EDITORIAL: Sestak: Long shot, but a strong voice

York Dispatch Editorial Board

And then there were … actually, we’ve lost count.

Former Pennsylvania congressman Joe Sestak has joined the burgeoning ranks of Democratic presidential hopefuls, becoming, depending on your news source, candidate No. 24 (the New York Times) or 25 (NBC).

The decorated Navy veteran, who very nearly edged out Republican Pat Toomey for a U.S. Senate seat in 2010 after derailing the career of longtime Sen. Arlen Specter, brings little in the way of resources and name recognition to the race. But he offers solid arguments, a geopolitical perspective tempered by his military background, and a much-needed call for political probity.

“We cannot meet the defining challenges of our time without a united America,” the former three-star admiral said in announcing his candidacy. “This is our Hobson’s Choice: not just to win this presidential election, but to heal our nation’s soul by regaining the trust of Americans — all Americans — by a president who the people know will remain accountable to them … above self, above party, above any special interest.”

True enough. But Sestak certainly hasn’t made things easy for himself. Not only is he late to the party — he wasn’t even in the running to be considered for last week’s curtain-raising Democratic presidential debates and wouldn’t have had the support to participate even if he was — there are children’s piggy banks throughout the state with more money in them than he has in his old campaign war chest: $73.93, according to Federal Elections Commission records.

Joe Sestak, former US Navy Admiral and Congressman, visits VFW Post 5265 in Spring Grove while campaigning for the US Senate, Wednesday Feb. 10, 2016. John A. Pavoncello photo

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He’s also on something of a political losing streak, having been defeated in his 2016 Senate bid by primary opponent Katie McGinty, who went on to lose to Toomey.

Still, Sestak’s voice is potentially an important one in the primary process, should he find the means to amplify it. His three-decade military career — including a stint as the National Security Council’s Director for Defense Policy during the Clinton administration — gives him a unique perspective among the Democratic field when it comes to foreign policy.

“I think one of the worst things that is happening today is that America is retreating from the world; almost behind walls, leaving bruised allies behind,” Sestak told the National Interest last weekend in an exclusive interview.

He juxtaposed the president’s tyranny-by-Twitter geopolitical improvisations with the United States’ concerted post-World War II efforts to create what he called “a world order based upon human and individual rights, where we cared about the collective duty of the world because it was in our interest.”

That’s the kind of talking — and thinking — that has been nowhere near the White House in recent years.

With Pennsylvania an increasingly important presidential battleground state, it doesn’t hurt to have a homegrown candidate among the far-ranging Democratic field. (Yes, Joe Biden is a native son, but long-since a politically prodigal one.)

Joe Sestak may be the longest of shots, but his voice, particularly on international issues, can be an important addition to the vote-seeking chorus that is now serenading the American electorate. He’s right about one thing: The 2020 race will indeed be about not just electing a president but healing our nation’s soul.

Democratic voters will eventually determine their standard-bearer. That woman or man will be forged by many months on the campaign trail, not only defending their vision for the future of America but absorbing competing views.

The successful candidate could do worse than to have Sestak’s input, particularly on global matters, as among the perspectives that help shape his or her ultimate positions.