Joe Sestak Profile: Run, Joe, Run

He was forced out of a Navy post. A dozen of his Congressional staffers have quit. And now, Newtown Square’s Joe Sestak is defying Barack Obama and Ed Rendell in taking on Arlen Specter in the country’s most important Senate race. But is he exactly the sort of scorched-earth guy we need in Washington?

And now this. What Sestak’s trying to pull off is both crazy and brave, and the Democrats have miscalculated – none more hugely than Ed Rendell, who went on MSNBC in May, two months before Sestak officially entered the race, and snarled that if Sestak were to throw his hat in, "He’d get killed. … When he loses to Arlen, he fades into political obscurity." Rendell’s statement was awkward for a couple of reasons: 1) Rendell had played a key role in getting Sestak into Congress in the first place; and 2) Sestak had hardly come up with the idea to run for Senate out of the  blue; earlier in the year, before Specter switched parties, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee had approached him to get into the race.

According to Sestak’s brother, Rich, the day that Rendell went on TV was the day Rich knew for certain that his brother had a real shot at winning. "’Cause you know why?" says Rich. "You brought the big dog out. And they did it to scare Joe out of the race? I mean, how are you gonna scare a guy who’s been in the military?" David Landau, a party leader in Delaware County, remembers thinking the same thing; Landau was an early supporter of Sestak, and after Sestak was first elected in 2006, he’d call up Landau and recount his battles with Democratic leaders like Nancy Pelosi and Rahm Emanuel. The Dems wanted to withdraw the troops from Iraq faster than Sestak believed was feasible or safe. It took six months just to get the trucks out. It would take 18 months, at least, to pull the troops out — safely — and Sestak could explain it in rigorous detail, downloading facts from the meticulously organized data vault that is his brain. ("Amateurs do tactics," Sestak likes to say. "Experts do logistics.")

Beyond the simple idiocy of Rendell and Specter thinking they could bully a three-star admiral — it was a display of weakness, not strength — they were also playing right into Sestak’s hands, rhetorically. By pointing out that Sestak should look out for his own interests by keeping his House seat, Rendell was only calling attention to the fact that one guy was willing to lose his job for his principles, and one guy wasn’t. The most pragmatic politician of our era was being challenged by an unapologetic idealist.

The more the Democrats spoke of harsh political realities, the more Sestak spoke of eternal truths; the more that Arlen Specter got up before Democratic audiences and read off Obama’s endorsement of him, word for word, the more Sestak told inspirational stories from his days captaining the USS George Washington, a $4.5 billion aircraft carrier. He even told stories from the Bible. He particularly loved the one about Moses descending from the mountain and placing the broken tablets of the Law into the Ark: "It is the time for leadership," Sestak would say, in a hushed, awestruck voice just above a whisper, "remembering that there are many broken pieces that have to be brought together to repair this world."