Pity the fellow who was working at the Blockbuster store when John Kasich spotted a cassette of "Fargo." The people who distribute Academy Award nominations like that movie, but the congressman from Columbus, Ohio, emphatically - all his judgments are emphatic - does not. The Blockbuster fellow tried a Nuremberg defense - "I'm just the store manager" - but Kasich would have none of it, telling him that at least the movie should be labeled for gratuitous violence.
There, in a nutshell, is why the effervescent Republican is attracting interest as, and is clearly interested in becoming, a presidential candidate. He is not interested in running in 1998 for the Senate seat now held by John Glenn. Time is too short for such middling steps.He is (oxymoronically, some would say) a spontaneous politician and (another oxymoron) a soulful Republican. He likes the rock music of Counting Crows and deplores the condition of the culture. He has been in politics since he graduated from Ohio State and joined the staff of a state legislator, and he is in his eighth term in the House of Representatives. Being chairman of the Budget Committee is not chopped liver, but he is restless.
And like a lot of true believers, he believes that anyone he can talk to, he can convince of anything he believes. With his arms extended in an embrace of the world, and then with his hands hacking at his desktop, he says government must become smaller - for example, the Education Department should be abolished. Do his constituents believe that? No, but, "if I could sit down with 500,000 people. . . . " He's just the man to try. But he can't do it.
However, a president can, sort of. The presidency has come to be considered a primarily rhetorical office, a bully pulpit with some inferior other facets. And speaking of pulpits . . .
The most important player in Republican nominating politics is the Christian Coalition. It believes that in 1996 it was too reactive. When the contest for the 2000 nomination first becomes serious, the Coalition might embrace a candidate it deems both sympathetic and plausible.
Kasich's sympathy quotient is high. The son of a mailman, he represents a tossed salad of Central European ethnicities (Hungarian, Czech, Croatian). And he is a high-octane right-to-life Christian.
Even assuming that there are modern media strategies that could launch a national candidacy from the south wing of the Capitol, Kasich's presidential plausibility will require someone to turn down the rheostat that controls, if anything does, his expressive energy.
Although he seems like a boy who bounced on a pogo stick out of the pages of a Booth Tarkington story - Penrod comes to Congress - he actually is a welcome Washington rarity, someone who is more serious than he seems.
However, he is one of those politicians - Reagan was another - who considers "data" to be the plural of "anecdote." Furthermore, he seems tempted by the compassion competition that some conservatives want to have with Demo-crats.
Unfortunately for Republicans - pain is a hard sell - one function of their party is to insist that risk, failure and responsibility are essential to the culture of freedom. Besides, once you assert, as Democrats do, that government has a roving commission to prevent or palliate pain, something follows - government rampant wherever it thinks it can be ameliorative.
That is a recipe for government as hyperactive as, well, as Kasich. A sobering thought, that.