Ex-congressman sees cultural challenge

John Kasich sees the battle of present-day America fought on several fronts.

In the world of business, it’s philanthropists like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett versus accountants for Enron.

In the world of politics, it’s cooperation and progress versus partisanship and power.

In the world of entertainment, it’s Bono versus Britney Spears.

“Who are you going to hang out with?” Kasich, the former Ohio congressmen, asked a crowd of about 300 Tuesday night at the Lied Center. “Britney or Bono?”

Too often, Kasich said, American society chooses to devote its attention to Britney Spears.

Kasich, a congressman for 18 years before becoming an author, Wall Street investment banker and news commentator for Fox News, devoted most of his speech to the unraveling moral and social fabric in the United States, which he said has led to a degradation of American politics, business, culture and even sports.

“We all worry so much about al-Qaida and outside forces that come in to our country and hurt and destroy us,” he said. “What I worry about is what happens inside our country. No great society really ever collapsed from the outside. Societies collapse from the inside when we lose our way and lose our sense of purpose.”

Kasich came to Kansas University as speaker for the 2007 J.A. Vickers Sr. and Robert F. Vickers Sr. Memorial Lecture, sponsored by the KU School of Business.

Kasich said in an interview before his speech that this has been an issue he’s considered since 1988.

He acknowledged that unscrupulous politicians, executives and athletes had been around long before 1988, such as Richard Nixon and the Watergate scandal as well as the Keating Five and the savings and loans scandal.

“It’s an ongoing battle,” he said. “I don’t think this is anything new.”

But, Kasich said, it’s becoming amplified with 24-hour media and some examples of more egregious transgressions in recent years.

“We’ve never seen this level of abuse,” Kasich said. “Pop culture is out of control.”

Part of the problem, Kasich said, is that accountability among national leaders has stooped ever lower, a reality crystallized in the Hurricane Katrina response.

“When you look at it and see the mayor blaming the governor, the governor blaming the mayor, the mayor blaming the president, the president blames the governor, the bureaucracy blames the bureaucracy in Louisiana,” he said. “I’m still waiting for somebody to stand up and take responsibility for what happened down there.”

The solution, he said, rested in individuals taking accountability and assuming responsibility for their actions, and hoping that spreads to others.

It was a message that resonated with Larry Wolf, who attended Kasich’s speech.

“There is still hope it can be turned around,” he said, “and that hope is exemplified by people like Bono and people in the older generation like Billy Graham.”