Stand For Something: The Battle for America's Soul
By John Kasich
I grew up in a small Pennsylvania town outside Pittsburgh called McKees Rocks, the kind of place where hard work was often its own reward, and where everyone knew most everyone else.
My father was a mail carrier. My mother also worked for the post office, sorting mail. Between the two of them, and the connections they established, it sometimes seemed I couldn't cross the street without being spotted as their son. I supposed then, and know for certain now, that these points of connection w ere a great, good thing. If Hillary Clinton is correct to assert that it takes a village to raise a child, then McKees Rocks was certainly up to the task. God knows, it took a village to raise me. Whether they meant to or not, the good people of McKees Rocks helped to shape and define the person I would become. They encouraged me and set examples that continue to inspire me. It was an ethnic, blue-collar community, long in moral fiber and short on excuses. Regrettably, the moral fiber didn't reach to a great many of our elected and civic leaders, because as I recall the McKees Rocks of the late 1950s and early 1960s was marked by a whole lot of graft and corruption and questionable decision making, but the tone and tenor of the town was very much opposed to the pacts and tactics of politics and government.
What we lacked in creature comforts, we more than made up for in values and ethics and perseverance and doing the right thing-and on this score at least, we Kasichs were pretty dam wealthy. Indeed, we had everything we needed, and a little bit more besides. We were a churchgoing family, to the point where I used to think I'd grow up to be a priest. At ten, when I was in fourth grade, I wanted to become an altar boy, so I applied and was accepted in record time. I committed all these difficult Latin phrases to memory, and learned the services, and devoted myself fully to the task, to where the assistant pastor at one point commented that I knew the services better than he did.
One Sunday, after I'd been at it for a few years, our priest asked me to lead the church as a commentator. The commentator leads the congregation in readings and song, and folks were genuinely surprised to see such a young kid assume the role. It was my first public speaking appearance, and I haven't stopped since, although I was nearly derailed in this regard early on. I mistakenly instructed parishioners to turn to the wrong page in their hymnals, and when they didn't appear to be singing along with enough conviction I instructed the organist to stop playing so I could have a word with them from the pulpit. Naturally, I couldn't expect them to sing with conviction after I had directed them to the wrong page in their hymnals, but I didn't know that at the time. All I knew was that folks weren't singing with their customary enthusiasm, and that I had been charged to lead them.
"Sing it like you mean it," I implored.
To their great credit, the parishioners gave it their best shot, considering the circumstances, and it wasn't until the service was over that an elderly parishioner came over to tell me of my mistake. I was red in the face with embarrassment, but I share the story here for the way it illustrates how our townsfolk nurtured and even indulged their own. Of course, my critics might suggest that it also illustrates my overzealousness, and in this instance they might have a point, but I share it anyway because I've never shied from telling a good story on myself.
The McKees Rocks of my growing up was a Democratic stronghold, and my parents were committed Democrats, although my mother became a Republican later on in life. We didn't carve up our national map in red states and blue states back in those days, but if we did my hometown would have checked in looking about as blue as a high, cloudless sky. John F. Kennedy was a great big deal in our neighborhood, as I recall, and so, too, were the liberal ideals of the times. But these ideals were rooted very much in faith and family, community and common sense, and even as I grew to disagree with my parents and our friends on certain fundamental points I recognized that at bottom we were coming from the same place-and, for the most part, headed in the same direction.
Case in point: As a young teenager, I was in the habit of calling the local talk radio stations to speak my mind on various issues of personal interest, and as often as not my views tended to land on the conservative side of the spectrum. My mother was well aware of my leanings, and she often listened to these same shows, although she had no idea I was an occasional caller. One afternoon, she was downstairs in the kitchen, listening to the radio, when she heard a well-spoken young man sound off in a way she thought I might find interesting, so she set off looking for me. She hollered, "Johnny, turn on the radio!" Then she burst into her bedroom-only to find me on the upstairs phone, doing the sounding off.