Harkin's Tough Talk Rallies Liberals

TOM HARKIN, unlike Michael Dukakis, would look good in a tank. When this feisty Iowa senator sets his teeth and his eyes flash, he looks like a tough customer.Listeners believe him when he says he is prepared to "go toe-to-toe" with President Bush. "I will hit him right back between the eyes ... you wait and see," says Harkin. Harkin believes that the reason Dukakis lost was that he never got off the defensive. "Never defend, always attack," says Harkin of his own strategy. "And never fight on their territory." Harkin was a guest at the Monitor breakfast, and he didn't need much prodding to elaborate on how he thought he could knock Bush down for the count: "I intend to fight on my territory. I intend to tell the American people that they need a president who knows that the real threat to our national security is not halfway around the world but halfway down our street. "We need a president who is willing to expend as much capital and energy and leadership in working with our state legislators, our governors, and our Congress in solving our domestic problems. About here Harkin was asked how he was going to deal with Bush's war-related popularity. His reply: "That's where Republicans are going to want to fight their battle.... They are going to say: 'He won the war against Saddam Hussein and should be elected because of that.' We've got to say to the American people: If you want to fight old wars, you can; but I want to talk about your future - about your next four years, your next eight years. I want to talk about your kids." A reporter asked Harkin to provide some "specific issues that he thought Democrats could get a grip on." His answer: "Health care, education, crime, and economic growth." He does not have detailed programs ready on these issues. But he says, "I think what the American people want to hear is someone talking about how we are going to keep them healthy in the first place. That's why I've pushed so hard for more preventative care." Harkin presents himself as a fighter; but he refused to vote for the president's war resolution: "I just felt - as Sam Nunn did - that all reasonable alternatives had not been exhausted." As president, Harkin would be a spender: "I would rebuild the nation's infrastructure and make the American people the healthiest and most productive in the world." He asserts that the money is available, pointing out that "we found $400 billion for bailing out the S&Ls." But where would he find the money? He says he supports a constitutional amendment to balance the budget but feels certain there is a lot of money to be found by deep cuts in the military. How will this tough-talking senator do in the national arena? That's what the 40 or so reporters at the breakfast asked themselves as they listened to a man who seems to have ignited instant support among many liberals, who like his message and see him as a possible winner. Harkin's basic message? "I believe there is a real hunger in the American people to turn away from greed and selfishness," the senator says. "The American people want someone to speak to them about his vision of America - like Franklin Roosevelt. My vision is to be on the side of the ordinary people and express my ideas in direct, uncomplicated English." Harkin is avowedly for labor, civil rights, and Israel. He rejects "even-handedness" in dealing with Israel and the Arab countries. "When you have one nation that has been a close ally and shares our values and another which has not been good friends and does not share our values, I think it is ridiculous to deal in an even-handed way. So I have been unabashed in my support of Israel." Harkin is passionate: He is optimistic; he is a super salesman. He might turn out to be just the candidate the Democrats are looking for. At any rate, it seems that Democratic liberals are taking to this fiery Midwesterner who speaks their language and who looks like he has the toughness to stand up to Mr. Bush.

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