A Politician Calls Students to Public Service

For Congressman Seth Moulton, good politics takes good people

US Rep. Seth Moulton
US Rep. Seth Moulton talks with Duke students during his campus visit.

U.S. Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) practices what he preaches. On Thursday, the U.S. Marine Corps veteran sat down with Duke POLIS Director Fritz Mayer and nearly 200 members of the Duke community to discuss topics ranging from bipartisanship to guns. Throughout the event, Moulton brought it back to having the courage to serve.

“This country needs more public servants,” he told the audience.

Moulton didn’t always have his sights set on politics. Upon graduating from Harvard, or “the Duke of the Northeast,” as Mayer called it, Moulton did what most Harvard graduates don’t­ do—he enlisted. Moulton’s service in Iraq significantly influenced his eventual path to public office.

“I was very critical of the administration’s decisions and the lives that were lost,” Moulton said of the Bush administration’s handling of the war in Iraq. “It really informed why I’m doing this. I didn’t grow up interested in politics, but I saw the consequences of governmental actions.”

Which is why, when encouraged in 2014 to run for the House of Representatives in a district held by a long-time Democratic incumbent, Moulton took up the challenge. “This isn’t what I expected to do,” he said, “but it’s never going to change unless people are willing to step up and change it themselves.”

Moulton believes in growing this spirit into a transformational movement. In addition to the duties to his Massachusetts district, the congressman started the Serve America PAC to support veterans running for office. The goal? To transform the status quo “by supporting a new generation of leaders who will put people over politics.”

The founding premise of the PAC is that veterans are a group that can get the job done. 

“What veterans bring is this experience in putting the country first,” he said. “When I am looking for someone across the aisle to work with, I often find myself looking for a veteran first. They are often willing to work across the aisle and with me because we have this shared experience.”

He also stressed diversity and representation in Congress, as well as a willingness to look to the future. One of his criticisms about the Democratic establishment is the tendency to default to the anti-Trump argument rather than focus on alternative solutions. “We can’t just complain about Republicans and Trump; we need to have a strategy for the future.”  

Democrats will need to adopt this approach to win back seats in the upcoming elections, Moulton observed. “We have a darn good chance [to win a House majority], but we can’t rest on our laurels. There are changes we still need to make on the Democratic side of the aisle that we’ll need to make before November.”

Moulton fielded questions from student conservatives, moderates, and liberals who challenged him on issues ranging from tax reform to military engagements to the Democratic Party seemingly “taking African-Americans for granted.”  These exchanges emphasized POLIS' commitment to promoting tough and civil discourse. 

“POLIS aspires to inspire the Duke community to become more fully engaged in the political process,” Mayer said. “Whatever one’s ideological stripes, Congressman Moulton is an example of the tangible impact of such engagement.”

Moulton ended the night as he began it: encouraging Duke students to do their part. “Voting is the bare minimum. Go volunteer for a campaign. Think about running yourself."

Former Moulton deputy finance director and first-year MPP student Abby Snyder said Moulton was a boss who “worked day in and day out living a life of service. He continues to inspire me as a great role model of what an effective public servant can be.”