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Restoring the American Dream

Date: Oct. 11, 2010
Location: Pittsburgh, PA

Address by U.S. Senate Candidate Joe Sestak

"Restoring the American Dream"

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

October 11, 2010

Remarks as Prepared

It has always been uniquely recognized that America is a land of great promise, and great opportunity. A place where every individual has the chance to determine his or her own future, free of discrimination, fear, or prejudice. For me, this principle has been realized in a deeply personal way.

When I was in the third grade, I set a goal for myself: to join the Navy, and command a ship at sea.

I wanted to follow in my father's footsteps.

As a child, my dad came to Pennsylvania from Czechoslovakia with my grandfather, who got a job as a steelworker so he could provide for his family. He grew up in a middle class household in Coatesville, and fought in both the Atlantic and the Pacific theaters of the Second World War in the United States Navy, and then rose to be a Navy Captain.

And although he was born halfway around the world, today -- having lived to see his son achieve his dream -- my father rests at Arlington National Cemetery, a genuine American hero.

The values he taught me, I carry with me every day. And the lessons he passed down -- about hard work, accountability, and patriotic service -- have shaped my career, and my life.

In many ways, my father's story defines the promise inherent in the American Dream: that no matter who we are or where we come from, in this country, everyone has an equal opportunity to succeed. And every parent can leave their children with a brighter future than the one they inherited from the generations that came before.

That's why I'm here today: because I believe every American deserves the chance to make good on this promise, and the opportunity to match their skills to their aspirations, in any endeavor they decide to pursue.

But I entered this race because, across America -- for the very first time -- it's becoming harder and harder for people to realize their dreams, and use their God-given talents to do better than the generations that came before.

It's hard to blame people for feeling that the American Dream, that great promise, has been broken -- because it has. Today, our challenge is to restore it, to ensure that our children -- your children -- can inherit better opportunities than the ones we face right now.

We've seen that, over the past few years, working families have been slammed. Their economic security has been gambled away, and they're finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet, let alone plan for the future and aspire to achieve the American Dream.

But that's exactly why I'm running for U.S. Senate -- for the same reasons that drove me to join the military at a time when our country was involved in Vietnam: because we're facing difficult challenges, and I have never shied away from a fight.

This is a moment for courageous leadership. This is a moment for problem solvers -- for those who will take a practical approach, rather than cater to party leaders or an extreme ideology.

So, more than a year ago, with these principles at the forefront of my mind, I gathered with a group of supporters in my home District, in Delaware County, to announce my candidacy for the United States Senate. And although we have come a long way since that day, the challenges we continue to face, the principles I uphold, and the values that drive my campaign, remain the same.

This decade, for the first time in many, working Pennsylvanians are struggling to do better -- and to leave their kids better off than they are today.

The middle class -- which used to be the source of our prosperity -- is shrinking. The pact between generations has been broken by those -- like my opponent -- who focused not on "fair opportunities for all," but on enhanced opportunities for a few. This undermined our economic security and placed our future at risk.

As a result, people's livelihoods have been damaged, even ripped apart, and dreams have ended as so many are finding it harder than they can ever remember just to get by.

That's why we need a new leadership, one with practical leaders, that fights for us in Washington.

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. Now, I'm fighting to do the same for all Pennsylvanians. They have been let down and shut out by a political process that fails to provide the practical solutions we need, and a class of Washington politicians that doesn't understand -- or doesn't care about -- the challenges ordinary people are facing every single day.

Too many politicians seem to have forgotten that the American Dream is not about personal wealth, or material success, for a select few. Instead, it's about ensuring a fair opportunity for all to realize their potential, and shaping a world that's better for the next generation, so they are inspired to do the same.

Our politicians have broken this promise, and violated the public trust we elected them to fulfill. Never has a government of the people been held in such low regard by the people -- and this is something we need to change on a fundamental level.

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.

The establishment tried to push me out. They spent millions attacking me, and tried to deny Pennsylvanians the choices they deserve. But I refused to back down -- and without hesitation, I stood up and said "You're wrong."

I fought hard against the establishment -- and we won, for us.

But I've never been interested in becoming a part of a broken system -- and I just don't have any patience for the usual Washington games. In fact, Congressman Mike Doyle once said to me: "Joe, you're a crappy politician."

Well, I took that as a compliment. Because I know people don't want another politician. They want a public servant who will never stop fighting for them -- and that's exactly what I will do as your next Senator.

I know the middle class has always been at the heart of our prosperity -- and that's why they are the key to our economic recovery. In the Navy, I learned to reject ideology and just do what it takes to solve the problem. But my opponent has a very different, and very rigid set of ideas, and he has always taken a very different approach, because of his different values -- different than mainstream Pennsylvanians.

I know Congressman Toomey. We've had a beer together. But his rigid mindset is fundamentally wrong. He thinks the solution to all our problems lies in the values of Wall Street, which place the interests of big banks and corporations over the needs of individual families, with a belief wealth might eventually trickle down to them, that is, to us. And he just doesn't recognize the damage that that kind of thinking -- his philosophy -- did to our economy.

He doesn't understand that these policies have ruined people's lives, and cost over 8 million jobs across the country, including 600,000 right here in Pennsylvania.

So it's no wonder he wants to privatize our Social Security, eliminate all corporation taxes, and has said he wishes the U.S. financial system worked more like the system in Hong Kong.

It's no wonder he thinks that, if we give bigger and bigger tax breaks to bankers, corporations, derivatives traders, and the richest of the rich, wealth might somehow trickle down to us here in Pennsylvania.

There's no question that his extreme policies of deficit spending and deregulation have hurt our working families. In fact, he's gone as far as offering, and voting for, tax rewards to companies that ship jobs overseas and open factories in places like China.

In a book he published just last year, he wrote that illegally subsidized foreign goods were a "gift" to American consumers, even though they cost us jobs. And he said that the United States has "an unfortunate tendency" to enact policies that encourage people to "buy American." An unfortunate tendency?

When I first read that, I couldn't believe my opponent would say something quite so out of touch. These aren't figures on a balance sheet -- our people's livelihoods are at stake. Entire American industries and communities can be upended by this kind of callous attitude.

But when you open his book, there it is -- in black and white.

This speaks volumes about the rigid mindset -- an ideology -- that drives his agenda, and proves he just doesn't understand the challenges we face.

In fact, his hometown paper recently noted that he likes to campaign from 30,000 feet -- gazing down at middle class families from the window of his private plane.

But unlike my opponent, I know Pennsylvania is not a flyover state on one's way from Wall Street to Washington, D.C. We need a senator who understands what people are going through -- not someone who views our problems from cruising altitude, and isn't interested in looking people in the eye and offering real solutions.

Working Pennsylvanians know "buy American" isn't an "unfortunate tendency". That's why I want to revitalize Pennsylvania's industry, and see the words "Made in America" again.

But my opponent disagrees. And as we say in the Navy: if you want to know where you're going, first look at your wake. Congressman Toomey left a wake of economic destruction and dangerous deregulation. His rigid mindset has failed ordinary Pennsylvanians. And now, he's campaigning on more of the same.

We just can't afford to let his ideology take firm hold in the Senate. The consequences, for working families in Pennsylvania and across the country, would be permanently catastrophic.

That's why I am here today -- right now -- affirming my commitment to fight for each and every one of you. And asking you to join me in this fight, for all of us.

My opponent is woefully out of touch, and far too extreme, for our Commonwealth. So this November, it's our responsibility to stand up and say "enough is enough."

This is no time to shy away from this fight -- because we're fighting for middle class Americans, and those who want to move into the middle class. We cannot let the extremists and the special interests deceive us, or shout us down, no matter how many millions they spend on deceptive campaigns against us.

Right now, in our state -- in this very Senate race -- large special interests and apparently, even foreign corporations, are trying to buy influence over the outcome of this election. But we cannot let them dictate our future. We must determine it for ourselves.

Moreover, ever since I announced my candidacy, more than a year ago -- this race has always been about much more than just the policies my opponent and I support.

It's bigger than each of us as individuals, and bigger than any media commercial, or campaign speech, or news story.

At its core, this race is really about who we are, as Pennsylvanians, as Americans.

Here, in the state where our independence was born, we are the special heirs to a legacy of freedom and opportunity that can be traced back to the founding days of this Republic -- and which attracted so many, like my immigrant father, to this particular state of Pennsylvania.

But today, much of this missed opportunity has faded, because of a lack of courage and accountability in Washington -- and a growing group of leaders who failed to stand up for our values, and chose to fight for a rigid ideology that favored special interests instead.

People like my opponent gambled the American Dream away, undermining our ability to leave a brighter future for the next generation. And in their rush to side with those who had already attained wealth and prosperity, they even took positions that benefited countries like China at the expense of middle class families here at home.

But working Pennsylvanians know it's not about big corporations, or the privileged few. It's about providing equal opportunity for the working people who build wealth up, and drive it forward -- the innovators, entrepreneurs, and small businessmen and women who make up the strongest part of the wonderful fabric of this Nation.

We Pennsylvanians understand that the enduring truth of the American Dream lies in the values we share, and in the constant struggle to live up to those values -- values that focus on the working family.

And it is here in Pennsylvania where we know best that adversity also brings opportunity -- and that, although our families are struggling, if we seize the chance to restore the American Dream, this moment of crisis can be a turning point for our country.

This, then, is the hour for courageous leadership. People are frustrated -- they're rightfully upset, and they want to hold someone accountable -- but they also know we cannot return to what got us into this mess.

They want to believe again.

For at the end of the day, it's not about anger. At its core, this election is about a battle of ideas on the way America needs to move forward -- and about who we are. It boils down to a basic choice between two people of very different backgrounds, with very different approaches and values, who believe in two very different sets of ideas

I respect my opponent. But I know our country cannot abide moving further toward his extreme ideology that brooks no dissent from the belief that those fortunate enough to have "made it" should dictate their beliefs upon others.

Now, more than ever before, we need someone in the Senate who will roll up their sleeves and do what it takes to focus Washington on America's working families, in the knowledge that they are the ones who drive wealth up, through the opportunity to do so.

But as John F, Kennedy once said: "The hour is late, but the agenda is long." So today, we must take up this fight -- right now, not tomorrow -- and once again stand up against the elements of extremism that helped get us into this mess, and now want to take advantage of it!

If you believe in this country -- if you care about the direction we take, and the values we choose to define us -- then you can't just sit on the sidelines. This is about our future -- your future -- and restoring the opportunity for our children to achieve their dreams.

This election is about embracing the independent spirit that has always defined the hardworking people of our Commonwealth.

So let us move with vision and resolve toward the aspirations that were born right here in Pennsylvania, one hot summer more than two centuries ago, when great leaders came together in the interest of individual freedoms, and in defense of our common good.

Let us stand together once again -- to fight for equal opportunity; to seize control of our own future; and to lift up the American Dream that has shaped so much of our history.

For, even in moments of hardship, our country has always found great strength in the ideals of -- and belief in -- our working families.

So, although today's challenges are great -- despite the long odds, and the cries of those who seek to defend the harmful status quo -- I have never been more confident in our ability to meet these challenges together, and restore the promise of the country I love.

Thank you.