With a surfeit of anti-refugee rhetoric this week following the terror attacks in Paris—including the passage of a bill in the House on Thursday that would suspend the program allowing refugees from Syria and Iraq into the country, and a majority of governors bloviating about the imaginary closing of their own borders—we’ve entered an arms race of performative xenophobia.
The candidates for the Republican nomination, including Donald Trump and Marco Rubio, have done their level best to prove they’re wearing the wettest diapers in the room, to the point where the prohibition against Godwin’s Law might reasonably be lifted for the first time in years. But if anyone can be said to have crystalized the hateful, fear-mongering boorishness of the far right on this matter best, it’s good old reliable Mike Huckabee, a quivering Weeble who never met a reductio ad absurdum he could resist.
“How come they never end up in the neighborhood where the limousine liberal lives?” he said of refugees.
He’s got a point. The refugees aren’t in any liberal politicians’ neighborhoods.
They’re in the house.
Mike Huckabee, meet Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Seth Moulton, war hero, and host to an Iraqi refugee.
Moulton is a decorated veteran who served four tours of duty in Iraq as an officer in the Marines, earned three degrees from Harvard, and unseated the long entrenched Democratic incumbent John Tierney for the seat in the 6th District before turning 36 last year, so he may not exactly fit your definition of limousine liberal. (He does, however, hail from Marblehead, the wealthy coastal suburb of Boston.)
Then again, he doesn’t exactly fit anyone’s definition of a politician in the first place. He barely even seems to qualify as human, more like a magical unicorn in the midst of D.C.’s typical menagerie of horrific, hobbled swamp mutants.
Moulton’s bonafides as both an effective politician and a baseline decent person were on display this week as he got into an exchange with Gov. Charlie Baker over the refugee crisis.
“No, I am not interested in accepting refugees from Syria. I would need to know a lot more than I know now to agree to do anything,” Baker said this week. ‘‘I think at this point in time we would have to be very cautious about accepting folks without knowing a lot more about what the federal government’s plan looks like. I would certainly say no until I know a lot more than I know now.’’
It’s uncertain if Baker was unconcerned before this week, when 100-plus Syrian refugees settled in Massachusetts over the past year.
Moulton quickly tweeted a response on Monday. “It's a shame that Governor Baker doesn't know the difference between refugees and those from whom they need refuge.”
It’s something that Moulton can actually speak to firsthand, having welcomed a refugee, a translator named Mohammed with whom he’d worked closely in Iraq, into his own home.
“He exemplifies the American dream more than just about anybody I know,” Moulton said this week of Mohammed, who risked his life in Iraq working against insurgents.
One can easily say the same of Moulton.
“In the midst of war, it’s easy to protect innocent civilians when no one is shooting at you,” Moulton told The Boston Globe. “When people are shooting at you from a school or a mosque, it’s much harder. It is easy to stand for freedom and justice in the midst of peace. It’s harder when people are trying to kill you.”
Throughout the week, the back and forth between the congressman and the governor continued, with Baker accusing Moulton of going “straight to the partisan talking points.”
Moulton, unswayed, responded again over Twitter, saying “My American values and Marine Corps experience are not ‘partisan talking points.’ @MassGovernor should know better.” And “One of the things I was most proud of as a Marine infantry officer is that we never let the enemy change our values.”
He later shared a photo of himself and Mohammed, whose application to enter the country on a Fulbright Scholarship he supported, but, nonetheless, still took over a year to process.
For anyone who’s followed Moulton’s short career in Congress, it’s unsurprising stuff. He’s got the type of bio that makes you want to stand at attention every time you hear it, even among Massachusetts’ lefties not typically accustomed to going in for the patriotic war hero story.
Moulton himself isn’t given over to that sort of grandstanding either. Despite being awarded both the Bronze Star and the Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal for valor for his role in leading his platoon through exceptionally dangerous firefights in Iraq, he never brought it up during his campaign until The Boston Globe uncovered the awards.
He hadn’t even told his parents about them. He thought it would be disrespectful to the “many others who did heroic things and received no awards at all.”
And for all his wartime accomplishments, Moulton remains skeptical of military intervention at every sign of a geopolitical tragedy, something that sets him apart from colleagues now relentlessly pushing for more war. He was a vocal critic of the Iraq War after his return—and Dick Cheney in particular—writing frequently about how unprepared he and his men were for the battle at hand.
“George W. Bush and Dick Cheney didn’t just send us the wrong gear,” he wrote in the Salem News. “They sent us to the wrong country.”
And yet it’s this ruckus with Baker, a popular Republican governor in a bleeding heart state, over refugees that launched him into the spotlight. It may be the first many around the country have heard of Moulton, but he’s spent a considerable amount of time on cable news this week defending his positions. It won’t be the last.