Eighteen Years


Marine infantry commander Seth Moulton in Iraq, where he served as military and political liaison for Gen. David Petraeus. (Photo credit: Lucian Read)

One of these men is a brave and accomplished leader. The other is a U.S. Congressman.

There are few things an incumbent politician fears more than a primary challenge in a difficult re-election year. Eric Cantor thought he could ignore one and paid the price – he’ll soon be a private citizen instead of U.S. House Majority Leader. If former marine Seth Moulton has his way, Rep. John Tierney will be making a similar transition this November.

I had the opportunity to accompany Seth at the 2014 Massachusetts Democratic Convention in Worcester early this summer. I watched as the Iraq veteran shook hands, made small talk, and pled his case to the Democratic establishment. The delegates made sure to smile and nod where appropriate, but few seemed genuinely interested in his candidacy.

Why would they be? Liberals cheered the defeat of a conservative hardliner like Eric Cantor, but Seth dared to challenge a fellow Democrat. Never mind that Tierney requires millions in Democratic life support or that voters nearly replaced him with a Republican two years ago.

Those bashing Moulton’s candidacy might ask themselves why a Republican like Richard Tisei came within a percentage point of victory in 2012. John Tierney has only passed one bill in his eighteen year tenure – H.R. 1339, naming Salem as the birthplace of the National Guard – making him one of the least effective congressmen in Washington. Other members of the state congressional delegation have proven themselves far more capable.

It took John Tierney seventeen years to pass a single bill. Joe Kennedy III, elected from the Massachusetts Fourth in 2013, passed his first piece of legislation in seventeen months. Tierney would respond that his influence stems from legislative cosponsorship, but even there he slips below the congressional average.

I don’t blame the party faithful for wishing Seth had stayed on the sidelines. Worried partisans tend to support incumbents, even the unpopular and ineffective. No one wants an opposition upset, however moderate a Republican Tisei appears to be.

That said, elections involve more than just the unwavering party faithful. There are Democrats living in the Massachusetts Sixth who wish they had a better choice than John Tierney. They should have the chance to cast their votes for someone with new ideas who might change a stagnant Congress. Moulton fought in the first marine company to enter Baghdad – chances are he can handle a little Beltway dysfunction.

Democrats hold a moral high ground opposing Republicans who would silence dissent to preserve their status quo. They have done themselves a disservice by suggesting that “a good Democrat” would not have challenged a vulnerable incumbent. They should chart a different path by treating challengers to spirited and constructive debate before healthy primaries. Anyone willing to throw themselves before public scrutiny has earned at least that much.

Washington has floundered because too many voters recognize the cause of gridlock but believe their representative is different. Rarely does a race provide such a stark contrast between the candidates, but the choice for North Shore voters couldn’t be clearer.

Seth Moulton spent his last eighteen years serving his country and helping to rebuild another one. He deferred graduate school to finish the job, then supervised the construction of new high-speed rail and opened a business of his own. Democrats in the Sixth District should ask John Tierney to explain how his own eighteen years stack up.

Call me crazy, but I think they deserve a little more than H.R. 1339.


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