Note: The following letter was sent to both candidates and the Philadelphia Inquirer.
For those outside Pennsylvania, Joe Sestak (Democrat)and Pat Toomey (Republican) won their respective primaries and will face off in the November’s election for the U.S. Senate now held by Arlen Specter.
Congratulations gentleman, on your respective primary victories. Though I did not vote for either of you, I am now left with the two of you as the principal candidates in this fall’s Senate election. So I have a request: please keep the campaign focused on the issues.
Mr. Sestak, you ran a campaign that basically had the message “I am a Democrat and Arlen Specter isn’t.” You rarely discussed your own positions because despite Specter’s recent change in political party, you were not substantially different than him. So you played misleading ads that highlighted Specter’s Republican connections and implicitly (by virtue of the images you showed) reminded people of Specter’s age and recent battles with cancer. It was a disgusting and disappointing campaign. In your acceptance speech you exclaimed that “Democracy works!” However, your campaign represented the worst of what democracy has become in this country, and it needs to stop.
Mr. Toomey, because you did not have a serious challenger, you did not have use such tactics in your primary campaign. Furthermore, your political strength in the Pennsylvania Republican Party was significant enough to drive Arlen Specter from the party he had served for 30 years. Your pushing him out was the first nail in his political coffin, Sestak’s victory was the second.
Even so, you now represent a party that’s recent claim to fame has been “We are not Democrats.’ Republicans have become the part of “no” – no health care reform, no banking reform, no taxes, no government. Moreover, your party has exploited race and class divisions in a manner Eduardo Bonilla-Silva calls “colorblind racism:” (Racism Without Racists, 2009) not speaking of race, but using code words race and class to turn white folks against President Obama and his agenda.
Both of you, prominently display your young children on your websites and your political ads. So here’s a proposal: Conduct yourself in this fall’s campaign in the same way you would expect your children to behave on the playground. No name calling. No dirty tricks. No misleading or dishonest statements.
Instead why not focus on the issues, since there are significant differences between you on a variety of concerns from health care reform to environmental issues to education to the role of government to gay and lesbian concern to women’s issues to immigration, and so on. Talk about those things. Let your ads focus on what you believe and how it is similar or different from your opponent. If your opponent chooses to make misleading, personal attacks, don’t take the bait. Call him out for his bad behavior. We voters are sick of the misleading attack ads; all they do is make us disrespect you more.
At the end of each day until November, before you go to bed, ask yourself this question: In my words, decisions, and behavior today was I living an example I would want my child to follow?
Believe me, if at the end of each day you can answer that question in the affirmative, we will all sleep better.