Few Were as Frank as Frank

When Representative Barney Frank (D-MA) announced yesterday that he would not seek reelection, retiring from Congress after 31 years of representing Massachusetts’ 4th District, he signaled the end of three decades of polarizing public rhetoric and, like him or loathe him, audacious and tireless public service.

Frank will be remembered as a unique character in American politics.

Frank came out in 1987, six years after taking office, becoming the first openly gay member of Congress and a national icon for gay politics. While his outing was the result of a scandal involving a male prostitute resulting in a Congressional ethics reprimand, it was followed by a successful re-election campaign while out of the closet. It is important to remember that, as recently as 1988, such a move was more than audacious, particularly for one representing a largely working class south-of-Boston constituency. It is also true that his activism for gay rights in Washington has been interrogated by many in the LGBT community, particularly given his occasional opposition to grassroots protest activism and his political maneuver in 2007 to remove protections for transgender persons from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) in an attempt to get it passed. The news of his retirement has prompted responses from national LGBT leaders that are varied — as befits a politician who is both activist and political realist — but have on balance recognized his valuable contributions to the gay rights movement.

Particularly in recent years, Frank also made his mark as a pugnacious, unapologetic liberal advocate for domestic financial policy that made enemies on Capitol Hill and elsewhere, especially his collaborations with Senator Chris Dodd (D-CN) on the fall 2008 Wall Street bailout and the 2009 Dodd-Frank Wall Street oversight legislation. Notable in his approach to legislating was a combination of confrontational public rhetoric (including an ascerbic wit and a no-holds-barred characterization of his opponents) and deft insider negotiation to get bipartisan compromises accomplished.

As we bid farewell to Congressman Frank (although it is highly unlikely we will hear the last of enthusiastically opinionated liberal advocate Frank), we close with a brief collection of some of our favorite Frank-isms, from his congressional campaign website… some rapier thrusts, some sledgehammer slams.

A year ago, we were being told, you have to deregulate more. Now, we are going to have to save capitalism from the capitalists.

If you’re not able to work closely with people you despise, you can’t really work here.

Conservatives believe that from the standpoint of the federal government, life begins at conception and ends at birth.

They’re (congressional opponents) saying that my ability to marry another man somehow jeopardizes heterosexual marriage. Then they go out and cheat on their wives. That doesn’t jeopardize heterosexual marriage? It’s nonsense.

I don’t begrudge Ronald Reagan an occasional nap. We must understand it’s not the dozing off of Ronald Reagan that causes us problems. Its what he does on those moments when he’s awake.

People talk about how a rising tide lifts all boats. For some people a rising tide is a very bad thing.  For people who don’t have a boat and who are standing on their tip toes to keep their heads above water, a rising tide is not a welcome prospect.

People are rightly upset about the role of big money in politics. And it’s true that big money will win if it’s got the field to itself. But if you get the average voter involved and engage the collective weight of public opinion you will kick big money’s ass.

When you’re engaged in a political fight, if you’re doing something that really, really, really makes you feel good, then it’s probably not the best tactic.

We have a besetting sin today in our politics where people think that you show your depth of commitment to a cause by rigidity, not just by rigidity, but impugning the motives of those on your side who try to get something done.

I have this fear that one days there’s going to be a fire in the Senate and there are only going to be 57 Senators there and they’ll all die because they won’t have the 60 votes to allow themselves to leave the building.

Every politician is entitled to privacy, but no politician is entitled to hypocrisy.

One of the problems you have in politics is people don’t ever want to disagree with their friends. Politicians get a lot of undeserved credit for standing up to their enemies. It’s not only easy to stand up to your enemies; if you’re a politician, it’s generally profitable. The hardest thing to do is to stand up to your friends when you think they’re wrong.

The gentleman who spoke said this is a Republican Party and he is proud of it. I think there is too good of appreciation in the country today of the real differences that exist between the parties. Partisanship is not always a bad thing. There is a legitimate aspect in a democratic society to recognizing differences. The gentleman from Texas is proud that they passed a tax bill that excluded the poorest working people in America. He said he is proud of it, and I think we are proud on our side to be appalled by it.

There are rules of excessive civility around here to which I generally subscribe. You do need a certain amount of courtliness in the system. But that, in itself, can become a form of abuse. There are limits to when you restrain yourself from calling a fool a fool.

Thanks for the memories, Congressman. We may not have always agreed with you, but you always made it interesting.

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