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What We Will Lose When Tom Harkin Leaves the Senate

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Cross-posted from The Nation


Tom Harkin. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

Tom Harkin's decision to retire from the Senate at the end of his current term will create an immeasurable void in the chamber where he has served for more than a quarter century. A progressive populist with a history of defending organized labor, working farmers, public education and public services, the Iowan arrived in the Senate as a fighting FDR Democrat and he will leave as one.

As The Des Moines Register well recognized in its editorial on the Iowa Democrat's decision to retire:

"A variety of terms have been used to describe Harkin's politics. He has been called a progressive or a populist from the prairie school. He is that but more: He was a close friend of the late Minnesota Sen. Paul Wellstone who used to say he belonged to the Democratic wing of the Democratic Party, meaning he was not ashamed to be called a liberal. That's the same wing of the party Harkin has represented without apology.

"Actually, Harkin's politics and his philosophy of government are rooted in the age of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal, which swept in a historic change in the role of government in the affairs of the nation."

On a national political landscape that could use a good deal more of FDR's ideological and political determination -- especially in the updated and extended form that Harkin employed it -- this is a retirement that will be felt by every American who recognizes that formation of a more perfect union requires the forging of a truly national, urban and rural progressive politics.

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John Nichols, a pioneering political blogger, has written the Online Beat since 1999. His posts have been circulated internationally, quoted in numerous books and mentioned in debates on the floor of Congress.

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