On a recent visit to BC Law and the Rappaport Center for Law and Public Policy, Congressman Seth Moulton delivered a simple message: In politics and in battle, you’d be surprised how much you can accomplish when the odds are stacked against you.
At only 37, Moulton is one of the youngest members of Congress and yet his resume is distinguished: He served multiple tours of duty leading a unit of Marines in Iraq, earned three degrees from Harvard, and is a leading national advocate for both veterans and asylum seekers, including his Iraqi translator Mohammad Harba, to whom he opened his own home in the Massachusetts 6th District.
Little wonder he was quite comfortable running—and ultimately winning—as an underdog, against an incumbent whom early polls showed holding a 53-point lead against him.
“Our pollster thought I should quit, that it was statistically impossible for us to win,” Moulton told the audience. “But, instead, I fired our campaign manager and replaced him with my driver—another veteran—to rally us. And the idea resonated that our opponent had been too partisan, passing very little legislation in the 18 years he was in office. I was the only one to beat an incumbent in a 2014 primary, and more unusual still, I did it by running from the center.”
Indeed, Moulton has a tactician’s sensibility. He explained how you can get a lot done on policy, even as a first-term Congressman, “but you have to work harder and pick your battles.” In much of his talk, there was a sense of pragmatism—from working on common sense safeguards around gun control to a potential legislative strategy for Hillary Clinton’s domestic agenda, should she win in November. “She could come in guns blazing and get a few things done quickly, or try to bring in Republicans and achieve something greater in an area like tax reform, where I think 80 percent is agreed upon on both sides. Often, the best sign of good legislation is that everyone has something to complain about,” he said.
The same goes for tough choices on foreign policy, Moulton added, citing his opposition to the Justice Against Sponsored Terrorism Act, or JASTA (“I’m sure they’re already making an advertisement to run against me,” he said, “but it was the right thing”), and his effort to develop a new framework for stabilizing Iraq. “In 2010, our withdraw was very poorly managed in that even though it was right to reduce troop levels, we had not achieved the political gains necessary to retain stability there, and al-Maliki’s government ran things right off the rails,” he explained. “Still today, the worst tragedy in Iraq is that we’re repeating the same mistakes over and over, refighting the same battles. We’ll defeat ISIS, but another group will just take its place without those political changes first.”
Moulton ended by thanking an older veteran in the audience for his service—“I feel fortunate to have had that appreciation for my service coming home, and really respect those in your generation who did not,” he said—and implored BC Law students towards a pursuit of something greater than themselves.
“The sport of politics played on the airwaves today can be really harmful to our guys out there risking their lives, and when they can’t count on Congress to do its job, that’s a real problem,” he said. “I didn’t agree with the Iraq War, but every day I felt I could make a difference there. We’ve never had as few veterans in Congress as we do now, and obviously we’re not all perfect, but it’s easier to appeal to them to do the right thing in a vote, if they have that experience putting something above themselves.
“We need good people in government,” he continued. “This election has shown this is the time we need them most, and so I hope you’ll consider getting involved at some level. We should do better, and we deserve better.”
By Tim Bourgaize Murray ’19
Photograph by Reba Saldhana