IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
“Ted Strickland is 75 years old. When he stopped for a visit at The Blade a few days ago, I was impressed by how much younger he looks. He is trim and fit and could easily pass for 65. He actually looks less weary than Rob Portman.”
“Mr. Strickland is a gentle soul who speaks softly and thoughtfully. He searches for the right words as he answers questions, as well as the right policies for problems he recognizes as complex.”
“He’s running as himself — a southern Ohioan who reads books; a man who worked his way to a PhD and a place in Congress, but whose siblings, nieces, and nephews still work with their hands — finishing concrete.”
“Mr. Portman says he cares about Ohio job losses, yet, as Mr. Strickland sees it, was an architect of NAFTA. Even on his pet issue of opioids, Mr. Portman, Mr. Strickland says, fails to fight for funding for his own program.”
“In Mr. Strickland’s gentle Appalachian cadences I hear the real Ohio. And I hear decency and reason.”
Strickland’s last stand
Toledo Blade, Keith Burris
August 14, 2016
Ted Strickland is 75 years old. When he stopped for a visit at The Blade a few days ago, I was impressed by how much younger he looks. He is trim and fit and could easily pass for 65. He actually looks less weary than Rob Portman.
But, then again, almost every member of the sitting Congress looks weary. A Republican congressman told me last week that it’s no fun in Washington, no fun at all. Democratic members have told me the same thing. The House, in particular, is deeply divided along ideological lines and, this gentleman told me that, for many members of the House, just voting “no” is enough.
Nothing gets done. Except the business of the lobbyists — that gets done.
All this leaves the doers frustrated. And the congressman told me that things are likely to get worse.
Mr. Strickland has been a Methodist minister, a psychologist, the governor of our state, and, before that, a congressman. He was a congressman in what seems another age. His best friend in the House was a Republican — the first phone call he took when he lost a tough re-election race.
So when Mr. Strickland’s enemies call him “retread Ted,” it’s not altogether untrue. And even some Democrats say the political world has passed Mr. Strickland by. “Not tough enough,” for the cannibalism of 2016, they say.
But I find his old-fashioned courtliness refreshing. Mr. Strickland is a gentle soul who speaks softly and thoughtfully. He searches for the right words as he answers questions, as well as the right policies for problems he recognizes as complex. He reads. He said he is fascinated, and moved, by a book called Dreamland, about America’s opioid epidemic and the convergence of the pill mills, a heroin distribution system based loosely on Domino’s, and the collapse of the industrial Midwestern town. The book opens in Portsmouth, Ohio, once selected as an “All-American city,” and now a decimated Appalachian basket case.
When I saw Mr. Strickland about a year ago, I thought he was running as Elizabeth Warren, or even Bernie Sanders, or Donald Trump. He was incensed about Wall Street excess and about the redistribution of income — upwards. But I was wrong. He’s not a populist, but a humanist. He’s running as himself — a southern Ohioan who reads books; a man who worked his way to a PhD and a place in Congress, but whose siblings, nieces, and nephews still work with their hands — finishing concrete.
Mr. Strickland still lives in both worlds. He spoke of his niece, Anita, who works six days a week, driving an hour to and from a job across the state line in Kentucky. She works all day with her hands, her back bent. “Uncle Ted,” she told him, “on Sundays I am so tired that I never get out of my pajamas.”
“I find it morally reprehensible,” Mr. Strickland said, “that the government should say to such a person: You can’t retire yet. You have to work another three or six years.”
He added: “Many people of privilege in this country live in a kind of bubble.”
And he said: “I hope to work until I die, quite frankly. But I am not finishing concrete.”
Mr. Strickland is not as mystified as many in his party by the success of Donald Trump. As Mr. Strickland sees it, Mr. Trump is speaking to the forgotten man, maybe from Portsmouth, near Mr. Strickland's old stomping grounds — the families destroyed by NAFTA and illegal dumping; the families whose factory jobs are gone.
The late Sen. Eugene McCarthy once defined a liberal Republican as a man who, if you were drowning 20 feet from shore, would throw you a 10-foot rope and say he met you halfway. Mr. Strickland’s beef with Rob Portman, his opponent in the current U.S. Senate race, is precisely that: Mr. Portman’s stance of moderation and compassionate conservatism does not match up with his votes. Mr. Portman is concerned about children being gunned down in their schools, but never joins the fight for modest gun regulation. (Mr. Strickland has always been “pro gun” and pro NRA but says he has become convinced “that you can be faithful to the Second Amendment” without being absolutist.) Mr. Portman says he cares about Ohio job losses, yet, as Mr. Strickland sees it, was an architect of NAFTA. Even on his pet issue of opioids, Mr. Portman, Mr. Strickland says, fails to fight for funding for his own program. Almost sheepishly, Mr. Strickland says that “talk is cheap,” and that he is forced to use the word hypocritical about Mr. Portman, “though it is a tough word.”
Ted Strickland says he likes and respects Rob Portman but that Mr. Portman’s excellent manners do not make him a pragmatic moderate.
Mr. Strickland has less patience for Republicans who try to paint his governorship as a failure. He says he had to manage a state in the midst of the world-wide financial meltdown and what seemed, at the time, like the end of the auto industry. “They say I raided the rainy day fund,” he said. “Well, of course I did. It was raining.” Gov. John Kasich, by contrast, has had to manage a state in recovery, the auto industry having been bailed out, but he has cut taxes and balanced budgets on the backs of Ohio cities and public universities.
Yes, Ted Strickland is old school. Politics is still very personal to him. It’s not about focus groups, polls, and fund-raising. Issues are personal too. Do we lock too many people away for too many years for nonviolent crimes? The former prison psychologist says we surely do and tells of trying to get fellow congressmen to spend one night in a newly built prison (before the inmates had arrived). He wanted them to feel what it is like to be behind bars; to hear the prison door slam shut. He saw people locked in solitary confinement for weeks, and he says those lives can never be healed.
In Mr. Strickland’s gentle Appalachian cadences I hear the real Ohio. And I hear decency and reason. Does that make him a throwback? Heaven help us if so.