COLA Connections Newsletter: Winter 2017

Symposium on 'How Politics Really Works'

When one thinks of political greatness, what generally comes to mind? It may conjure names of presidents such as Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt or Reagan, or civil rights leaders such as Susan B. Anthony, Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, Jr. These leaders have a way of transcending their own time and embodying political greatness. RIT’s Center for Statesmanship, Law & Liberty works to honor and continue the development of statesmanship by teaching a new generation of citizens what it means to be a responsible citizen and political leader.

On October 20th, the Center hosted a day-long seminar for nearly 200 students from RIT and eight local high schools on “How Politics Really Works: An Insider’s View.” The seminar opened up with a panel discussion featuring several current and former lawmakers: former Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, NYS Senator Rich Funke, NYS Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, and former City of Rochester Mayor Tom Richards.  In addition to discussing their views on the political process and how they see their roles in government, the panel took questions from the audience on topics such as gun violence, police-community relations, the effectiveness of the de facto two-party system in the United States, and voter turnout.  A particular question on how to deal with political gridlock highlighted the need for statesmanship.  The panelists cited the necessity of relationships with lawmakers from all represented parties in order to get any legislation passed.  “You can compromise without abandoning your principles. Politics used to be the great art of compromise,” Senator Funke elaborated.

The event continued with a lecture by Lee Chen, the Vice President of Sales at Rochester Midland Corporation. He gave a presentation titled, “A Comparison and Contrast Between Skills Needed for Salesmanship and Statesmanship,” highlighting the idea that many of the skills possessed by good salesmen are also what are needed to be an effective statesman. “A politician is guided by self-interest and party affiliation, but a statesman is guided with only the nation’s and peoples interest at heart. A good salesman takes in to consideration the needs and wants [of the customer] and their opinions are respected.” To rebut this stance, Dr. Sean Sutton, Chair of the Department of Political Science, took the stage as the discussant. Dr. Sutton argued that although there are pieces of statesmanship is akin to salesmanship, comparing the two as equal skills is too simplistic a way of viewing statesmanship. “What happens when sales techniques are exhausted? Lincoln had to use expert statesmanship to preserve the Union when the southern states could not be sold on it.” He concluded on a poignant ending, saying, “A scientific approach to politics that makes salesmanship and statesmanship almost indistinguishable fails to recognize the true duties of politics. So my real question is: Is politics, in fact, something can’t be reduced to science and psychology?”