From left to right: Adm. Joe Sestak (Ret.), former Clinton Administration National Security Advisor Tony Lake, and Richard Clarke, former National Security Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism, speaking at Swarthmore College on September 18, 2006.
[Joe Sestak joins us today to discuss his candidacy for the PA-07. As with all Blue America threads, please stay on topic and please be polite. Drop in and give Joe a big FDL welcome! — CHS]
Joe Sestak is going to be sworn in as a congressman in January. And that will be a great day for America. If you've been following this Blue America series you know I've never said that before. And I've never been more certain about any of our candidates. Yesterday, the country's preeminent rearview mirror prognosticator, the politically timid Charlie Cook, changed his "lean Republican" rating for PA-07 to "toss up." The first independent poll shows a dead heat but with Joe ahead and with momentum– and that was pre-Foley.
Let me say a few thing about this suburban Philadelphia district before I get into the campaign, the incumbent and our own stellar candidate.
PA-07 is predominantly Delaware County, just west and southwest of Philadelphia and was run by a corrupt Republican political machine known as "the War Board" for decades. It is now a pretty dependable Democratic district — Clinton, Gore and Kerry all beat their Republican opponents by increasingly large margins and Governor Ed Rendell took the district 2-1. Once Weldon, who was first elected in 1986, is rooted out in 4 weeks, it's all over for the GOP is this part of Pennsylvania.
I started covering this race in a serious way last March and in my first story about it I mostly pointed out that Weldon's rubber stamp right wing record wasn't a good match for a quintessential moderate and well educated district. Although I did point out Weldon's affinity for shady lobbyists and the Moonie cult, I wasn't all that harsh on Weldon.
A week later the Weldon slime machine was operating at full force — and off came the gloves.
Weldon, frightened by Joe Sestak's steadily increasing popularity, attacked — his 5 year old daughter, fighting for her life in an oncology ward. In what turned out to be the biggest mistake of his miserable political career, Weldon tried to make an issue of the choice of hospitals the family had their daughter in.
The district reacted with revulsion, perhaps reminded of how the hypocritical Republicans tried interfering in the medical decisions Terri Schiavo's husband was making for her — and its been a steady downward decent for Weldon ever since.
And Curt Weldon was no one to be opening up candidates' daughters to politics. His own is a
bribe collecting bag lady lobbyist who has brought the family a great deal of money based on access to big daddio. Even in this swamp of congressional corruption few are as low as Weldon.
But even if Weldon weren't one of the most corrupt and slimy members of Congress, even if he was just another garden variety congressman, Admiral Joe Sestak would still be a godsend.
The bio of this retired Vice Admiral (with 31 years of service — get ready for a Rovian swiftboat attack) is inspirational. And his positions on the important issues facing our country are as good as they can be. Something Joe told me last night about how he came to his progressive positions stayed with me in a very powerful way.
"In the military we give everybody universal health coverage. We give everyone great educational opportunities. We encourage– even demand– that every individual be all that he or she can be in their jobs. And therefor they are willing to sacrifice for a common cause, for a higher purpose. These are Democratic ideals– investing in people. We are only as good as the strength of our people. Our military is great not because of planes and ships; it's because of the strength of our people."
This is the kind of common sense experience and instinct that informs all of Joe's policy positions. He has no problem with any of the Bush-Rove divisive hot button issues. I asked him about Bush's torture bill. He bristled.
"None of the Advocate-General from the services supported this. They all want to adhere to the Geneva Conventions. Torture gets you exactly what you don't want: false information. It's not a good bill and it doesn't protect our service members… We are respected for the power of our military and the power of our economy but we are admired for the power of our ideals. This torture bill harms that."
I decided to try a tough one on him — gay equality. It may be tough for people less sure of themselves than Joe Sestak, not is was more common sense for him. "I've been to war with gay men and women. How could you come back here and say that they don't have equal rights?" He looks forward to seeing the end of the 'don't ask/don't tell' policy.
He thinks Murtha has it right and is certain that we need to leave Iraq for the Iraqis to sort out for any number of reasons. One that had resonance for me was when he pointed out that "the cost of 2 days in Iraq is equal to 100% of screening of all air cargo placed on passenger aircraft in the U.S. for a year. The cost of 14 days in Iraq is equivalent to all education cuts in the Bush budget for 2007." Joe seems genuinely preplexed how congressmen like Weldon could vote, and vote consistently for such misguided priorities.
"People have gone to Washington and forgotten why the voters in the district sent them there in the first place. They lose track of the priorities of working families, of the elderly." He traces a lot of it to the role of campaign finance. "You cannot make a lobbying reform bill strong enough that I would not support. It needs to be strict. We have to have a transparent government. This Congress has failed in large part because of undo influence of a pay-to-play environment."
I trust Joe Sestak to try to change that environment and Joe Sestak is a can-do kind of guy and the kind of natural leader who can change things. Please join me in giving Joe a hand at the Blue America ActBlue page today. The first 25 donors will win a just-released dvd of the 1966 Barbra Streisand spectacular, Color Me Barbra. If you just want to donate but have no interest in the dvd, just add one cent to your contribution.