I spotted the latest Joe Sestak ad on TV this morning. (Yeah, that's right, I like to watch Tricia Pittman's traffic reports, all right? DON'T JUDGE ME.) It's yet another reprisal for an ad launched by Senate rival Arlen Specter, which blasts Sestak's military service. And it builds on a campaign that has been going for several days -- a response which has featured Sestak volunteers protesting at Specter's district offices, and which also involved a full-length speech by Sestak in Washington D.C. last night.
I'll paste the text of that speech below. But a quick thought first.
There's been quite a bit of second-guessing about how Sestak has handled Specter's attacks. Many point out that the allegations against Sestak aren't new -- they've been bandied about online for awhile now, including in a RealClearPolitics post that is nearly a year old. And they wonder why Sestak seemed to be caught flat-footed by them. Others fault Sestak for giving Specter an opening in the first place. By waiting so long to launch his own campaign, the critics contend, Sestak has made it easy for Specter to define his opponent and "shape the battlespace." (Or whatever the proper military metaphor is -- we didn't even HAVE ROTC where I went to school.)
But at this point, with Sestak's camp flogging the issue this way, you have to wonder whether Specter has given Sestak just what the challenger needed.
Remember: If Sestak is going to win this race, it will HAVE to be because everyone is sick of Specter's shenanigans, his willingness to do anything to hold onto his job. Now here comes Specter with an ad that illustrates the point perfectly, one that comes right out of the GOP's book of dirty tricks.
Sestak's campaign has responded by invoking the memories of "swiftboating" -- a reference to the Repubilcan attacks on the service of Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. Clearly the hope is that sets off some alarm bells for loyal Dems: Hey, here's Specter, a former Republican, using some of the very GOP tactics Democrats resented most. Especially because they were effective during the Bush years.
That's the hell of it, of course: They WERE effective. And they may well be again. The conventional wisdom is still that Sestak has a lot of ground to make up in the next couple weeks, and nothing to date has suggested he'll be able to do it.
But if you're a believer, take heart in this: Sestak clearly was going to need Specter's hope if he had a prayer in this race. And Specter just might have provided it.
The text of Sestak's speech -- at American University last night -- follows. This was text provided by the Sestak campaign itself:
I decided to run for United States Senate because I believe that for too long, Washington has neglected Pennsylvania's working families. I believe Pennsylvania needs someone we can count on to lead with principle and conviction. And believe we cannot keep sending the same politicians to Washington if we want to restore trust in our public servants and national institutions.
Throughout this campaign, my opponent, Senator Arlen Specter, has decided that it is more important to focus on me than on the people of Pennsylvania.
Therefore, I have decided to take this opportunity to discuss who I am, what I believe, and how I came by my convictions -- to help the people of Pennsylvania.
I respect Senator Specter's long service in Washington, but not always his political conduct. We differ not only on policy, but in our approach to public service. I believe that, as a representative of the people, it matters not only what one accomplishes, but how it is accomplished.
A year ago today, Senator Specter, after 44 years as a Republican, left his party. He made his reasons very clear. He said he joined our party because his chances of winning re-election as a Republican were "bleak."
Senator Specter's apparent willingness, particularly in an election cycle, to say or do anything for his own political survival -- a willingness to go back on his own positions even as he questions the character of his challengers -- represents what is wrong and broken in Washington. Arlen Specter's generation of politics has undermined not only our democratic process, but ultimately our sense of national unity and the trust in our leaders and institutions required to overcome the challenges we face as a country.
I am a Democrat because I believe in Democratic principles -- dedication to community, opportunity for all, and service to a common good.
I learned many of these principles from my father -- not just what he taught me and the example he set, but who he was and where he came from.
My father was an immigrant from Slovakia. He came to this country as a young boy and fought for his adoptive nation in World War II. Last October, that boy who was born in a foreign land was laid to rest an American hero in Arlington National Cemetery.
I grew up in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. My mother and father raised eight kids on the salaries of a Navy man and a Catholic-school teacher.
Growing up one of eight kids, I saw what happens when families have the opportunity to succeed based on their own hard work and talents, and when parents are able to fulfill the real American dream of passing on to their kids a better life and a better country than the one they inherited.
That's what taught me the core belief of my Democratic principles -- that strong working families, a vibrant middle class, makes a strong country.
The concept of a middle class is uniquely American. It is born out of the basic idea that everyone should contribute to their fullest and should be given the tools and opportunity to do so. This simple idea has been the engine of our economy, the source of our innovation, and now, all over the world, it is taken for granted that shared opportunity is shared prosperity, and common wealth is common strength.
Too many in Washington fell for the idea that what's good for the powerful and well-connected will eventually work out to be good for the rest of us. Prosperity has never trickled down from the top in this country. It has always been built up by hardworking people -- people striving for their own achievement, but always with a sense of being part of a greater effort.
America has always been driven by this alliance of rugged individualism and common enterprise. It is part of the American character that we measure the wealth of our society by its poor, the health by its sick, and the justice by its wronged.
Ours is the first nation founded on principle, not power, and the perfection of our union, our long struggle to embody the vision set by our founders, is the history of the progressive movement -- freedom, suffrage, civil rights, equality … ideals that are not attained until they extend to all.
Ours is a nation built on service to others -- hewn from the wild through a commitment to the common good and prospering ever since through our dedication to our neighbors, our country, and the world community.
I think that's what motivates us as Americans, and, especially, as Democrats -- the belief that our individual achievement can never be measured apart from the common good.
That is the foundation of my Democratic principles -- the conviction that we can do no better for ourselves than by serving others above ourselves.
That's what I learned from my father, and throughout my 31 years in the U.S. Navy.
I followed in my father's footsteps to Annapolis and entered the military during the height of the Vietnam War. When I went to sea in the early 1970s, the military ranked last among all national institutions in public trust. Today, that has changed. The service now ranks as our most trusted and respected institution. That, I believe, is because people have come to understand that troops go to war -- but it is the nation that sends them there.
The military overcame that challenge of the post-Vietnam era by reaffirming its commitment that leadership depends on a sense of public service -- with a dedication to transparency and accountability.
I again find myself serving in an institution that rates low in the eyes of the public -- the United States Congress. When the body created by and for the people does not enjoy the public trust, it must be viewed as nothing short of a crisis.
Today, there is a lack of faith in our government and even our country -- what we stand for, what we're capable of -- that makes it difficult to meet the serious challenges we face.
The problem is not with a perceived division among the American people -- for what is a democracy without a fierce competition of ideas?
The problem is a politics that seeks to divide, politicians who view the doubts and fears of the people as an avenue to power, and, too often, how they chose to act when they have assumed the public trust.
How can a politics that rewards those who best undermine, divide, and sow doubt result in a leadership that is able to create, unite, and inspire?
When our democracy becomes consumed by personal attacks, it's no wonder that we end up with growing mistrust -- and, too often, with political leaders who feed that kind of cynicism.
I would like to quote President Obama, who made this declaration just over two years ago:
"Let us find that common stake we all have in one another, and let our politics reflect that spirit as well. For we have a choice in this country. We can accept a politics that breeds division, and conflict, and cynicism. …We can do that. But if we do, I can tell you that in the next election, we'll be talking about some other distraction. And then another one. And then another one. And nothing will change. … Or, at this moment, in this election, we can come together and say, 'Not this time.'"
Well, here we are in the next election, and our politics is as dominated as ever by division, distrust, and personal attacks.
Despite the serious challenges the people in Pennsylvania and across the country continue to face -- day in and day out -- Senator Specter has decided to base his campaign not on his 30-year record, not on his plan for the future, but on baseless attacks on my character, including my service in the United States Navy.
I have no greater honor than my 31 years of service to this country.
On September 11, 2001, I was serving in the Pentagon and was, days later, tapped to direct a new Navy anti-terrorism unit, called "Deep Blue," a role that took me to Afghanistan for a brief mission early in that war. I later commanded the USS George Washington aircraft carrier battle group in combat operations supporting our efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Later, I returned to the Pentagon. It was a time of two escalating wars and we were struggling to face a new era of post-Cold War challenges. The Navy urgently needed to adapt to 21st century threats, including the Global War on Terror, and I was charged by the Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Clark, to make it happen.
The Navy was still measuring strength by the number of "hulls" -- how many submarines, how many ships.
These days, the fight is won or lost in cyberspace more than anywhere else. It's not how big you are. It's what you're capable of. We needed a sleeker, smarter Navy that's a better match for the challenges we face today.
I called for steep cuts to the conventional fleet -- fewer submarines, even fewer carriers -- in exchange for a "knowledge-based" Navy. We can better monitor enemy movements with inexpensive sensors than multi-billion dollar submarines.
This view wasn't popular with some in the establishment -- in the Rumsfeld Pentagon, Congress, and the defense industry.
As I became a Congressman, preparing to come down to the Capitol, I introduced myself to a Senator. "I remember you," he said. "You're the Admiral who tried to cut my submarines."
When Admiral Clark retired, the new CNO wanted a larger fleet and a new team. It was his decision, and I respected it.
My young daughter was diagnosed with brain cancer, and I retired to help care for her. I ran for Congress to see all Americans have access to the kind of health care that saved her life -- health care that was provided to my family by the American public.
Admiral Clark -- the man in charge, the man who was there -- left no question when he was asked about my service to the very end. "I wanted straight talk," he said, "and this put [Joe Sestak] in the crosshairs. People are going to say what they want to say, but he challenged people who did not want to be challenged. The guy's courageous. A patriot's patriot."
It was my job to be in the crosshairs. I was proud to do it and I am proud to now do it again for the working families of Pennsylvania.
Where I come from, if people care more about their own careers than making the right call, then lives are put in danger, and lives are lost. But the consequences on Capitol Hill are just as grave, or more so, for our nation.
I am challenging Arlen Specter because policies he has supported have devastated the lives of untold numbers of American families. • Like his votes to strip away safeguards on Wall Street and let bankers gamble away the pensions of hardworking people while pocketing billion-dollar bonuses for themselves; • His support for disastrous Bush economic and tax policies that brought our country to the verge of collapse and left us with a staggering debt; • And his vote for a tragic war in Iraq and his steady support for the Bush Administration's misguided foreign policy that harmed our national security. In the Navy, we relieve a captain if he runs the ship aground.
If Senator Specter has changed his views and learned from these mistakes, then he ought to say so. But he has not.
If he has a plan to repair our country here at home and restore our standing in the world, we have yet to hear it.
These are serious times, and we face significant challenges. For nearly a year, I have laid out my proposals, principles, and beliefs for the people of Pennsylvania.
If the Senator believes my positions are wrong, if he believes they will fail our country, I urge him to make his case.
But instead of addressing these issues, Senator Specter has little to offer but tired, old Washington politics of negativity that help no one, except, perhaps, himself.
There is nothing I am more proud of than my service to this country. Arlen Specter can say whatever he wants about me -- but the honor I take in having worn the cloth of this Nation for 30 years cannot be undone by a 30 second attack ad.
But for Americans -- particularly those who hold elected office in Washington, DC -- the words of President Obama are worth considering: "The American people are looking to us for answers, not distractions, not diversions, not manipulations. They want real answers to the real problems we are facing. I don't care what they say about me. But I love this country too much to let them take over another election with lies and phony outrage and swift-boat politics. Enough is enough."
As a military man, I was disgusted as Senator Max Cleland, who lost his limbs for our nation, was attacked as unpatriotic during his re-election campaign. I, and others, abhorred it when Senator John Kerry, who served our nation gallantly, was smeared by false charges against his military record as a fighting man in Vietnam.
An attack on the honor of a Veteran is a dishonor to every Veteran, and to do it for the purpose of one's political advantage discredits our democracy. It is a disservice to all the people out there who are struggling and are looking for real answers, and real leadership.
As I was leaving the Navy, a fellow Admiral said to me: "Joe, you weren't supposed to take your assignment seriously."
But I took it very seriously. I took it seriously because it was a serious challenge that had been neglected for too long. How could one possibly weigh one's own career against what is best for the security of our country, and the lives of our men and women in service?
I knew what was at stake, and I will never do anything less than what is called for, which often takes hard work, tough calls, and a willingness to be accountable.
That's what I did in the Navy, what I do in Congress, and what I'll do every day in the Senate.
There is a lack of accountability throughout our government, where those in positions of trust don't take seriously the charge to put the common good ahead of their self-interest. We got a good look at it on Wall Street. We see it every day in Washington.
The problems our country faces will not be easy to fix. We can overcome them, and we will, but not until we have leadership with the resolve to accept great challenges, and the courage to take them seriously.
It's not enough to talk about change. You've got to fight for it. And sacrifice for it. Because when you take on the big challenges, and really try to change the status quo, you often face the consequences not if you fail, but if you are succeeding. That's what I'm willing to do.
When I was a young boy, I decided I wanted to be just like my father -- join the Navy and command a ship at sea. I've fulfilled that dream.
And now there is no consequence that I am unwilling to face in order to stand up for what I believe is right.
That's what I have done throughout my career and what I will do every day as a Senator -- because that is what the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the United States of America demand and deserve from those who serve this nation in their name.