Sestak pitches the American Dream at Pitt

By Michael Macagnone

Democratic senate candidate Joe Sestak outlined yesterday his version of the American Dream —… Democratic senate candidate Joe Sestak outlined yesterday his version of the American Dream — a version that doesn’t include Republican Pat Toomey serving as Pennsylvania’s next U.S. senator.

In a half-hour speech in the Teplitz Courtroom in Pitt’s Barco Law Building, Sestak urged the audience and America at large to reignite the American Dream, and he criticized Toomey’s policy stances along the way. Representatives from Toomey’s campaign criticized some of Sestak’s remarks in a separate interview.

Sestak addressed a largely enthusiastic crowd — blue Sestak-for-Senate signs, stickers and buttons dotted the mixed group of about 200 students, faculty and community members. Several times during the speech they interrupted him for applause.

If elected, Sestak said he would work to shore up the American middle class so that they can “build wealth up” and allow the next generation the same chances he and his father — a captain in the Navy — had.

Sestak explained that his solidarity with “the working families of Pennsylvania” comes from his 31-year Navy career, during which he achieved the rank of admiral.

“Like in the U.S. Navy — where we invested in our sailors who then made our military strong — as a Congressman, I’ve always stood with the working families who drive this country forward,” he said.

“The working family,” a phrase Sestak used with some variation six times in the speech, would stand as a higher priority than strict party adherence, he said.

“That’s why I’ve never been content to play by the old rules — and why I defied the leaders of my party to enter this race in the first place,” he said.

Sestak defeated Democratic Sen. Arlen Specter in the May primary after a hotly contested election. Specter had the endorsement of President Barack Obama and much of the local and state Democratic party.

Toomey campaign spokesman Tim Kelly said that Sestak isn’t as independent of the Democratic party as he often claims.

“The only examples Sestak is able to cite as proof of his so-called independence is when he was furthering his own political ambitions,” Kelly said.

During the speech, Sestak said that Toomey’s extreme, “trickle-down” policies are part of what put the United States in its current economic slump. He said that Toomey wanted to favor the interests of large corporations over those of small business owners.

“My opponent is woefully out of touch, and far too extreme, for our Commonwealth,” he said.

He described Toomey as having a “rigid mindset,” “rigid ideology” and “rigid ideas” in relation to economic policies — charges he repeated five times during the speech.

Later, Kelly responded to Sestak’s claims that Toomey put corporate interests above the average voter with a salvo of his own: “Congressman Sestak might be the only person in America who thinks the failed Obama stimulus was too small and the health care takeover didn’t go far enough. Now that’s extreme, and it’s why Pennsylvania voters are rejecting him.”

Both Toomey and Sestak have accused each other of being “too extreme” for the Pennsylvania electorate several times since the general election campaign began in May.

Sestak also said that foreign corporations and foreign donors have started contributing with advertisements to Republican campaigns in the wake of the Supreme Court decision stemming from Citizens United v. the Federal Elections Commission.

In that case, the Supreme Court ruled that funding of independent political broadcasts in elections cannot be limited under the First Amendment. Sestak and other Democrats have said the decision allows big corporations to circumvent limits on campaign contributions.

Obama leveled a similar charge during a rally in Philadelphia on Sunday.

Kelly did not immediately respond to Sestak’s comments on foreign campaign spending.

The Pitt Law Democrats organized the event, which president Dwyer Arce said “came out of the blue.”

He said the Sestak campaign had called him barely a week ago to see if the group could organize Monday’s event.