Congressman and alum Chris Gibson visits government students

By: Kathy Hovis,  A&S Communications
October 12, 2016

New York Congress member Chris Gibson (R-19th) MPS ’95, MA ’96, PhD ’98, spoke with government students Oct. 3 about his hopes for the future of the county, despite its present day political turmoil, and his optimism for the next generation of leaders.

Gibson, a three-term member of Congress who earlier this year had explored the idea of running for governor, said he thinks the millennial generation is a generation of problems-solvers who are generally fiscally conservative, but socially tolerant.

“I believe that when you take the mantle of leadership, your generation will take us to new heights, not only of economic prosperity, but toward the real ideals of our nation,” he said during a talk with students in Introduction to American Government and Politics, a class taught by Suzanne Mettler, the Clinton Rossiter Professor of American Institutions in government.

Gibson, who decided not to run for another term but recently accepted a faculty position at Williams College, said reforms are needed, both politically and socially, to allow Americans to regain confidence in their country.

“As a country, we’ve always believed that we could solve our problems, but today we’re questioning whether or not we can do this, whether we can be self-governing,” he said. “At least as important as any policy changes we make is a belief in the republic, a belief that this experiment will continue into the 21st century.”

Gibson outlined reforms he said would help people regain that confidence: campaign finance rules to cap spending and require disclosure of every donation; term limits for members of Congress; and an independent redistricting system.

He also spoke of the need to focus on the environment, likening the conservation of natural resources to the conservation of financial resources.

Gibson, who enlisted in the Army at 17, deployed seven times during his 24-year Army career, where he rose to the rank of colonel, earned two Legions of Merit, four Bronze Star Medals, the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge with Star, the Master Parachutist Badge and the Ranger Tab.

Though he has a long military career, he told students that the U.S. has been too quick to use military force, mostly because the executive branch has been given too much power.

“Since the advent of the nuclear age, we have consolidated war powers into the executive branch and presidents from both political parties have taken us off to war without the consent of the governed,” he said. “This was never the intention of the founders of this country.”

War was also a focus during a lunch Mettler hosted for Gibson and a group of students.

“We got into a discussion about the role of the United States as an agent for stability in an increasingly chaotic world,” said William Wen ’20. “In essence, he suggested that the critical challenge for us in the future would be deciding when and where to use force in the world and when to take a backseat to the world's proceedings. When we pushed him on what justifies the instances of selective force, he gave examples where even a little bit of prescience could've gone a long way like avoiding the entanglement in Iraq.”

The millennial generation seems to possess this prescience, Gibson said, along with a more thoughtful approach to decision-making and a tendency to be risk averse, a tendency that could serve them as well as future leaders when weighing whether to use force.

One of the skills Gibson said he honed during his time at Cornell was this decision-making ability, the ability to consider all sides of an argument and realize that often things were not black and white.

“I learned critical skills of listening, discerning and figuring out the best course of action,” he said. “Those skills have helped me in Iraq, and in Congress.”

Mettler said it was a privilege for her students to meet with a current member of Congress who is also a Cornell alum.

“Americans today take a dim view of Congress, but Chris Gibson shatters all stereotypes. He embodies the best of public service: he is remarkably thoughtful and conscientious, well-versed in the details of public policy and deeply aware of and committed to the nation’s founding ideals,” Mettler said. “In an era in which partisan polarization often imperils the legislative process, he is a rare public official who shares some views but not others with each side, and who is committed to bipartisan cooperation. My students found him to be inspiring and compelling, as he challenged them to become future leaders who can think about social and political problems in truly transformational ways.”

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