scorecardresearch Skip to main content

Thank you, Seth Moulton, for shaking things up and rubbing people the wrong way

US Representative Seth MoultonCraig F. Walker/Globe Staff

Thank you, US Representative Seth Moulton.

Minus Moulton’s move to stop her, Nancy Pelosi’s re-ascendance as speaker of the House could feel like a death sentence for Democrats. Instead, it feels like their best option. Pelosi helped take back the House and can stand up to President Trump. At age 78, she won’t be around forever. Why not leverage her leadership and expertise, and in two years, start anew with a new House leader? Besides, who’s the alternative?

Moulton is forcing fellow Democrats to think that through. That’s what leaders do. They shake things up, and with the shaking, often rub people the wrong way. And Moulton, who represents the Bay State’s Sixth Congressional District, is doing more than his usual share of wrong-way rubbing.


In Washington, fellow Democrats are saying mean things about him. Back home, there are also threats of a primary challenger. It’s sweet revenge for Massachusetts Democrats who loathe Moulton for daring to challenge and beat US Representative John Tierney. Moulton, who acted on pure ambition when he ran against Tierney, still has a lot of it. What’s so terrible about that? US Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III is also ambitious. But he gets the party love because he toes the party line.

To advance a cohesive agenda, some degree of internal party discipline is necessary. Yet stubborn loyalty to seniority and the status quo is a big part of the problem faced by Democrats as they try to rebrand themselves in the age of Trump. While Republicans embrace a president who defies all political convention, Democrats follow the same old playbook, under the same old coaches. And it’s not ageist or sexist to say that. It’s reality.

So, why not sign up for Moulton’s coup? If House rebels were rallying around a specific alternative, there would be another option to mull. That hasn’t happened. Meanwhile, how this battle is playing out gives Democrats a chance to review Pelosi’s assets, which are considerable.


It has been noted that Moulton chose a bad time to try to knock a woman off her leadership pedestal, given all the female lawmakers now headed to Washington. The cultural zeitgeist of the moment does help Pelosi’s cause. But gender doesn’t make Pelosi the Democrats’ best choice for speaker. In The Washington Post, E. J. Dionne boils that choice down to “toughness, focus, and legislative skill” — plus prodigious fund-raising.

Pelosi would make it easier on everyone if she would say this is her last term and, while she’s at it, replace US Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the House minority whip — and, at 79, a fellow geezer — with someone younger. She doesn’t want to be a lame duck speaker, but under pressure from House rebels, she might settle on a sacrificial lamb. Wouldn’t it be something if Moulton failed to topple Pelosi but forced her to turn to younger loyalists — like Kennedy?

On Monday, 16 House Democrats, including Moulton and US Representative Stephen Lynch of Massachusetts, signed a letter saying they won’t support Pelosi. Still, there’s a long way between that and blocking her. Meanwhile, Moulton deserves credit for making Pelosi press her case. Reclaiming the speakership shouldn’t be a given. If there’s one lesson from 2016, it’s that no one’s owed a nomination or a promotion just for sticking around.


If Moulton loses the battle, he can be shuttled off to congressional Siberia. That would be a mistake. Democrats need rebels and rabble-rousers to push them to connect with voters who despise Trump but who are also turned off by an opposition party of the moribund.

Moulton’s pointing out the obvious. The urge to cling to power is universal. But keeping power is not a right. It’s a privilege extended to those who deserve it, after weighing the alternatives.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.