Barney Frank is as quotable as a private citizen as he was as a congressman
I think [the Republicans] have a real crisis. If they do not break the grip of the tea party they will be very much a minority party. In the short term, they have a real problem because breaking that is going to be messy.
I was talking to a Republican senator the other night at the airport when I was waiting for Jim, my husband. I mentioned to him that the House Republicans were now thinking about changing the [fiscal cliff] deal, and he said, ''Boy, I went over a couple weeks ago to talk to the Republicans from my state to try to get them to be more reasonable. They're fucking nuts. We get the shit pounded out of us for being too much for the rich and they don't understand that.''
-- former Congressman Barney Frank, in
an interview with Metro Weekly's Justin Snow
When Barney Frank, newly retired from the House of Representatives after 32 years of service, announced in a TV interview that he had changed his previously announced position and would indeed like the interim appointment to replace Sen. John Kerry after he's confirmed as secretary of state until a special election is held, a lot of us on the Left reacted immediately and energetically. This can't have made life easy for the man who'll make the decision, Gov. Deval Patrick, who has made clear that he won't have anything to say about the appointment until Senator Kerry is confirmed and Massachusetts has an actual Senate vacancy.
When the governor was asked if he would have preferred that Barney not go public on the matter, he said, "Does it matter in the case of Congressman Frank what I would have preferred?" He was smiling. The governor knows him some Barney Frank.
I admit it, I love Barney. I love him because he's a passionate liberal whose liberal passions remained operative at a higher level of government power than anyone I can think of in modern times.
I love him because he made the decision to do the long, grinding-hard work to achieve real inside power as either chairman or ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.
I love him because he's incredibly smart and knows how to channel that smartness directly into the related but distinctly different businesses of politics and government.
I love him because he has little hesitation in standing up to, and standing down, the opposition, and because he's incredibly funny, partly because he's so damned smart, but also in good part because, as I've noted here before, he actually listens to people, something that isn't exactly common among DC pols.
This particularly drives his opponents all kinds of nuts, because in their view it just isn't fair, Barney's habit of tying them in knots over stuff they've said. As we know, if there's anything right-wingers hate (and believe me, there is; these are people who often live for and on hate), it's being called to account for stuff they've said and done. After all, it's just stuff they said.
And I see I haven't even mentioned about Barney being gay. Of course I love him for that too, for the way, in the glare of the public eye, he found his courage to be public who he is. This is incredibly important for people who are gay and for people who aren't.
All of that said, was I sorry when Barney announced that his 16th term in the House would be his last? Well, of course. Is there any time when Congress could afford to lose a Barney Frank? Of course not. But especially at a time when Congress is in the state it's in, with the House in particular having been taken hostage by people who are by and large so dim and/or so crazed that they may not even realize they've created the country's first terrorist caucus.
And that said, could I blame Barney for packing it in? Again, of course not. It can't have been a decision taken lightly. After 32 years, he can't reasonably be asked to give more. He has a husband now, and has certainly earned the right to live a more normal sort of life.
In fact, as Barney explains in a nice interview with Metro Weekly's Justin Snow, he seriously intended to pack it in sooner.
In 2010, I thought I wouldn't run again. I thought I'd have one more term. I was too tired and doing full-time politics either for myself or for other political people since October of 1967. And I'm married and look forward to time with Jim.But the Republicans retook the House, and --
I said, ''Well, if I leave now it'll look like I'm being a sorehead that I wouldn't stay as financial chairman.'' And so I was going to do only one more term.The issue was finally decided for him when --
they changed the congressional districts . . . so drastically that I would've been going 325,000 new people to ask them to vote for me as their member of Congress for one term. And I couldn't do that. I think party responsibility is to work on people's problems and issues," and you can't ask for their vote knowing that "if a problem arises 18 months from now I won't be able to do much about it because I'll be gone six months after that.All of which is perfectly logical and perfectly understandable. What I didn't expect to be let in on was this fairly stark personal revelation. Here's Justin:
Although he says he'll miss the drafting of legislation and passing of laws, Frank is looking forward to his own form of retirement, which, he says, will include public speaking and a couple books.The other thing I most enjoyed learning from this interview is that Barney already has some quite concrete plans.
"I'm looking forward to working less hard and being under less pressure and having less tension," Frank says. "I'm just tired and my energy is gone," he adds, attributing the four years of the financial crisis that he witnessed from his post on the House Financial Services Committee as contributing to his exhaustion.
I want to write. I have a great respect for the written word. Some people can write while they're doing other things. Former Sen. [Daniel Patrick] Moynihan could do that — a great senator and great author. I can't do that. So I now will have a major opportunity to write a couple of books. I'm looking forward to that.The first book, he says,
is about what liberalism should be. Basically, I believe we should acknowledge that of the two parties we are the ones that understand the positive role that government can play in our lives. And we need to figure out how to get people to understand that better.After that comes "a history of the political activity around here. "
Accidentally, my political career and the gay-rights movement are exactly the same age. I got elected to the state Legislature in 1972 -- three years after Stonewall. I rode in, as a candidate, the second gay-pride parade in Boston history in 1972. I filed the first gay-rights legislation in Massachusetts in 1972 and Massachusetts was probably the fourth or fifth state to do that. And I got here in 1981 and I have been on the floor as a member of the House for every debate and vote on LGBT rights ever, so I want to write about that.Barney has a lot to say in the interview about that chunk of history, and his optimism in the face of the mounting tensions between "this right-wing group [that] took over the Republican Party" and the kind of Republican with whom he was once able to do some of the nation's business.
Actually, he has a lot to say about quite a lot of things, like this, about his very public marriage:
I did make a point of being married while I was still [in Congress] because I wanted these people to, you know, I'm very pleased to run into some conservative Republicans and introduce them to my husband. And Jim is a very popular guy with the other spouses and we're the only same-sex couple other members of Congress really know. I think that's very important."Are you kidding?" Is that pure Barney or what?
To make it kind of a teaching moment, one Republican member of Congress, a more moderate conservative, sent us a wedding present and then voted to reaffirm the Defense of Marriage Act. So I brought the present back and the response was, "Well, why?" And I said, "Are you kidding?"
I'm still hoping Barney has that stint as interim U.S. senator ahead of him, but "private citizen" Barney should be a welcome guest too. And I look forward to putting those books he's writing on my reading list.