Hello, and thank you for joining me as I explain why I am declaring my candidacy for President of the United States of America.
I’m Joe Sestak, and I wore the cloth of the nation for over 31 years in peace and war, from the Vietnam and Cold war eras … to Afghanistan and Iraq … and the emergence of China. Born and raised in Pennsylvania, I grew up in this global canvas of service in the United States Navy.
My commitment to service came from my parents. My father emigrated from Czechoslovakia as a young boy with his parents. He served throughout World War II and continued his naval service as he raised eight children with my Mom, who also served her country as a high school math teacher — because education is our real homeland defense.
I learned integrity’s values by my parents living them: service to country, to others … above self … with accountability, in answering for oneself.
It’s how the Navy prepared me for increasing responsibility and command at sea and ashore, sending me for a doctorate at Harvard University. I was sent to work for General Colin Powell when Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; then, for President Clinton at the White House.
As the three star Admiral in charge of the Navy’s Warfare Requirements, my proposed controversial reduction in ship-levels from 375 to 260 proved unnerving to the military-industrial-congressional complex, but I saw a future owned by whoever best harnessed cyberspace, at less cost – and still do.
On 9/11, I had walked out of the Pentagon when shortly after the plane dove into the building. I was told to establish the Navy’s strategic anti-terrorism unit. It took me to Afghanistan for a very brief period as the war started.
Later, as Commander of an aircraft carrier battle group, we arrived in the Arabian Sea. Waiting there for us to become part of our American battle group was an international armada. Nations had sent ships from around the globe. As the Italian Minister of Defense said, “We are coming because America has been attacked, and we will be there for them.”
We had the world with us … united against evil … because America’s greatest power is its power to convene, to bring the peoples and nations of the world together for a common cause that serves us all.
That is what America had been doing ever since the world’s greatest generation had returned home from having defeated the horrors of fascism and imperialism in the second of the world wars. And they swore it wouldn’t happen again, to us.
They kept their promise by building the liberal world order based upon the rules of individual and human rights, open and fair markets, fair and just governments. By bringing together those that shared these values in multilateral organizations and agreements, we all became stronger, safer, healthier and more prosperous in our freedoms. And that – that – is what really makes “America First.”
And that is why America’s retreat from the world today is so dangerous and damaging to our American Dream.
First, there is nothing we can do just by ourselves – absolutely nothing — to protect America from the most destructive threat to mankind: climate change. If America were to emit zero greenhouse emissions – even within a decade, as the Green New Deal calls for – it achieves only 15% of the required reduction to disarm this catastrophic threat before it explodes on all of us. It cannot be done without all of the world doing it – led by us – together.
But America is withdrawing from the world behind walls, telling bruised allies left behind, “It’s a Wrap.” Meanwhile, China is knocking down the barriers to its emerging global order to impose its illiberal values of “might makes right.” Through China’s worldwide Belt and Road Initiative of predatory loans and infrastructure investments with already 70 nations and international organizations, cash-hungry countries now find themselves enslaved by massive debt to China.
Simultaneously, China is exploiting the international commons of corporations who outsourced not just our jobs but our national security, because China now has a virtual monopoly in manufacturing the supply chains that make these corporations’ hi-tech products, embedded for hacking.
Chinese corporations are now connecting at least two-thirds of the world’s population to the transformational speed of the 5G network. This is arguably the greatest threat of all. China’s ownership will give it a police-state capability to surveil everything on the network, both for commercial and intelligence purposes.
It now is truly one world, where destruction by climate change; contraction of our way of life by China; and damage to our national security by corporations will happen no matter what we do, just by ourselves.
We must convene the world for two primary objectives: Putting a brake on climate change and putting an end to an illiberal world order’s injustices.
The hour has become late to restore U.S. leadership to this liberal world order, but Iraq is our lesson to remember. Democrats and Republicans alike who cast their votes for the tragic misadventure in Iraq showed little understanding that while militaries can stop a problem, they can never fix a problem.
Our country desperately needs a President with a depth of global experience and an understanding of all the elements of our nation’s power, from our economy and our diplomacy to the power of our ideals and our military, including its limitations. So that, when faced with the decision on whether to use our military, our Commander-in-Chief will know how it will end before deciding if it is wise to begin.
Today, we must have a President who knows how to serve us abroad – but also at home. Which is why I ran my first congressional campaign under the refrain, “I’m a former Navy Admiral, running on national security … that begins at home, in health security.”
This was due to the awful day when my wife, Susan, and I watched as Alex, our then-four year old daughter was wheeled out of surgery with her saddened doctors beside her. We couldn’t get the brain cancer, they told us, and “she has perhaps nine months.”
But our little warrior fought on, with the best medical specialists our nation could provide. With her courage, Alex beat that demon. I knew then that I needed to answer to you, the American people. Because you had kept your word by providing the military healthcare coverage that saved our daughter’s life.
Returning home to Pennsylvania to run for Congress, it was a nearly 2 to 1 Republican District where I had been raised, bringing a sign my daughter had painted, “Joe Sestak is walking in your shoes.”
I was fortunate to be the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to the U.S.
Congress when I entered it just as the Great Recession began. The staff helped save from foreclosure over 800 homes; overturned denials of treatment for diseases by health insurance companies; reversed rejection of services for those on the autism spectrum; and assisted over 4,000 veterans across Pennsylvania and also the country.
Our congressional office handled four times the constituency cases of the average congressional office, ending up passing 19 pieces of bi-partisan legislation and my Republican District re-hired me by 20 points without my having to air a single campaign ad.
But the constant refrain in the thousands of constituency cases we handled was: why isn’t a government of the people, more accountable to the people?
The official Commission on the cause of the Great Recession said that it was the “breakdown in ethics and accountability” by government officials who lacked the ‘”political will” to say “no” to the wealth and lobbying power of the financial industry.
Corporate taxes, once half of government annual revenues, are now less than 10%; Facebook lets a third party put a program on it that captures our personal information that is sold to enable Russian hackers; and 165,000 opioid overdose deaths after pharmaceutical lobbying brought a halt to the clampdown of illegal pill mills by the Drug Enforcement Agency because, as a DEA supervisor said, “Everyone was making a lot of money.”
At least some people – such as former politicians – are making a lot of money; in the last twenty years, 450 Senators and congressmen have become lobbyists.
We must end our government’s capitulation to corporate power and moneyed influence, with its revolving door for corporate lobbying jobs. Government must reassert itself as the honest force of accountability for the people. U.S. businesses should not be doing the business of China, and then lobbying us to do so.
The president is not the problem; he is the symptom of the problem people see
in a system that is not fair and accountable to the people.
Take Iraq. It was justified as a preventive war by our leaders at the time, then embroiling us in its expanding conflict throughout the Middle East, into Africa and beyond as it created the more brutal terror of ISIS. That tragic mistake left Americans with a loss of faith in U.S. leadership and, unfortunately, also our engagement in the world.
Then this trust deficit cratered completely after political leaders stripped away the oversight and dismantled the safeguards of the one place in America where a wall is definitely needed – to keep greed out, and accountability in. And so the inaptly named Wall Street was left unfettered to shatter our economy and, with it, millions of Americans’ lives in the Great Recession.
And not one political leader has ever answered for themselves to be accountable for the carnage of either that great recession or that tragic war.
It is this unaccountable leadership that is responsible for the lack of trust in America today that undermines our sense of national unity, of who we are and what we stand for.
This is our Hobson’s Choice – not just to win this Presidential election, but to heal our nation’s soul. We need a leader who is trusted by the people because he is willing to be accountable to them — above self, above party, above any special interest – no matter the cost to him.
That is why I originally ran for the U.S. Senate, despite the opposition of our party’s Washington establishment. I disagreed that a Senator should be our party’s nominee who had humiliated Anita Hill, allowed to do so by members of our party as she testified about her sexual harassment by now-Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. There was no pleasure in opposing every member of my party’s elite to defeat Senator Arlen Spector who defected his Republican party, but there would have been less in not standing up to demand accountability for the thirty years of his damaging votes as a Senator, including against Ms. Hill.
In my second race, I walked 422 miles across Pennsylvania, and held a town hall each day. During my walk I had two calls. One came as a gentleman called out to me, “Admiral, I’m a Republican, but I love what you’re doing!”
The second was a mandate from the Democratic Senate leadership to “stop walking and just fundraise.” But if one had any feel for how Americans felt that 2016 election year, you would have sided with the Republican, as I did. Our Senate leadership then sought a primary opponent, funneling over $6 million into false opposition ads in order to win the primary. Pennsylvania was then lost as the Republican ads pointed out that Washington’s chosen democratic candidate was one of its own, a revolving door lobbyist for the pharmaceutical industry.
If the establishment had joined me on my walk in Pennsylvania, it would have learned that the biggest deficit we have in America today is not the debt, but the trust deficit.
Come aboard an aircraft carrier with me for a moment and see what the American people most want and most need, where 5,000 American sailors live, work and go to war together. At an average age of 19 ½, they run the ship’s nuclear reactor, fix a pilot’s plane before he or she takes off in it – without the pilot even questioning them. It’s just a professional salute before the plane is catapulted into the dark of the night
But sometimes, the Air Boss calls out to stop the launch, to change out planes, then you see what America most wants today.
A young sailor unhooks the plane from the catapult and, since no pilot will turn off his or her engines until they know that they have first been unhooked from that powerful sling, the sailor then walks in front of the aircraft and gives a very simple signal that says it all: “I’m willing to be accountable by standing right here until you turn off your engines and are safely on deck. And if I made a mistake, and you start heading overboard to your death while still in the plane, I am going to go with you to my own.”
No one in America believes that anyone in Washington DC is willing to stand in front of that plane, accountable to them. As your President, I want to – for all Americans, so we can accomplish our agenda together, before the hour is too late.
And while my announcement may be later than others for the honor of seeking the Presidency, the decision to delay was so I would be there with our daughter after her brain cancer had returned. Throughout this past year, Alex again showed she is stronger than me, heroically beating the single digit odds once more, drawing on the fortitude of her Mom.
Most important, Americans know that we have more in common than we do differences. I know. I served with all of you in the global canvas of our Navy and served all of you as a Congressman. And now, as President, I will need all of you to help answer the call for America’s leadership to restore a just world order so it serves us by raising our collective good, here at home – done by my gaining your trust that I will always remain accountable to you alone.