1. Archive

Tom Harkin

U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, has been in the Senate for seven years and served 10 years in the U.S. House. Harkin, 52, spoke to about 200 active Democrats at the Tampa Airport Marriott on Dec. 2, 1991. These are excerpts from his speech.

Well, I'm Tom Harkin from Iowa and I'm running for president and I'll tell you why I'm running for president. Because I really believe there's a hunger in this country, a hunger for new vision and a new agenda, for a new America. There's a hunger among the American people to turn away from the policies of the past decade, the policies of greed and self-interest, the policies of wanting to know only what can I get out of it and to heck with everyone else. I think the people of America want someone to speak to them again like Franklin Roosevelt did when he said we are a nation of one family in which the interests of one are bound up with the welfare of all. Franklin Roosevelt also said something else when he came to office in 1932. He said, we always knew greed was bad morals; we now know it's bad economics. It was true then and it's true today.

I'm also running because I believe there's a hunger in the Democratic Party, a hunger among Democrats for a real, strong, unequivocal, unapologetic Democrat to take on George Herbert Hoover Bush.

I believe there are four pillars on which we must base this campaign for victory.

First of all, I say the first pillar has got to be strong _ for who we are and what we believe in _ to stand up for what we stand for as Democrats. As I have said, unequivocal and unapologetic. I've always had three axioms in politics that I've always followed: First of all, never defend and always attack. Secondly, don't fight on their turf; make 'em fight on yours. And third, don't apologize; make them apologize. And to be traditional Democrats in the finest sense of that word. Because what our party has always stood for is economic opportunity, the ladder or ramp of opportunity for people to ascend so their lives will be better than their parents'.

They tell us that we built a welfare state. Nonsense! Republicans built a welfare state. Every time they're in office, the number of people on welfare rolls goes up. Every time we're in office, the number of people working goes up. That's the difference. We believe in putting people to work. That's been the history of our party.

The second pillar I talked about is how we're going to convey to people that we're going to make their lives better . . . We're in a downward economic spiral, and I don't believe that symbolism is going to cure it . . .

And I tell you my first action as president of the United States will be to take that failed economic experiment called supply-side, trickle-down economics and throw it out the window.

We've got to invest our wealth in this country . . . I mean a bold plan to put millions of Americans back to work. And I mean to do it in our infrastructure _ roads and bridges, highways, mass transit systems, high-speed rail, new sewer and water systems, energy systems so we don't have to buy oil from the Mideast any longer, communications systems.

They say, how you gonna do this, where are you gonna get money and things like that? I say first of all, let's stop subsidizing Europe and Japan. Secondly, let's get tough on trade. I intend to bring that trade deficit down. For every billion dollars of trade deficit we have, it costs us 23,500 jobs. We have almost a $100-billion trade deficit. You figure it out yourself. If we reduce that down to zero, that's over 2-million jobs here in America. That is a job producing program. Think of it!

Third, I say we've got to tell the American people we've got to reclaim the American dream. . . . You won't find a better example of the American dream than this person standing right in front of you.

Oh sure, look at me, I've got a nice suit on. Union-made, by the way. Starch in my shirt. Silk tie. Expensive shoes. Looking good. But I've gotta tell you about where I come from. I come from the wrong side of the tracks. It's true. My father was a coal miner most of his life. Didn't even have an eighth-grade education. Well, he always said he did, but he was an Irishman and he bragged a lot. My mother was an immigrant. Came from a country no one ever heard of until this summer. Now everyone's heard of it. Slovenia.

My mother died when I was 10. My dad was 54 when I was born, so by the time I was in high school, he was already in his upper 60s, approaching 70, in bad health, had black lung disease when he finished the coal mines. He had no retirement, no health care, nothing but black lung. . . . Every year he would get sick. Lived in a small town, didn't have any doctor. . . . Finally he would get so darn sick we'd get frightened and somebody would come over, one of our cousins would come over and drive him to the hospital, Mercy Hospital in Des Moines, and thank God for the sisters of Mercy. They'd nurse him back to health and send him back home. Happened every winter, just like clockwork. . . . So when people tell me about the need for health care in America, again, I don't have to read about it in a book. I know it. I've lived it.

And I tell you this, here's what I'm gonna do when I'm president: Right after I'm inaugurated, I'm gonna clean out that situation room in the White House, the one that Ollie North operated in, you know, I'm gonna clean it out and I'm gonna call in health care providers, I'm gonna call in representatives of the elderly, consumers, labor, management, I'm gonna call in governors and mayors and congressmen and senators and we'll put them around the table. I'm going to sit at that table . . . and I'm gonna insist that by June of 1993, that I present to Congress a national health insurance program and I'm gonna sign it into law by the fall of 1993.

And that fourth strong pillar has got to be our values, what makes us Democrats. . . . The values my parents gave to me and your parents gave to you _ hard work, being frugal 'cause we didn't have much, personal responsibility taking care of ourselves, love of our families, taking care of our families, praising God, love of our country, and the care and concern of those less fortunate than ourselves.

Those are my values. And those are your values. And those are the values of decent, ordinary Americans across this land.

To acquaint voters with the positions of the major presidential candidates, the St. Petersburg Times is printing excerpts from their stump speeches during the primary-election season. These will appear periodically and in no particular order as the March 10 Florida primary nears.