Hugh Reynolds: Chris Gibson’s American exceptionalism

Chris Gibson, left, is shown on duty in Iraq with Command Sgt. Maj. Richard Flowers (who was not a casualty) and then-brigade commander colonel H.R. McMaster.

Here in time for not-so-light holiday reading is former congressman Chris Gibson’s third book, Rally Point, released in early October speaks to “American exceptionalism,” a founding concept literally and figuratively familiar to the author.

Gibson uses his own life journey as an Army combat commander, three-term Republican congressman and college professor as a template to return the country to its founding values, “under God,” and future prosperity. “Five tasks to unite the country and revitalize the American dream,” its subtitle, is semi-biographical, but contains elements of Constitutional law, campaign strategy and conservative philosophy.

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Gibson’s many admirers might learn some things about him he didn’t necessarily reveal during three congressional campaigns. I did.

I remember once asking Gibson whether he had lost anybody in combat. “Yes,” he said, changing the subject. His book is dedicated to two of his top sergeants, killed on duty in Iraq in 2005. Gibson was wounded by shrapnel during that tour.

American exceptionalism is sometimes taken as a form of self-indulgent superiority, but Gibson sees it as a fundamental philosophy of the nation’s founders. “They thought of Americans as exceptional, self-governing, with their elected leaders accountable on a regular basis,” Gibson said. “What they offered was the opportunity to rise to whatever level our talents and efforts could take us. At the same time, they spoke to community responsibility, responsibility to one’s fellow citizens.”

Gibson’s book can be found, among other places, in Rhinebeck’s Oblong Books’ Current Affairs section, wedged between books called Understanding Trump and Literature of Revolution: Essays on Marxism. The book is also available at Barnes and Noble.

Gibson says he voted for Donald Trump as the lesser of two evils but doesn’t think much of him as president. “President Trump lacks the core strength of deeply held views,” he writes.

That’s only a passing comment in a 246-page book published by the Hachette Book Group that follows Gibson’s career as a combat officer, politician and, since January of 2017, an adjunct professor at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass. Gibson calls his commute “a lovely 45-minute drive through the Berkshires from my home in Kinderhook.”

In military terms, rally point refers to a gathering of a unit to overcome an enemy objective. Typically, those forces have been battered and suffered casualties but remain undaunted. Gibson finds the country in a similar state.

Gibson finds the mounting federal debt a threat to economic freedom and opportunity. He writes that the military must be modernized for the tasks at hand and that we should avoid foreign entanglements that do not advance American interests. That’s classic conservatism in the Ronald Reagan mold.

Gibson supports term limits as a means to promote diversity and different points of view. He limited himself to four terms, but served only three. “I don’t believe the Founders envisioned the kind of political class that evolved,” he said. He worries about power being concentrated in the executive and about the effects of big money on politics.

Considered a likely right-wing Tea Party standard-bearer when he retired from the Army to run for Congress in 2010, Gibson recognizes his “Tea Party friends.” But he also says he considered the views of progressives and “people from all walks of life.” His voting record reflected both.

He places his faith in the future on oftentimes maligned millennials. Gibson allows that his views might have been influenced by the “tremendous” soldiers he commanded and served with during four tours of combat in the Mideast. He considers the current crop of young people potentially “our best generation yet.”

“They have empathy for others, they’re socially conscious, they’re goal-oriented,” he said. “My wife Mary Jo and I are raising three of them.”

Gibson, 53, says his political career is on hold until youngest son, Connor, graduates high school in 2019. Gibson formed an exploratory committee to consider a run for governor last year, but seems more interested in federal office.

In the meantime, among other duties, there’s a book to promote. Gibson doesn’t travel in the rarified air of a Hillary Clinton (her national book-signing at Oblong Books on Dec. 7 was sold out hours after it was announced last summer), but he works the lecture circuit, radio interviews and the like. “I’m told [by an independent book-seller in Albany] that my book is selling better than Hillary’s in Albany and around the district,” he said.

As a primer on the Constitution and its philosophical origins, the book contains insights into its author’s background and beliefs, some quite revealing. While I find his way forward somewhat implausible, given entrenched interests — Gibson had six years in Congress and didn’t make all that much progress — this book offers unique perspective.

At less than 300 pages, it appears a quick read. Don’t be fooled. Like Gibson, this is serious stuff, well worth the study.

Just say NOP

Minimal asides sometimes serve to make a larger point. Witness the insider-baseball bat-about over a non-enrolled Kingston alderman’s eligibility to become minority leader of the city’s common council next year.

Alderman-elect Patrick O’Reilly, elected on the Democratic line, is what the board of elections calls a “NOP.” It stands for “Not of Party” but is pronounced like the word dope. To major-party leaders, NOPs are seen as wishy-washy, of little conviction, neither this side nor that. Always pursued for their votes, which frequently determine elections, sometimes they’re recruited, more often by Democrats. But they are mostly ignored. To have a NOP as a minority major-party) leader strikes establishment pols as a contradiction in terms, if not a stick in the eye.

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Under the two-party system NOPs, despite significant numbers, have basically only the right to vote. They can’t participate in primaries or in town nominating caucuses. If they do enroll in a party, it takes a year to take effect. The majors call it protecting their parties from outside raiders.

In Kingston, Democrats, with an official enrollment of 5,936, account for 44 percent of the electorate. Relatively close behind are NOPs, at 4481. Republicans have barely 2000, which is why Democrats hold 12 of 13 elected offices.

County-wide NOPs number 33,485, according to the board of elections. Democrats are at 43,315 and Republicans 28,450. Only county legislator Tracey Bartels of Gardiner was elected as a NOP, with Democratic endorsement. She caucuses with the party that brings her to the dance.

O’Reilly might consider a similar strategy. Democrats seem willing to add him to their 8-0 majority.

Maybe NOPs should form their own party, call themselves “independents.” Whoops. That moniker is already taken. The Independence Party has about 5,900 enrollees.

Time for Tyner?

Just a stone’s throw eastward across the river – if you have an arm like Aaron Judge – Dutchess County seems a hotbed of political intrigue this post-election. Dutchess County Exec Marc Molinaro has formed an exploratory committee pursuant to a run for governor, as has former state senator Terry Gipson. The field seems more open for Republicans after Rob Astorino, the party’s 2014 sacrificial lamb, lost his job as Westchester county executive.

Democrat Gipson is also exploring a race for governor, this after losing two straight state Senate races to current incumbent Sue Serino.

Toes in the water, Molinaro and Gipson haven’t really announced anything yet. It appears, however, that eight-term Dutchess legislator Joel Tyner is ready to take the plunge.

Last week progressive Democrat Tyner announced he will challenge two-term Republican Serino in the Dutchess-Columbia state Senate district. This will no doubt cause widespread relief among Tyner’s colleagues in the county legislature, where he was formally censured last summer for what were considered anti-Semitic remarks. More stupid than prejudiced, Tyner had compared lockstep administration officials to the Nazi era. Tyner being Tyner, he refused to apologize, which he should have, but his constituents rallied around on Election Day.

On some level, I like Tyner, even as an annoying, persistent scold. (That would be Tyner, not me.) But he does speak (his) truth to power, which is more than I can say for the vast majority of elected officials.

Can Tyner, running hard-left, beat Serino, now seemingly entrenched in a safe conservative Republican district? Probably not, not the first time, nor the second or third. But he won’t go away, and he will make it interesting.