POLITICS

The Problem With John Kasich's 'Compassion'

Hugs will not solve the problems facing American families.

Toward the end of his concession speech in New Hampshire Tuesday night, John Kasich said some words that underline the unfortunate emptiness of his brand of so-called compassionate conservatism.

The Ohio governor delivered a seemingly heartfelt, even moving, talk, after finishing in second place behind reality TV star Donald Trump in the state's primary.

Hailed as the one reasonable Republican presidential candidate amid a sea of terrifying extremists, Kasich made an earnest plea for all of us to just "slow down" and connect with our families and our neighbors.

"If we would just slow down and heal the divisions within our own families. Be willing to listen to the person that lives next door, when you’re in such a hurry to get out of the driveway or such a hurry to get out of the shopping center," he said. "Just slow down, look ‘em in the eye. Give ‘em a hug." 

His words seemed aimed straight at any working adult beset by endless demands, hustling to care for and support loved ones or to simply stay sane in a 24/7 world. At a time when we've all got our heads bent down to stare drone-like at our iPhones, working ever-longer hours to get by and racing from work to home and back again, it struck a chord.

But alas, Kasich kept going. "It doesn’t take government. It takes our hearts. Our hearts to change America," he said.

The trouble is, it absolutely does take more than our hearts to give Americans the space and the time to slow down. And Kasich's policy prescriptions for working families offer little support for his truly laudable goal.

Let's take family leave. The United States is the only developed nation in the world that does not give mothers paid time off from work to spend time -- precious once-in-lifetime, mission-critical time -- with their infants. Kasich is by all accounts OK with this.

Kasich thinks employers should be free to choose whether or not to offer paid leave, saying it's "up to employers to try to be creative about this."

That's essentially the failing system the U.S. has now. It's meant that only 12 percent of workers in the private sector have access to paid leave. It's meant that one in four women are back at work less than two weeks after giving birth.

It's hard to find any better kind of "slow down" time to heal your family than the days, weeks and months after the arrival of a new baby. 

This is time that is of critical importance to a family's health and well-being. Babies who have their mother at home during their first year of life are less likely to die, for starters. Infant mortality rates drop when mothers are able to stay with their babies and bond, research has shown.

Women who are able to take time off from work after childbirth are also less likely to become depressed. And post-partum depression doesn't simply affect mothers, it can have devastating consequences for their children and families as well.

Considering that Kasich is one of the staunchest anti-abortion governors in the country, you'd think he'd have a vested interest in ensuring that all babies who are born receive the best kind of care that is possible. At a time when the majority of American children live in households where both parents work (or in a household headed by one working parent), you have to find a way to allow one or both parents to slow down and take that time.

Most Americans simply do not live in a world where women stay home and raise the kids. But Kasich, notably, does live in that world. Here he is talking about how his wife is at home doing laundry and taking care of the kids: 

Kasich's big idea for working mothers: encouraging telecommuting. He argues that this would not only give women time to bond with their babies, but also close the pay gap. 

“The one thing we need to do for working women is to give them the flexibility to be able to work at home online,” Kasich said at a town hall in New Hampshire last month. “The reason why that’s important is, when women take maternity leave or time to be with the children, then what happens is they fall behind on the experience level, which means that the pay becomes a differential."

It is unclear how telecommuting would be possible for women who work in retail, or anyone who must be physically present to do her job. It's also unclear how a women telecommuting to work could compete in terms of pay with a man who is present in the office all day -- and not, presumably, looking after a child or doing the wash.

To be sure, Kasich's policies do not address in any way how a father could slow down and participate in his child's life, either. And we haven't even brought up that paid family leave also helps those who need time off to care for sick and elderly family members.

Though Kasich gets kudos from liberals for expanding access to Medicaid in his state, he also opposes much of Obamacare and would repeal the law, which has provided health insurance to millions of Americans -- helping them slow down and care for themselves. 

Kasich certainly does deserve praise for running a positive campaign that celebrates empathy and compassion for others. Unlike his competitors, he speaks about leaving no one behind and defends the poor and those beset by mental health issues and drug problems.

"My sense is that it is important that we do not ignore the poor, the widowed, the disabled," he said on Fox News last summer. "I just think that's the way America is. And I think there's a moral aspect to it. In my state, there's not only a moral aspect where some people's lives have been saved because of what we've done, but it also saves us money in the long run."

Still, we need to consider those words in balance with his proposals to put his compassion into action. And that's when his ideals fall down. 

Figuring this stuff out doesn't happen with one's heart alone. Hugs won't solve it.

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