Alex Morse is a brilliantly talented progressive challenging Democrat Richard Neal for Congress in MA-01. There are so so many reasons why Alex Morse needs to win.
First, and I get it, for many at least, the least popular reason: rotation. Richard Neal went to Congress before the Berlin Wall came down. That’s more than three decades in Washington. For much of the 19th Century, the average tenure in Congress was just three years. That’s way too short. Thirty-plus years is—all things being equal—too long. Whether or not we should have term limits, we should certainly cultivate the norm of “thank you for your service; it’s time for you to go home.”
But second, the argument for rotation is strengthened here, because the consequence of thirty years in Congress for Richard Neal is a representative living the worst of what Congress has become. The great Dave Daley has detailed the picture of the high life that Richard Neal has cultivated. Daley is right that Neal’s defense (“everyone does it”) is neither true nor a defense.
Neal is the Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee — the most lucrative (from a fundraising perspective) position in the House next to the Speaker. As Chairman of Ways and Means, he effectively controls the tax life of practically all of American industry. That gives business all the reason in the world to benefit Richard Neal. And through his leadership PAC and campaign committee (together raising close to $5 million in this cycle alone), Neal has reaped the rewards of this corrupt system. He is not a reformer—indeed, democracy reform doesn’t even appear on his list of campaign issues — because reform would end his power. And so reformers need to remove this extraordinarily powerful source of resistance if indeed reform is to occur in the next Congress. What we need is a Congress where no one can wield the power that Neal has, because that power, whether held by Republicans or Democrats, corrupts the institution of this democracy. (And I mean that quite precisely: I have no reason to believe Neal that has engaged in any personal, or individual corruption (the “quid pro quo” the Supreme Court is so obsessed with); but he is endemic to a system of institutional corruption that we must finally end.)
And third, and most positively, Morse needs to win because Morse is astonishing. I had the honor of interviewing him early in the summer for the Another Way podcast. He was every bit as impressive as everyone had told me he would be. A mayor at the age of 22, Morse was born in the month Neal went to Congress. He’s been re-elected three times and has led a resurgence of investment and rebirth in his town of Holyoke.
But for me, of course, the clincher is that Morse is also a fervent reformer. He will actually fight to assure that the next version of HR1 passes the House in a context—let us dream!—in which it could also pass the Senate too. He understands—as any sane soul who has not lived the life of DC for 30 years does—that nothing sensible can happen in Washington until we remove the corrupting influence of money.
His opponent does not believe that. Neal believes that all is fine, so long as everything is transparent. But transparency is never enough — and indeed, as James D’Angelo has argued, transparency may actually be the essential tool that makes the “in plain sight” corruption of Washington work. (I get it — that’s really counter-intuitive. But recognize, we have secret voting for a good reason: without it, it’s trivially easy to sell your vote; with it, it is pretty difficult). The cliches of Brandeis notwithstanding, we’ve had more and more sunlight in Washington, yet the mold doesn’t seem to go away. (I got in a lot of trouble for this argument a decade ago; coward that I am, I leave the point to others now.)
And then there’s the issue of the allegations of sexual impropriety leveled against Morse.
In theory, charges such as these, if true, should be disqualifying. But we need a stronger norm of political due process in American politics. The Intercept has done journalism enormous credit through its careful unpacking — and effectively, demolishing—of the predictable politically-seeded attacks against Morse. (See here and here and here and here and then the NYT chimed in).
There is no good reason to believe that Alex did anything improper or inappropriate—which is saying a lot, given the appropriate regulations of intimate relations that universities and governments insist upon. The timing, the source, and the sleaziness of the attacks (trading on anti-LGBTQ+ bias) are reasons to double down in support of Morse — at least if, as the journalists seem to have established, the attacks are baseless. Yet another example of the ugliness of politics, motivated, no doubt, by the desire to please the extraordinarily powerful man that Morse is challenging.
We need a politics that inspires more people like Alex Morse to public service. His talent and brilliance could have gone anywhere. But his commitment to service means the benefit goes to all of us, not to some law firm, or to some technology giant. The most important element to successful organizations is human talent. And if American politics can’t inspire more people like Morse, different in his background and experience, then American government is lost. We should reward the commitment, the service, and the talent, by supporting such candidates vigorously.
Because if an Alex Morse can’t take on the power of Richard Neal’s money — in a Democratic state with a progressive Democratic base—how are we going to do it anywhere?
You can support Morse here.