To the editor:
Nancy Earley Wright’s well considered Aug. 31 column that responded to criticism of Rep. Seth Moulton’s short-lived presidential campaign and its impact on his representation of the 6th district in Congress raised interesting and valid points about him as the “man in the arena” described by Theodore Roosevelt. It would be narrow minded and unfair to totally denigrate Moulton for merely, to employ another phrase of Roosevelt’s, throwing his hat in the ring.
But there are legitimate reasons for Moulton’s constituents, of whom I am not one, to be upset and frustrated by his presidential campaign. In 2018, the voters of the 6th district returned Moulton to Congress, likely never considering that he would run for the presidency. They believed they were electing a full-time representative.
Running for one office only to turn around nearly immediately and run in the most arduous race in U.S. politics gives off the air of a bait and switch, or at least a risk-averse hedging of bets. Even the most optimistic of Moulton’s supporters for the presidency would have conceded that he was a long shot; he’s not even the most recognizable member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation, even if likely the sanest.
As Wright points out, Moulton did not abandon his post in Congress, and claims of rampant absenteeism are off the mark. However, it was by definition impossible for him to be completely focused on his congressional responsibilities during his presidential run. Had his campaign gained momentum, his focus on the House would have dulled further. His deliberation upon and consideration of legislation, and his constituent and committee work would have increasingly shifted to unelected staff.
For good or ill, presidential campaigns are marathons. Serious candidates must establish significant operations in New Hampshire, Iowa, South Carolina and other early primary states. Moulton’s voters were not electing him to a base from which he could campaign for president with an insurance policy in his pocket
Roosevelt’s “man in the arena” assumes risk. What sort of risk is involved when Moulton could simply return to his seat in the House with the substantial inherent advantages of incumbency and a not insignificant government salary?
Moulton gained much during his campaign. He can now forever be introduced as “Congressman and former presidential candidate,” a book deal could be in the offing, not to mention possible consideration as a vice-presidential candidate.
Certainly he's not unique. Grasping to the instruments of political power while pursuing more of it is a bipartisan affair. All who engage in it portray, intentionally or not, an arrogant indispensability. Is Moulton really the only person in the 6th district with the pluck to push through an earmark increase for whale research?
Constituents who demand from their representative complete attention to their obligations and pledges are not asking for anything more than to fulfill the mandate that was initially sought and conferred. Anything less is grounds for frustration.
The proper and honorable action for Moulton at the outset of his presidential campaign – as it would have been for Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, et al -- would have been to resign his office, if nothing else than to permit voters in his district the opportunity to elect a wholly committed representative.
Bob Dole articulated such a notion when he resigned from the Senate in 1996. He gave up considerable power as majority leader to concentrate fully on what would be a losing presidential campaign. He said in part: “You do not lay claim to the office you hold, it lays claim to you. Your obligation is to bring to it the gifts you can of labor and honesty and then to depart with grace. And my time to leave this office has come, and I will seek the presidency with nothing to fall back on but the judgment of the people, and nowhere to go but the White House or home.”
Dole’s words, not Roosevelt’s, are more applicable and instructive to those seeking one office while holding another.
One cannot serve two masters, and it is folly to try.