable.
Scattered through his talk, which avoided attacks on other candidates, were Republican trigger points: a mild dig at Hillary, a mention of the right to bear arms, a light jab at Obama. The rote cheers from the audience came on cue; they were happy participants in this political performance. Mentions of God, family values, or small federal government, met with swaying, nodding, and murmuring “mms” of agreement. This slight revivalist-meeting tone felt familiar. I’d been equally alarmed by it when I once saw Hillary Clinton speak—the glazed-over, fervent, rapt attention of a captive audience. But at times, as Kasich spoke, I caught myself nodding, too.
The hearty cheers against all-things Democrat never felt mean-spirited. When Kasich called out a guy wearing a New York Yankees cap in the front row—“You were brave to wear that here!”—the audience, all on the other side of the Northeast baseball divide, let out a cheer identical to the one they’d given the Hillary dig. The pride of identity, of tribe, goes far beyond politics, and has always struck me as deeply American. I’m reminded of how many of my friendships began by finding kinship in a mutual dislike of something or someone. After that connection has been established, the object of dislike becomes almost irrelevant.
After his speech, Kasich fielded questions. A man with bushy red eyebrows drawled on for several minutes without actually asking anything—he just wanted Kasich to acknowledge that they once sat next to each other at a convention. A local government official asked Kasich a detailed and pointed question about funding for drug-rehabilitation programs.
Kasich encouraged us to applaud two question-askers—a psychologist who donates money to build schools in Asia; and a veteran concerned about his rights—sentiment that felt simultaneously, paradoxically, calculated and authentic. The final questioner told Kasich that she’d volunteered for one of his early Ohio campaigns, then read a long, rambling paragraph about alleged college-data security breaches that she had printed out from an education website. Each individual had their own unique set of priorities. It struck me how hard it must be to have to feel—or at least, act—as though you have the solution to all of them.
I don’t envy the life of a politician—especially a presidential candidate. Sticking to a certain script. Avoiding sounding hackneyed, while attending hundreds of events.
But it also struck me was how hard it is to be a good voter. Although my American mother endowed me with the right to vote, it’s a right I’ve never taken all that seriously even as I exercised it. To do it right, I now realized, I’d need to attend a “No BS BBQ” with every candidate. I’d need to do my research, to try to cut through the media noise.