Skidmore hosts bipartisan discussion
This article is part of the Skidmore College Election 2016 series.
Two local-area congressmen known for civil debate and bipartisan cooperation—Chris Gibson (Republican, 19th district) and Paul Tonko (Democrat, 20th district)—held a public conversation at Skidmore’s Tang Museum on Oct. 10.
Their discussion, “What Happened to Compromise? A Conversation About the Role of Civility in Congress and Daily Life,” was moderated by Alexander Heffner, the host of PBS’s The Open Mind. The Congressmen covered issues ranging from the upcoming election to the future of political discourse and also took questions from the audience.
More than 200 students, area community members, and journalists were greeted by Skidmore College President Philip A. Glotzbach, who called attention to the “new depths of instability in the political discourse of the candidates, a heightened polarization among the electorate, and a profound lack of attention to the major issues facing our world.” These factors, he said, have led to America’s increasing inability to find common ground in politics. He welcomed the Congressmen, emphasizing their goodwill and ability to find common ground to bridge political gaps.
As moderator, Heffner pointed out that the two representatives were “outliers” in their ability to agree to disagree. One audience member asked bluntly, “Why aren’t there more of you?”
When asked if party polarization is insurmountable—Heffner called next month’s vote a House of Cards election as opposed to a West Wing election—Representative Gibson urged the public to reflect on the founding principles of the country to change the current system. “What the founders intended was that citizens were going to govern. We were going to be sovereign, and we were going to debate ideas, have elections, and move forward. That’s not happening, and it’s why we need serious political reform.”
Later a student commented, “I’m not sure that these presidential candidates best represent
their parties, nor do I think they best represent who I want to represent America
to the rest of the world."
“The important thing here is not to disenfranchise voters,” Tonko replied. “We need voting reforms, making it easier for people to vote. If we really believe in the power to the people, let’s encourage them to vote and give them better opportunities to do so.”
This event was part of the Tang Museum's A More Perfect Union exhibition and was co-sponsored by the Office of Academic Affairs and the Office of Communications and Marketing.