The Washington Post

Sen. Harkin’s swan song: Changing the national anthem


This frame grab from video provided by C-SPAN2 shows Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) giving his farewell speech on the floor of the Senate on Capitol Hill in Washington, Friday, Dec. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/C-SPAN2)

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), a progressive champion on social programs whose legacy includes crafting the American Disabilities Act, had one last priority he wanted to address before he retired after 40 years in Congress.

He’s always wanted to change the national anthem.

So the day before the Senate adjourned and his time as a senator was over, Harkin introduced his last bill — to retire the “Star Spangled Banner” and replace it with “America the Beautiful.”

The current anthem seems to be a serious pet peeve of the senator’s, and he wasn’t about to leave the hallowed halls of Congress before getting it off his chest.

“It is on an issue I have long wanted to tackle, changing our national anthem to one I believe is more representative of the amazing country and people that make up our United States of America,” Harkin said in a statement for the record.

The national anthem doesn’t mention the word “America,” he said. And “it is hard as heck for layperson to sing.” Harkin acknowledged the effort was completely futile, but he asked “those who follow me to keep in mind the importance of symbols like the national anthem in reminding us what is great about this country – equality of opportunity, geographic diversity and majesty, shared commitment to individual liberty – and give serious thought to this proposal.”

We’re sure the 114th Congress will get right on that. Though a quick Internet search finds there’s a real movement out there to change the nation’s anthem, including this Washington Post op-ed written by Michael Kinsley in 2009, who, like Harkin, concluded it’s just too hard to sing. So maybe someone will take up the cause.

Love of country was certainly forefront in Harkin’s mind as he bid farewell to a lifetime of public service. Not only was his final legislative effort an ode to America, but so were his closing words on the Senate floor.

Harkin, whose late brother was deaf, taught those gathered to hear his goodbye speech how to sign “America.”

“Might I teach it to you?” Harkin asked, intertwining his hands. “Take your hands and put them together like this…it looks like an A when you do that. And move it in a circle in front of your body. That’s it, pages. You got it. This is the sign for America.”

Watch here:

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