By Matthew Rothschild on January 26, 2013

I’m sorry Tom Harkin is not going to run for reelection in 2014. I respect his reasons. Time is “fleeting,” as the 73-year-old Senator said in announcing his decision. And he will have served 40 years in Congress by then, and I acknowledge the validity of his point that he should let other people get a chance to serve.

But we’ll sorely miss him and his courage.

Even before he was elected to Congress, he served as a staffer on the House Select Committee on U.S. Involvement in Southeast Asia. In 1970, he went with members of that committee to Vietnam, and he made public some embarrassing information about the “tiger cages” where our allies in the South Vietnamese government were torturing prisoners. Harkin actually had visited the prison and talked with the prisoners himself. He took pictures of the tiger cages, and, against the express wishes of his Congressman, he delivered them to Life magazine, which published them.

He wrote about the experience in a cover story for The Progressive in October 1970 called “Vietnam Whitewash: The Congressional Jury That Convicted Itself.” He said he couldn’t ignore the voices of the prisoners in the tiger cages begging him to tell their stories.

And he also said: “One man can stand up and make a difference.”

Well, Tom Harkin has stood up repeatedly, and repeatedly he has made a difference.

He made a difference in the late 1970s, when he denounced U.S. support for Indonesia’s invasion of East Timor.

He made a difference in the 1980s, when he opposed U.S. support for the contras.

He made a huge difference in 1990 when he wrote the Americans with Disabilities Act.

He ran for President in 1992 in the Democratic Party but unfortunately lost to some obscure governor from Arkansas. But he made a difference by refusing to append the word “neo” to his brand of liberalism.

And he kept making a difference.

Tom Harkin has repeatedly made a difference by supporting abortion rights.

He has repeatedly made a difference by supporting farmers.

Tom Harkin has repeatedly made a difference by supporting workers’ rights, demanding an increase in the minimum wage and better working conditions.

He has repeatedly made a difference by supporting stem cell research.

He has repeatedly made a difference by standing up for civil liberties.

He himself was the victim of a crude McCarthyite attack when he was running for reelection in 2008.

His Republican opponent, Christopher Reed, called him “the Tokyo Rose of Al Qaeda and Middle East terrorism.”

Those remarks came in a forum on October 30 broadcast on Iowa public TV and sponsored by the Des Moines Register, the paper reported.

Reed also said that Harkin was “anti-American” and was “providing aid and comfort to the enemy,” which is the constitutional definition of treason, a crime punishable by death.

Harkin said the comments were out of line and predicted: “It’s going to hurt him,” he told the paper.

At the taping, Harkin was heard to say, directly to Reed: “You’re a nice young man, and I thought you had a political future ahead of you. But that just ended your political career right there.”

Harkin whupped Reed 62.5 percent to 37.5 percent.

In one of his most recent votes, Harkin showed his independence and his dedication to principle. He was the only Democrat to vote against the agreement on the fiscal cliff.

“We find ourselves voting on an agreement that fails to address our number one priority – creating good, middle class jobs in Iowa and throughout the country,” he said. “Further, it does not generate the revenue necessary for the country to meet its needs for everything from education for our children, to job training, to other critical supports for the middle class. The deal also makes tax benefits for high income earners permanent, while tax benefits designed to help those of modest means and the middle class are only extended for five years. In essence, this agreement locks in a tax structure that is grossly unfair to middle class Americans, one which provides permanent tax assistance to wealthy Americans, and only temporary relief to everyone else.”

That’s the Tom Harkin I know and love.

And that’s the Tom Harkin I’m going to miss so much.

P.S. You can see Harkin discussing the tiger cages and much more in a talk he gave at Fighting Bob Fest in Wisconsin in September 2009. Here’s the video:

If you liked this story by Matthew Rothschild, the editor of The Progressive magazine, check out his story “Obama in the Shadow of Martin Luther King."

Follow Matthew Rothschild @mattrothschild on Twitter

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You forgot about him flying combat missions in Vietnam.......No...wait a minute.....

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.


Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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