Just 119 days into his first term in Congress, Salem’s Seth Moulton, who upset longtime incumbent John Tierney in the Democratic primary last fall, brought his distinct perspective to The New England Council for the first time. He won, he said, by running to the center. And he’s off to a good start, deftly responding to a range of questions.
His mission in the House is to make centrism work, on both national and local issues. He approaches challenges facing the fishing industry in his district as finding a middle ground between fishermen’s need to survive and environmentalists’ concerns about sustainability. Bringing fishermen and scientists together, he proposed limiting the catch of threatened cod, but expanding that of haddock and redfish, more plentiful in supply. “A small step, but one in the right direction,” he said.
He started to reach across the aisle during the eight-day freshman orientation, inviting to dinner Republican Representative Steven Russell of Oklahoma, like Moulton, a veteran of combat in Iraq. Moulton, a decorated Marine, feels strongly that the House needs more members with experience in the military.
Never have there been fewer ground combat veterans in Congress, he said, and their perspective is needed. For example, the funding of the A-10 fighter jet is a “political football,” which even the Air Force acknowledges it doesn’t need. Yet, based on his questioning of military brass testifying before Congress, there are probably 20 big-ticket items that politicians insist on funding that aren’t necessary. Other choices like (IED protection) are not adequately funded but would, in the view of those on the ground, make a big difference in the conduct of war. It is noteworthy that the A-10 engine is manufactured by General Electric in Lynn, an important part of Moulton’s district, but he stands his ground in not wanting to fund it.
Moulton has already been on two fact-finding missions with the Armed Services Committee, one to Iraq and Afghanistan to learn more about ISIS. Military expert General John Allen, speaking to the Association of Opinion Journalists last week, feels the media have understated the inroads that have been made in ISIS military power. I asked Moulton about that. “We are having some military successes, but we don’t have a long-term diplomatic and political strategy,” he said, adding his criticism of how we left our embassy in Baghdad undermanned, and his concern that five years from now we’ll find ourselves back where we were at the height of our Iraq engagement. His concern about ISIS’ growing power is compounded by ISIS’ high level skills at social media.
Moulton co-authored a piece for TIME Magazine with that same Representative Russell, saying that ISIS is a real security threat but that the solution isn’t just US military training of indigenous forces. The answer is figuring out solutions to the sectarianism of local government and building government institutions that people can trust. He calls on the U.S. to support Jordanian King Abdullah’s efforts to convene an international conference to combat transnational terrorism. As the two freshman Reps put it, “our strategy should dictate the breadth of our war authorization, not the other way around.”
Moulton was less impressive in his puzzling support of Boston 2024’s efforts to bring the Olympics here. He appropriately bemoans the absence of comprehensive transportation policy nationally and regionally, but his boosterism of the Rube Goldberg 2024 plan seems inconsistent with his belief in always putting comprehensive policy planning first. He wants the Boston Olympics proposal to be on an even larger scale than what’s now proposed, because he seems to feel that it’s the only way of ever getting a North/South rail connector built. Thinking big is good, but it’s certainly not clear how the connector fits in with a non-transparent Olympic bid or some to-be-determined state transportation policy. (And what about all the other state transportation needs that will be twisted by the 2024 priorities?) His position is also at odds with proponents’ promises of limiting the outlay of public dollars.
I’ll forgive him his naivete on the Olympics for the time being. Otherwise, Moulton is smart, self-deprecating in his humor, and he impressed even some longtime supporters of John Tierney. More than a few predict big things in his future. File under: politician worth watching.
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