No one has made life on the campaign trail more difficult for several of the frontrunning candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination than US Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa.
Last October, Harkin joined Massachusetts Senator John Kerry, North Carolina Senator John Edwards, Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman and Missouri Representative Richard Gephardt in voting for the resolution that authorized President Bush to take military action against Iraq. But, last week, Harkin admitted that he has been wrong to believe the Bush Administration was serious about exploring diplomatic alternatives to war.
If Congress were to vote again, Harkin said, he would oppose the resolution. “I’m not going to be fooled twice,” the Iowan told hometown media in Des Moines. “As I look back it sure looks like the administration was never serious about resolving the situation peacefully,” said Harkin, who complained that Bush has acted “like the cowboy who rode out of Texas, all guns blazing.”
One of a growing number of Congressional Democrats who voted for the October resolution but who now are critical of the president’s failure to respect language that instructed the Administration to pursue diplomatic solutions, Harkin said, “In my adult life, with the exception of Vietnam, this has been the biggest failure of diplomacy I’ve seen.”
Harkin’s vote in favor of the October resolution deeply disappointed many Democrats in Iowa, where antiwar sentiment always runs high. And Harkin never suggested that he was overly happy with his vote; indeed, when he delivered the eulogy at Paul Wellstone’s memorial service last fall, Harkin praised the late Minnesota senator for having the courage to vote against the resolution.
But, even if Harkin was there uncomfortably, having Iowa’s most prominent national Democrat in the pro-resolution camp provided cover for Democratic presidential contenders such as Kerry, Edwards, Lieberman and, above all, Gephardt, who helped organize support for the use-of-force resolution when he served as House Minority Leader. For presidential candidates who backed the resolution, it was a relief to be able to respond to questions about a possible war by saying, “Like Tom Harkin…”
Now, they are no longer “like Harkin.” The Iowan says he did not mean to stir up trouble for the contenders for his party’s 2004 nomination. But Harkin, himself a former presidential candidate, is too sly a political player not to have known that his statement would stir the political pot. And so it did. In fact, when several of the Democratic candidates arrived in Iowa after Harkin had revealed his new stance, the candidates found that the pot was boiling. In a state where even Republicans — like Iowa City-area Congressman Jim Leach — have taken antiwar stances, the sentiments among Democratic activists tend to echo those of Polk County party leader Barbara Boatwright, who says, “I’d like to hear something stronger from Congress. I wish we’d have an outcry and protest from Democratic members of Congress.”