Opinion

SESTAK: My Presidential Campaign In One Word? Accountability

Getty Images

Adm. Joe Sestak Contributor

I’m Joe Sestak — a former 3-star admiral, a former congressman, a college professor, a husband, and a dad. I’m also a candidate for the presidency of the United States of America.

I’ve been committed to public service my entire adult life. I’ve worked on ships, broken down farmhouses, in front of classrooms, in the halls of Congress, and in the White House. I have known great leaders who hold themselves accountable for their actions and in turn command trust from their followers, and I have known bad leaders who refuse to be held accountable, or never accept responsibility. I know what it takes to be a great leader.

After wearing the cloth of our nation for over 31 years in peace and war, I retired from our Navy to take care of my four-year-old daughter Alex upon her diagnosis with brain cancer. Once I knew she was safe, which was thanks to the great healthcare my family was provided through the military, I decided to return to public life. I decided to fight for all Americans to have access to the same quality healthcare that saved my daughter’s life. So in 2006, I decided to run for Congress.

I beat a 20-year incumbent Republican in a Pennsylvania district where Republicans outnumbered Democrats by an almost two-to-one margin, becoming just the second Democrat since the Civil War in that district. I also became the highest-ranking military officer ever elected to Congress.

I relished the challenge of serving in the United States Congress. I worked hard every day and was recognized as the “most productive” member of my freshman congressional class of over 50 new members. Working across the aisle, I passed 19 pieces of bipartisan legislation during my first term, from securing the first money for autism research in 12 years to passing the first bill dealing with elder abuse in 17 years.

But the job of a congressman is not just to legislate, it is to help constituents in need to access all manner of services. Not too long after my people-oriented constituent services operation starting hitting its stride, the Great Recession hit. Thankfully, I was organized, and we were ready to go.

We ended up dealing with four times as many constituent cases as the average congressional office. We kept our doors open seven days a week until 9 p.m. every night, because a congressional office is essentially a frontline resource for people in desperate need of services and support, and the working people who needed us most couldn’t come in between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. Yes, I asked my staff to work very hard to cover all those hours, but I never asked anyone to work harder than I.

During my time in Congress, I talked to everyone. I made friends with members of both parties. I brought in people from all different walks of life — Democrats, Republicans, independents — to have conversations. I was never afraid to hear from constituents during town halls; in fact, I enjoyed it. We didn’t always agree, but when we disagreed, we disagreed well. The Tea Party Patriots even asked for a picture with me. I earned their respect because they knew I was always working for them and accountable to them, even if they didn’t subscribe to my political beliefs.

When I ran for reelection in 2008, I won by 20 points despite spending no money on political commercials. Then, in 2010, I decided to run for the U.S. Senate after incumbent Republican Sen. Arlen Specter switched parties and the Democratic establishment gave him their full backing.

I just could not countenance the idea of my party supporting a man who had been on the wrong side of the issues for so long, as I thought about his support for the war in Iraq, his opposition to common-sense gun laws (even the Brady Bill), and especially his humiliating treatment of Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas confirmation hearings.

It was a hard-fought race, and I was down in the polls for most of it, but in the end Democrats of Pennsylvania agreed with me and I won handily. Unfortunately, I lost in the general election in the year of the Tea Party wave (though I did outperform the Democratic candidate for governor by almost 10 percentage points).

So, why am I running for president? Because I bring a breadth and depth of experience that no other candidate can match.

Because this nation has invested in me and prepared me to put myself forward as an agent of change who can make this country better.

Among the highest honors of my life was to command the USS George Washington aircraft carrier battle group during wartime operations, with some 10,000 sailors in my crew, including pilots flying sorties over Afghanistan. It is the highest honor our nation can bestow upon someone: to be asked to lead its sons and daughters in harm’s way.

During my 31 years in the United States Navy, I learned firsthand the real meaning of accountability. I saw 19-year-olds put their lives on the line for each other every single day. But at the same time, in the halls of power in Washington, D.C., I saw men and women three or four times the age of those sailors send more youth off to a war of choice, that tragic misadventure in Iraq.

On an aircraft carrier, sometimes when a plane is hooked up to the catapult, ready to be flung out over the water, an order comes down to switch it out for another plane. The pilot is already sitting in the cockpit, ready to go. No pilot will turn off their engine at this point until they are certain their plane has been unhooked from the catapult, because if the catapult engages and their engine is off, they’ll quickly end up at the bottom of the ocean.

It’s the job of a young American to unhook that plane from the catapult. It’s a very important job. Once they’ve done it, they then stand directly in front of the plane and give the pilot a simple hand signal to say “I did my job. It’s safe to cut your engine.” They could give the same signal from next to the plane, and the pilot would see it, but they stand in front because they’re also saying “I’m accountable for my actions. If I failed to do my job and that catapult launches you to a watery grave, you’ll have to go through me and I’m going right down with you.”

That’s accountability.

The most dangerous deficit we face in this country right now is a deficit of trust. Americans no longer believe politicians are working in the interest of the people. We no longer believe our leaders are accountable to us, worthy of our trust, willing to put our interests first, above party, above ideology, even above self.

I’m running to restore accountability to American leadership here at home — and to restore much-needed American leadership in the world. The world needs to be able to trust the American president again, and most, so do the American people.

I will be a president and commander in chief all Americans can be proud of, secure in the knowledge that a servant of the people is there in the White House doing your work, every hour of every day. I will always put your interests first.

You have my word.

Joe Sestak (@JoeSestak) represented Pennsylvania as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 2007-11. He served for 31 years in the Navy, rising to the rank of three-star admiral.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.