In the Des Moines Register, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, said that the worldview of Navy veteran Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who is the son and grandson of Admirals, has been shaped too much by the military.
"He has a hard time thinking beyond that," Harkin told reporters. "I think he’s trapped in that. Everything is looked at from his life experiences, from always having been in the military, and I think that can be pretty dangerous."
"It’s one thing to have been drafted and served, but another thing when you come from generations of military people and that’s just how you’re steeped, how you’ve learned, how you’ve grown up."
Harkin, like McCain, was a Navy flier, though unlike McCain Harkin never saw combat.
Harkin said "there’s nothing wrong with a career in the military…but now McCain is running for a higher office. He’s running for commander in chief, and our Constitution says that should be a civilian. And in some ways, I think it would be nice if that commander in chief had some military background, but I don’t know if they need a whole lot."
Republicans have taken offense at Harkin’s comments, saying they show how "out of touch" Democrats are.
Apparently Harkin has a Goldilocks view of military service, having heralded Sen. John Kerry’s service in 2004 and having assailed Vice President Dick Cheney for not having done so. "When I hear this coming from Dick Cheney, who was a coward, who would not serve during the Vietnam War, it makes my blood boil," Harkin said then, after Cheney attacked Kerry for being weak on terrorism. "Those of us who served and those of us who went in the military don’t like it when someone like a Dick Cheney comes out and he wants to be tough. Yeah, he’ll be tough. He’ll be tough with somebody else’s blood, somebody else’s kids. But not when it was his turn to go."
This wasn’t Harkin’s first broadside against McCain. In April the Register reported that Harkin criticized McCain’s temper, saying "it can be scary. Flying off the handle without discussing things with people, working things out … I’ve seen it a couple, three times here."
Last month, Sen. Jay Rockefeller, R-WV, a supporter of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, criticized McCain for being "insensitive to many human issues." Rockefeller said that this stemmed from the fact that "McCain was a fighter pilot, who dropped laser-guided missiles from 35,000 feet. He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they [the missiles] get to the ground? He doesn’t know. You have to care about the lives of people. McCain never gets into those issues." He later apologized.
The Karl Rove style of politics is to go after your opponent where he is strongest — Kerry’s military service, for instance. Are the Democrats trying this against McCain?