28 November 2011

I Remember When Barney Frank Was in Worse Shape Than Me

Barney Frank has represented me in the U.S. Congress since before I could vote. [Well, in some college years I voted in another state.] I was sorry to hear this morning that he won’t run again, and hope he enjoys the next stage of his career immensely.

In what must have been the early 1980s Frank, then in his first or second term, spoke at an assembly at my high school. I asked a question about the House’s freshmen, which he praised. About twenty years later, I visited his local office to talk about work-for-hire, copyright, and fair use issues for writers. In that meeting he praised my group for lining up cosponsors from both parties even as he was brusque in getting to business (“Justletmereadthis”).

I recall attending a 2002 meeting with voters in which Frank announced he’d have to leave early because Nancy Pelosi was about to be chosen House Minority Leader. That might have been the same meeting in which he jocularly chided the audience for not being honest about wanting favors from our representatives.

Frank always had a sharp wit, making him a national media figure. But he also mastered legislation and House procedure. In 2008 and 2010, Capitol Hill staffers named him one of the chamber’s “workhorses.” The return of the Republican majority in 2011 left him with little to do, a situation he suffered for several years and which he can’t have relished.

In 1987, Frank famously told the public he was gay. He wasn’t the first gay Congressman by any stretch of the imagination, but he was the first to voluntarily acknowledge his sexuality. (Wikipedia notes that a Republican Congressman who led the effort to censure Frank was Larry Craig. Who had the healthier approach to sexual matters?) Unfortunately, being gay and progressive made Frank a lightning rod for America’s far right.

One of the many Republican lies of recent years has been to complain that Frank helped to bring on the housing bubble by pushing for more home mortgages. That doesn’t make sense in terms of timing (the act in question passed decades before the Bush-Cheney recession began), numbers (homeowners with loans under that law were less likely to default than others), policy (Frank pushed for more rentals, not more mortgages), scope (similar problems occurred in other countries), or power (the Republicans controlled the House in the years when the bubble grew, not to mention the White House). People making that claim willfully ignore the mistakes and crimes of the mortgage industry, even as evidence of those problems piles up. As I said, it’s just one of many Republican lies.

It’s too bad we won’t have Barney Frank to kick those around anymore.

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