'Rally Point': A plan to bring divided U.S. back together
Four-time Bronze Star Medal awardee and former New York 19th Congressional District Rep. Chris Gibson is enjoying his position as a visiting professor at Williams College, a role he assumed during the same week he left Congress in January of 2017.
"I have to say, it is very intrinsically rewarding to be in the classroom. The leader development dimension of this is, I think, critically important and that's something I carry over with me from the Army. It's so vitally important that we invest in the next generation of leaders, and this is part of my calling being at Williams. These are future American leaders," he told The Eagle during a telephone interview.
But Gibson may not be in academia much longer. He has agreed to teach at Williams through June of 2019, a time that coincides with the graduation of his youngest child, Connor, from high school. After that, he said he'll consider his options, including staying on at the college. He would not rule out a run for a higher office.
"Is it possible I could get back into national leadership? It is. But that's going to be a decision to be made in 2019, not now in late 2017," the Republican said.
Gibson isn't waiting until then to offer a plan to fix the country's problems, though. In "Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream," Gibson advocates for strengthening the military, restoring the nation's founding principles and, broadly, reinforcing American exceptionalism to bridge the country's political polarization.
"You have a situation where we are deeply divided, we are seriously in debt, we have a system where many people feel it's rigged, economically and politically, and Americans are losing confidence. We need leadership right now to change course. That's the passion behind 'Rally Point.' And at this point, I feel it's my mission to get this book into the hands of as many people as I can and to really do my part as a citizen, now that I'm out of government, to try to raise the level of consciousness as to what's going on and then to provide a framework, to provide a vision for us to come back together and tackle these problems," he said.
Gibson spent 29 years in the U.S. Army, so it's not surprising that national security is a major focus in the book that was released in October. Before the introduction, the reader learns that a "rally point" is defined in "Army Field Manual 1-02 Operational Terms and Graphics" as an "easily identifiable point on the ground at which units can reassemble and reorganize if they become dispersed." It has the same meaning for passengers and flight crews who must scramble after undergoing a forced landing. Applied to the book, Gibson hopes the policies he promotes can bring a divided U.S. back together.
In the first chapter, Gibson begins by describing the deaths of two paratroopers, Chris Pusateri and Zachary Wobler, who were under Gibson's command in the 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq. He subsequently gets into specifics about the need for troop increases and, on a more abstract level, "peace through strength." He leaves his personal history for chapter two. The author wrestled with that structural choice.
"At the end of the day, I decided to keep the first chapter for ... several reasons. One is [that] the preponderance of my life was involved in national security," the 53-year-old said. "The second is, I really wanted to make this point of the high cost of freedom right up front. I wanted to tell the story about these paratroopers who lost their life. They gave their life for us. And I really wanted to bring attention early on to the readers, knowing that some of the readers are going to be national decision-makers. I wanted them to know that these decisions are of just monumental consequence, and we have to get it right," he said.
Before Gibson rose to a colonel rank in the U.S. Army, he graduated from Siena College in Albany, N.Y. He grew up in Kinderhook, N.Y., where he makes his home today. (He commutes two or three days per week to Williamstown.) He see similarities in the problems currently facing Columbia County and Berkshire County.
"The need to — beyond telecomms and broadband — make smart decisions on development. We also share concerns with Lyme disease. We've had problems with tick-borne diseases," said Gibson, who enjoys dinners at The Red Lion Inn and hiking Monument Mountain.
Gibson was the first member of his working-class family to attend college, though his dream of playing center field for the New York Mets was dashed early on at Siena. He was also the first Republican in the Gibson clan, idolizing Ronald Reagan.
During his six-year stint in the House of Representatives, Gibson's politics drew national interest because he was able to appeal to both Democrats and Republicans. For example, in a 2014 article for The New York Times during Gibson's reelection campaign, Michael Barbaro wrote, "In its final days, the race here in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills is emerging as something even rarer, and perhaps more intriguing, in an era of reflexive partisanship: a case study of how a Republican can cultivate, win over and retain an unusually high level of support from Democrats in a swing district, while adhering to Republican positions."
"That was a story that really opened up people's eyes," said Gibson, who ultimately self-imposed a term limit.
Much of the platform presented in "Rally Point," falls right of center, but the author notably opposes the Iraq War. He said he voted for Donald Trump but offers few kind words for the president, who was elected just after Gibson began writing in late October of 2016.
"This has been a new experience for me, doing a book like this, and I've learned a lot about this process of writing, editing and promoting," Gibson said.
For a significant portion of the book, Gibson looks to history to support his points. The Romans, for instance, are oft-cited. Short, declarative statements are the norm, like orders uttered by a commander under duress. The urgency is palpable, but that doesn't mean Gibson will necessarily be pressed into political service anytime soon. In the military, he rotated between command and staff positions.
"I'm very comfortable being a commander and being a key staffer, so naturally in politics, people who follow politics, they say, 'Oh, is he going to be a candidate again?' Maybe. I might be," he said. "But I also — if I find a man or woman I really believe in — can just help. Because it's not about me; it's about my service, so I deeply believe in this framework that I bring forward in 'Rally Point.'"
Benjamin Cassidy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @bybencassidy on Twitter and 413-496-6251.
"Rally Point: Five Tasks to Unite the Country and Revitalize the American Dream"
By: Chris Gibson
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
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