insider Paul Begala said he measures the goodness
of people by one of the first questions a human
asked in The Bible, when in the Book of Genesis,
Cain, who had just killed his brother Abel,
put this query to God: "Am I my brother's
"How you answer that question will frankly
determine whether you are a good person,"
Begala said Sunday at U.S. Sen. Tom Harkin's
34th annual steak fry, an event that was equal
parts a lifting of liberal morale and a lampooning
of the GOP presidential contenders now traversing
Held under a tent at the rain-soaked balloon
fields in Indianola, the signature event for
the Democratic senator drew about 300 people.
The audience, largely party activists and organized
labor loyalists, heard an old-school, firebrand
speech advocating progressive policies and taking
on corporate America from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders,
a Vermont Independent who still speaks with
the unmistakable accent of his native New York
Begala, an architect of President Bill Clinton's
presidential campaigns and White House policies
and a cable-TV show regular, keynoted the event
in a speech jammed with Texas-sized wit.
"I read the Holy Bible and I watch Fox
News so I know what both sides are thinking,"
His thoughts on the Republican presidential
debate at the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation
and Library in Simi Valley, Calif., two weeks
ago: "I had a sense that for some of them
it was their first time in a library,"
Begala also served up about cracks on fellow
Texan Rick Perry, the governor of the Lone Star
State and a leading Republican candidate for
the White House.
"He's running as a Republican — I thought
he was running as a joke," Begala said.
Begala noted that Perry earned a "C"
in animal breeding at Texas A&M.
"I have goats that got a ‘A' in that,"
He added, "Be nice to him (Perry). Talk
Begala compared presidential candidate Mitt
Romney, the former governor of Massachusetts,
to the models that pose for photos that are
included in picture frames or wallets when these
items are purchased in stores.
"When we get home, we take that out and
put a real person in," Begala said.
Sanders' policy-oriented speech served as a
strong defense of long-standing pillars of the
"Social Security, in my view, is the most
successful federal program in the history of
the United States," Sanders said.
The Congressional Budget Office estimates that
Social Security will pay benefits to about 56
million in 2011.
Sanders has offered legislation to increase
the $106,800 cap on income subject to Social
Security taxes, an idea President Barack Obama
embraced in the 2008 campaign. This proposal
drew some of the most sustained applause at
the Harkin steak fry.
"We have to stand tall and say ‘no cuts
to Social Security,' " Sanders said.
Sanders said he would fight any Republican attempts
to increase the eligibility age for Medicare.
"We are not going to let them raise the
eligibility age to 67," Sanders said.
Sanders said corporate greed is at the heart
of American economic troubles.
"The wealthiest people in this country
have developed a new religion," Sanders
said. "…Their religion is greed, and they
want more and more."
Harkin said Americans should find the environments
at Republican presidential debates disturbing.
He said he was particularly appalled with the
glee with which some Republicans have responded
to the idea of people being executed under Gov.
Rick Perry's watch in Texas.
"I don't care whether you're for the death
penalty or not," Harkin said. "You
shouldn't exult it."
Harkin acknowledged that Democrats face challenges
in the 2012 elections. But Republicans themselves
appear to be coming to the rescue, the senator
"We owe a big thank-you to all Republican
candidates visiting Iowa," Harkin said.
His take on U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn.,
the winner of the Iowa GOP Straw Poll last month
in Ames: "Iowa Republicans are going to
Michele Bachmann because they find Sarah Palin
Harkin said the United States faces a deficit
of courage and creativity that fueled the last
century under presidents like Franklin Roosevelt,
Harry Truman and John Kennedy.
Where are the big ideas and bold challenges?
"The problem is that we're still driving
on Eisenhower's highways and sending our kids
to FDR's schools," Harkin said. CV
Douglas Burns is a fourth-generation Iowa
newspaperman who writes for The Carroll Daily
Times Herald and offers columns for Cityview.