This is Vassar: The newsletter for Vassar College Alumnae/i and Families

Rick Lazio '80 (right) with David Keith '13 during a recent MICA panel discussion. Photo © Vassar College / Buck Lewis.

Igniting Civil Conversation

On November 10, two days after Election Day, Vassar’s Moderate Independent Conservative Alliance (MICA) welcomed former U.S. Representative Rick Lazio ’80 to the group’s weekly meeting. The meetings are intended as an open forum for diverse political viewpoints, and members of MICA recently began inviting outside guests to join the discussions.

Best known as a four-term U.S. Representative from New York State, Lazio spent time before the event meeting informally with members of MICA's leadership. In the political science lounge in the basement of Rockefeller, he chatted with Will Serio ’13, Todd Densen ’12, David Keith ’13, and Steve Keller ’11 about recent election outcomes, debate performances, an Ohio referendum, New Jersey governor Chris Christie, and the potential GOP presidential candidates. The conversation also drifted to Vassar: Lazio’s loyalty to it, financial aid, and the career development office. It highlighted two topics on the minds of today’s Vassar students—how to pay for their education and how to get a job once they graduate.

Among the forum questions asked of Lazio was, what was the political atmosphere like at Vassar when he was a student? He remembered Vassar as a place where people with varying points of view “can find it difficult to have a discussion,” but said, “This college is about a search for discovery. It’s a place for civil discussion.”

If anyone knows about fostering a civil discussion while bringing in multiple, sometimes disparate, viewpoints, it is Lazio. He recently founded Ignite with Rick Lazio, an online publication that serves as “an outlet for civil discussions on politics, economics, and social issues.” Such a discussion is a good thing, says Lazio. “You say to yourself, ‘Have I thought of everything?’ You hear good ideas; you hear ideas counter to your own. They might persuade you, or you might persuade someone else, or you might feel strengthened in your convictions. It comes down to respect for different points of view.”

Over the course of Lazio’s career, he has often hung his political hat on reaching across traditional boundary lines. For instance, as a Congressman he supported both National Public Radio and the National Endowment for the Arts, atypical moves for a conservative. “It was about finding shared values and consensus. That doesn’t happen enough anymore,” he told the crowd in Rocky. “Politicians today use a different set of skills—it’s about pumping up your own constituents, rather than persuading other groups who don’t necessarily share your views.”

Now focused on supporting a new generation of young politicians and leaders, Lazio remains hopeful: “You just need one leader who can rise above it all."

– Peter Bronski

December 2011

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