What actions the United States takes to address climate change, economic insecurity, health care, increased automation of jobs and national security will have a drastic impact on future generations for better or worse.
That’s why Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton, one of 24 Democratic candidates for president, believes it’s the next generation of leaders who should be leading the way.
“The generation that got us to this point where we have a massive threat of climate change, I don’t think is the generation that is going to solve it,” he said during an interview last week in Las Vegas. “I think the generation that has to live with the effects is the generation that will have the courage to address it … Jobs are getting automated out of existence. When you have a Senate that can’t even understand how Facebook works, I don’t think the American people have a lot of confidence that the generation in power right now is going to figure it out. It’s not an argument against old people. It’s just an argument that we have new generation of challenges and we need new generational leaders to meet them.”
The Democratic primary has been noted for the large number people of color and women vying to challenge President Donald Trump, but it also includes younger candidates vying to have their voices heard. That includes the 40-year-old Moulton, a Marine Corps veteran and member of Congress since 2015.
Though many people may not immediately recognize the name — he was one of the few candidates who didn’t qualify for the two-night Democratic debate in June — Moulton has been making his way around the country, including three visits to Nevada so far, to introduce himself to voters.
“My background is different,” he said. “Some of the issues I’m focused on are different or I have a different perspective. Ultimately, both position me as the strongest candidate to take on Trump.”
Mental health as a personal crusade
As a veteran from the Iraq War, Moulton made an uncomfortable decision near the start of his campaign — to talk about his mental health and post traumatic stress.
To his surprise, that message resonated with audiences. “I didn’t set out to make it a central issue when I told my story, but the response has been unbelievable,” he said. “Veterans coming up, sharing stories from Vietnam that they’d never shared before in their lives. A lot of nonveterans sharing their stories as well. The response has made it a central issue (in the campaign).”
Moulton has proposed creating a National Mental Health Hotline and increasing mental health screenings, starting with veterans, active military and high school students.
Focusing on mental health on the campaign trail, he added, helps destigmatize the issue. “It’s kind of absurd you can break your arm, break your leg or sprain your ankle and no one questions why you’re going to the doctor,” he said.
Though he said the concept of investing money into mental health services, especially for veterans, would get bipartisan support, not everyone is always eager to fund proposed legislation.
“You’ve seen that with opioids and a lot of bipartisan bills authorizing opioid programs that have been voted on but never funded,” he said. “There is a fundamental hypocrisy that we have no problem that Amazon pays nothing in taxes yet we’re worried about the price of getting people the healthcare they need and in many cases saving a lot of lives.”
Moulton believes if funding for expanded mental health programs starts with veterans — and veterans themselves lobby for funding — it would be hard for lawmakers not to invest.
“This is incredibly fiscally responsible,” he added. “Investing in this saves a lot of other health care costs down the road.”
Addressing climate change
On the campaign trail, Democrats are often asked if they support proposals such as The Green New Deal. Moulton signed on as an initial supporter, but said he doesn’t agree with additions such as a federal jobs guarantee.
However, voters are looking beyond one proposal and are asking candidates for more specifics on how they would deal with the climate crisis.
Moulton said he would rejoin The Paris Agreement, though he would want something stronger that would also acknowledge the role the “developing world plays” when it comes to climate change.
America, he added, should be the leader in green energy technology that could aid countries that struggle to address climate change. That role would also help the U.S., he added. “I believe we can address climate change while also growing our economy,” he said.
Moulton said he would aggressively support investments into green technology. “Nevada is a leader in solar energy. But you’re buying a lot of solar panels from China. That shouldn’t be the case. Those panels should be made here, employing Americans,” he said. “We should be the leader in developing the next generation of solar technology and other green technology.”
And he pointed out there is an overlap between policies dealing with the effects of climate change and having a robust foreign policy and national security agenda.
Climate change, Moulton said, has put American military troops at risk. “A lot of our troops died in Iraq and Afghanistan transporting oil to our bases,” he said. “If we would have had green-generating technology on those bases, they would be alive today.”
Fixing the crisis at the border
Moulton supports a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers and other immigrants, saying it would have a positive impact on the economy. “They can get on our tax roles and pay taxes,” he said. “That will decrease the deficit.”
He added there needs to be a dramatic increase to the number of asylum court judges so cases are adjudicated within a few months rather than years.
Moulton also said there needs to be an effort to strengthen border security. “That doesn’t mean building a silly border wall,” he said. “I’ll divert that money and put it into strengthening our border, where Democrats acknowledge we do have some issues.”
He said the country needs to be able to stop the influx of drugs and handle the asylum seekers from Central America, but it shouldn’t stop there. An aggressive aid program is needed to address the underlying issues faced by the countries people are fleeing, he said.
Moulton doesn’t believe in abolishing U.S. Immigration, Customs and Enforcement, but thinks it’s Congress’ job to reform an organization when its employees “aren’t doing their job or doing it inhumanely.” “If there is a corruption case at the local fire department, people don’t say abolish the fire department,” he said. “ICE has a role to play. We just need to make sure they are doing it well.”
Creating access to affordable housing
Most cities across the country are dealing with a housing crisis where many Americans don’t make enough to afford rising rents or buy homes.
Moulton said it’s time to look at outdated zoning laws that were created because of racism. “One of the things I would do in my administration is to take a much more targeted federal approach to zoning restrictions,” he said. “It your zoning laws are fundamentally inequitable, if they are violating the principles of freedom of opportunity in this country, then they need to go away.”
Moulton said it’s not just housing.
“We’re always thinking of housing in a vacuum and that we just need to pour more money into housing,” he said. “Housing is intimately connected to transportation. If you have quick, reliable transportation to get you to the places where housing is cheaper, you have access to affordable housing.”
Championing a livable wage
Moulton said a blanket $15 minimum wage across the country might not work, but he supports more nuanced legislation that increases the wage depending on the city.
“What we’re after isn’t a minimum wage but a livable wage and that varies across the country,” he said.
“The reality is, there are some places in Nevada where you could live on $12 and other places you can’t,” Moulton said. (A new Nevada law increases the wage incrementally to $12 by 2024.) “Having one blanket wage for the entire country doesn’t make sense.”
Priorities as president
While Moulton would want his administration to deal with the effects of climate change, look at regulating the technology industry, expand the economy and make sure every person has health care, he said his priority in his first year would be unifying the country.
If elected, Moulton said, he would hold town hall meetings in the states that voted against him.
“We can talk about these issues on the campaign, and we might even use them to defeat Donald Trump,” he said. “But if we don’t bring the country together from the place where it is now, which is more divided than I have seen it in my lifetime, we’re not going to get any of this done.”