When the Washington State Democrats hold their annual “Maggies” (Warren G. Magnuson Awards dinner/fundraiser) on Saturday, the keynote speaker will be former two-term Pennsylvania Congressman Joe Sestak. In and of itself, that’s not particularly notable … the WA Dems bring in an out-of-stater every year. Last year it was Iowa’s Senator Tom Harkin, and previous speakers include Hillary Clinton and Howard Dean.
Joe Sestak is a different kind of politician. I refer not only to his biography — the highest-ranked military officer ever elected to Congress (he was a three-star Vice Admiral), commander of a carrier strike group in the Persian Gulf and Indian Ocean, deputy to the Chief of Naval Operations, National Security Council liaison, director of a top-secret Navy counterterrorism unit — but to some unusual-for-a-politician attributes.
I’ve been a Sestak fan for quite some time. Not long after he first decided to run for Congress in 2006, he participated in the YearlyKos (now Netroots Nation) gathering in Las Vegas. In his post-YK diary post, I wrote the following comment:
thank you, Admiral
I knew very little about you before attending YK, but since returning home I’ve made a (very small, alas) contribution to your campaign through ActBlue.
I don’t want to sound like I’m dissing Eric Massa, your colleague on the panel at YK, because I appreciate his fire. But I found your quiet, measured, from-the-soul passion far more compelling than his fervor. I can imagine that in a debate against Curt Weldon’s delusional bombast, your approach will be all the more effective.
Your words carry immense authority. As a non-military person, I find myself reassessing my views on the military if a man with a style such as yours can so successfully command a carrier battle group.
I grew up across the Delaware, in Cherry Hill. So most of the towns and locations you mentioned are familiar to me. I wish you the best of luck in your campaign, and hope that I’ll be able to put together the funds to send along some additional tangible $upport.
At that YearlyKos panel, Massa strutted and shouted, even tearing off his dress shirt at one point to reveal some clever (he thought) t-shirt. Though I had no idea he’d turn out to be so wacky, it was readily apparent to me that he was hiding behind all the noise he made. On the other hand, Sestak spoke slowly and carefully, but it was evidently from the heart and deeply personal. The authority and passion of his presentation made it clear how such a soft-spoken man could have inspired sailors in a combat zone.
I made small contributions as well to Sestak’s 2008 re-election campaign and to his Senate campaign in 2010. In that one, he edged
Republican Democratic incumbent Arlen Specter in the primary but lost narrowly to Club For Growth teahadist Pat Toomey in November.
As a longtime backer, I wasn’t particularly surprised when I received an email from Sestak a couple of weeks ago. After all, I get messages daily, from dozens and dozens of candidates, legislators, and interest groups. The content, however, was completely unexpected. Noting that he’d soon be here in Seattle (though he didn’t mention the reason for the visit), he invited me and his other Washington supporters to join him for coffee on Saturday so that he could thank us for our help. That was all … just to thank us, just to meet us. No request for a check or Paypal or credit card, not even to “retire his campaign debt”. There was no “ask” of any sort.
To say this action was unusual is a vast understatement. I don’t recall anything remotely like it in my years of political activities. Politicians don’t go out of their way to thank (or even notice) small donors like me. Hell, they don’t take a step from morning to night without pleading for cash. Yet here’s Joe Sestak, 3000 miles from home, who wants to spend an hour or so doing precisely the opposite.
Not to suggest a deeper meaning, I’m macabrely amused by the keynoter choices of the WA Dems and WA GOP at their big fundraisers. On Tuesday, the WSRP’s Fall Dinner featured political trickster/Plame unmasker/US Attorney firer/Dubya inventor/secret superPAC creator Karl Rove. The guy whose friend Dubya calls him Turd Blossom. The guy who, through his shadowy American Crossroads and Crossroads GPS organizations, funneled nearly $5,000,000 into last year’s Murray-Rossi race.
Make of the Sestak vs. Rove comparison what you will. In the meantime, I’m looking forward to shooting the shit with Joe on Saturday.