Politicians pander, and occasionally, they are called out for it. This week, Ohio governor and Republican presidential candidate John Kasich offers a perfect case study. Kasich has been called to task for his recent town hall appearance at the University of Richmond, which was described by one student as "insulting," "superficial," and "condescending."
On Monday, Kasich held a town hall forum in the Virginia capital, an area described by his campaign's communications director as "a key part of Virginia, which is an important state during the primaries," according to Brooke Harty of the school newspaper, The Collegian, and invited a mix of 500 students, faculty and community members.
While this was an event ostensibly to introduce the candidate to young voters in an important primary state, according to reports, many students were shuffled to the raised rafters behind Kasich -- within sight of the cameras but out of reach for the question-and-answer portion of the town hall.
Here is how the The Collegian, described Kasich's exchange with the few students who were able to ask questions:
Angelo Suggs Jr., Richmond College Student Government Association president, got to ask the first question. When he told Kasich that it was his birthday, Kasich insisted on leading the crowd in a round of “Happy Birthday to You.”
While calling on sophomore Kayla Solsbak, who was nearly jumping out of her seat to get noticed, Kasich said with a laugh, “I’m sorry, I don’t have any Taylor Swift tickets.”
Kasich also said at one point, “I’m sure you get invited to all of the parties,” to one of the female students sitting in the front row of raised seats.
Kasich appeared to have markedly different responses to the female and male students and one of them, 18-year-old Kayla Solsbak, took to her school's paper to call out Kasich's disparate treatment:
While the lectures were condescending, the real issue was that Kasich chose not to listen to students in his forum. Most of the questions came from older members of the community, many vocalizing their support of Kasich before throwing him a softball question. Kasich barreled through a Planned Parenthood question, dismissing the young woman who posed it, and derided me when I had the audacity to raise my hand. Kasich came to Richmond to pander to retired Republicans. He could gain points by belittling me and my peers, so that's what he did.
What continues to strike me is the hypocrisy of his condescension. He touted his ambitious energy as an 18-year-old man, but as soon as I, an 18-year-old woman, exhibited ambition, I became the target of his joke.
In a half-hearted attempt to connect with young voters, Kasich entered the town hall forum with the 2014 hit song "Shut Up and Dance With Me" blasting from the speakers. While my friends all found it out of place, I realized that the song's title accurately reflects Kasich's message to young voters: shut up and elect me. If the candidate wants to connect with my peers, he can't do it through superficial pop culture references. If he wants our votes, he needs to listen to our voices and address the issues we care about. The president leads the country, not the VMAs, and it's insulting that the governor doesn't think we can distinguish between the two.
I didn't go to a town hall forum for Taylor Swift tickets, Gov. Kasich. I went because it's my civic duty to be an informed voter. Please start treating me like one.
Here is a video of Kasich's quip to Solsback, via the liberal super PAC, American Bridge: