Democratic Congressional Candidate Dr. Joseph Sestak spoke to a group of students and faculty this past Thursday afternoon in room 102 of Ruby Jones Hall about his position on the War in Iraq and Afghanistan and was received with mixed feelings.This was the first of a series of “Policy Forums” that have been announced by the Department of Political Science.
“The goal of the Policy Forum is to invite candidates for public office to give a formal lecture on a particular area of public policy,” said Peter Loedel, the chair of West Chester’s Political Science department.
Sestak, 54, grew up in Springfield, Delaware County and attended Cardinal O’Hara High School before entering the Naval Academy and later receiving a Doctorate in Political Economy and Government from Harvard University.
He served as the Director of Defense Policy in the White House during the Clinton Administration. Before ending a 31-year career in the navy, Sestak attained the rank of Vice Admiral after having had a series of operational commands at sea, including Commander of an aircraft carrier battle group of 30 U.S. and allied ships that conducted combat operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The talk was entitled, “At War in Afghanistan and Iraq: Implications for our National Security,” and Sestak was quick to express his dissatisfaction with the current state of National Security.
“I’m running on security. National Security begins at home. As someone who has been in [the armed forces] since 1974, I believe that our strength is in our people,” said Sestak.
Sestak said, “There is no higher honor than being asked to lead the men and women of this nation’s armed forces into harms way, because I knew that if I made a mistake and lost a life, I would be held accountable.”
Although he supports the troops in Iraq, Sestak said, “Do I agree with the war in Iraq, heck no.”
Sestak compared politicians to doctors and military leaders, saying that they ought to be “dealers of hope.” “People are wondering, ‘can this person get us through this?’ That’s what politicians should be.”
“I want congress changed and I want Bush changed,” said Sestak. He does not think the President will change. He said, “When a President is in his last term in office, he is worried about one of two things; his legacy or what he believes in.” He said that Bush will continue with the war and leave it to his successor to make changes.
“With the 130,000 troops we have there, the insurgency can’t be crushed. Our credibility will be hurt if we leave, but it will get worse if we stay there for five more years. We are a bit without a leader now, and short term fixes cannot be done.”
Sestak said that 326 billion dollars have already been spent on the war, and he claimed that the government will have spent 1 to 2 trillion dollars by 2010 if things continue the way they are.
“Sixty-six percent of all companies five years ago used to provide healthcare to their employees. That’s down to 33 percent today.” Sestak said that the money spent on the war would be better spent providing healthcare, security, and education for the people in this country.
“We believe in investing in their education and their health,” said Sestak.
Sestak explained that when he was in the military, he registered as an Independent because he believed that the military should be a-political.
“Democrats invest in people. Republicans have brought good things to the table, such as fiscal responsibility, but not in the last four years,” said Sestak.
Sestak was followed into and out of Ruby Jones to his car by a handful of demonstrators carrying signs that said things like “Sestak is a hypocrite”, “Take your oil and drugs back to Virginia”, and “Sestak is a carpet bagger”.
Kamalah Brown was among the demonstrators. She is a student at Cheyney University and recently won Miss Cheyney University. She said they were demonstrating because “Sestak owns over $60,000 in oil stocks in the U.S. and he says [his opponent] Curt Weldon owns stocks as well, which is false.”
Brown also said that when Sestak recently visited Cheyney, he claimed that he could not find any African Americans to work on his campaign. “That is ridiculous considering the fact that African Americans are among the biggest supporters of the Democratic Party.”
The “Policy Forums” expect to continue to invite candidates at all levels of government and from all political parties. Loedel said that the goal is to encourage civic engagement among our students and connect the academic world to the real world of politics. “We seek to promote West Chester University’s strategic political location and encourage dialogue and discussion among all its citizens – regardless of political affiliation.