Philosophy and theology upstage Ohio themes in State of the State

Before delivering it, Gov. John Kasich said his final State of the State address would be “odd” and “different.”

I’ve got to give him credit. He was 100 percent correct.

The lame-duck Republican governor who may be gearing up for another longshot presidential bid in 2020 could have used the speech to tout his accomplishments in seven-plus years running Ohio. He could have provided further details about gun laws he wants to see enacted.

He could have done what he does regularly on national television and tout his “Two Paths” political philosophy that is in direct conflict with President Donald Trump, a fellow Republican who Kasich has frequently criticized.

He also could have talked about the state in some detail.

After all, it’s called the State of the State address. The word “state” is in there twice.

Instead, Kasich, who’s relevance in Ohio politics seems to diminish with each passing year, made some bad jokes that didn’t get any laughs and spent a lot of time giving the audience lessons on philosophy and theology.

I’ve often scratched my head at Kasich’s speeches, but this one stood out as the strangest State of the State address I’ve ever heard, and I’ve been listening to them since 2001.

“I think it is a great time to reflect. Because in uncertain times, we reflect, and I just want us to go back for a moment to those days when many of us were in college. Do you remember being in the dorm? Do you remember late at night when you would look at your friends and you would say, ‘What’s life all about? Why are we here? What is our purpose? What is my responsibility as a human being?’”

I don’t know about you, but I never had those conversations in college, even after a few drinks.

Kasich went on: “For many years now, 30, 40 years, I’ve been studying and thinking and observing and trying to figure out my purpose. Here’s the very interesting thing. Christians, Jews, and Muslims all share a similar view of creation. Let me say that one more time. Our friends of the Islamic faith, our friends who invest in Judaism and Christians today share a similar view of creation.

“And I’ll tell you what the view is. It’s that life is unique, that life is a reflection of our creator. And when I say that life is unique, when we think about all that we see – and we’re just about to see the peepers emerge in the ponds here in another couple weeks or the beautiful wildlife. Everything that we can see, the deer, all the things that bring us great – so great joy, it’s life. But we, human beings, created by the Lord, we’re unique and we are made in our creator’s image. That’s what the theologians say, and I buy it.”

He also rattled off the names of various philosophers and theologians, some with explanations and others it seems just to name them.

Kasich said: “The humanists in our country are the ones who have charted a course based on reason – human reason. And they wake up every day with a goal. Their goal is to improve the world. Their goal is to make the world a better place.

“But these secular humanists follow that code, and they do great. And many of my friends are secular humanists, and I respect them for it.

“But as for me, and maybe for some of us, we need to go deeper. We need to have a more permanent compass. And I want to suggest this to you. Think about the culture of today. Think of how fast it moves. Think about the addiction to the smartphone. Think about the fads. Think about the currents of our culture, the currents of life that change so fast and whip us like a flag on a very windy day.”

What any of this had to do with Ohio is a mystery to me as well as to some of the state legislators who traveled to Westerville to hear Kasich’s final State of the State address.

One local legislator asked me when I called for comment after the address: “What the hell was that?”

State Rep. Michael O’Brien of Warren, D-64th, said: “I don’t know what to make of it. I was waiting for him to talk in detail about the state of Ohio, and he was more interested in talking about issues in the nation and giving a philosophical speech on taking care of your neighbors.”

O’Brien added that he and his fellow legislators listening to the speech were “astonished and looked at each other in amazement” during Kasich’s address.

They weren’t alone.

I don’t begrudge anyone talking about faith or philosophy or loving your neighbor.

Kasich could have sprinkled those topics into his address rather than make them the focus of it.

Kasich has less than 10 months to go as governor and the state Legislature, even though it’s controlled by fellow Republicans, isn’t going to follow his lead so he can say whatever he wants.

But this State of the State address was bizarre – even for Kasich.

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