politics & government

Barney the Dinosaur

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Barney Frank“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.” –Barney Frank

There is some universe where Hank Paulson’s nudge to the hedge funds managers and their ilk is not criminal conspiracy and collusion, but not in this one. The fact that Bloomberg broke the story makes it seem even more egregious — obviously, someone  confused the roles of Secretary of the Treasury with Lord High Protector of Plutocrats. Interesting approach to doing business. Unfortunately, how exactly does the Congress respond? How does the White House respond? We’ve given the Bush administration a pass on things that degrade and demean the nation; won’t the Obama administration apply the same “professional courtesy” to this guy and his minions?

This is why we need public intellectuals like Elizabeth Warren, Paul Krugman and ultimately Barney Frank. Frank’s retirement isn’t terribly surprising — I’d rather hang out in Cambridge and the South Shore than DC, and he’s showing why he’s been there so long while showing the good sense to leave on a high note. For him, this will be a high note, one instance where Cassandra can crow…Frank is probably incapable of appearing to gloat even while gloating. Still the thought of the former Secretary of the Treasury and the former Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisors perp-walking into a Congressional Oversite Committee to force meaningful action on derivatives and finanical instruments without Representative Frank’s presence on the committee is sad. We’d love the show.

“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.”–Barney Frank

One of the things that makes Frank so valuable to us all is his utterly unwillingness to pander. He’s not terribly good at sucking up to those in power. Part of this stems from an innate honesty that is rare in politicians. However, despite the Chardonnay-sipping, Brie-eating reputation of his district, there are a helluva lot more of middle class and working class folks in his district than there are elitests. Frank is a representative of a type of old school politician in Massachusetts — he takes care of his constituents and pays attention to them and their needs because he understands that they are the ones who provide him the venue in which to do things he wants to do. If bitchslapping the bankers appeals to folks in Kansas or Oregon, it appeals more to the non-elite working folks who get up in the morning and take the train into Boston to work in banks or shipping companies or universities not as wealthy plutocrats but as clerks, guards, analysts, janitors, school teachers, cops, firemen and college instructors and staff.

I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the Army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.”–Barney Frank

When the occupy movement decided to complain about Congress, Frank responded in character and with the kind of straight forward common sense that makes a difference. Pointing out how much the house got done only to be stymied in the Senate by the Republicans led by Mitch McConnell, he refused to pander to the OWS or to the whining wing of the Democratic party. “I didn’t elect those people (referring to Scott Brown and Tea-publicans added to Senate and House.) I’m not going to apologize for the congress to the people who elected this Congress by not voting. ” Now, Nancy Pelosi says a lot of the same stuff that Frank has said, but she says it with a polite and strained smile as befits a lady who will have great fun this year eviscerating John Bohener and the like.(I’d say emasculate, but that happened to most of those bastards a long time ago — there’s a notch cut in scrotum of some pols everytime they go to a Koch Brothers barbecue and a Grover Norquist revival and eventually the balls just fall out.)But, Barney Frank just looks pained…Sox win, Bruins win, Pats win — fine, but he looks pained. Ana Marie Cox points out that this is one reason Frank’s comming out wasn’t a big deal in his district; he just doesn’t look like he’s ever having fun, and it’s hard to imagine him ever having fun.

Barrney Frank, who has just announced his retirement at the next election, was the purple dinosaur of Congress, though not in the way the children in your household might recognise. He was as flamboyant as magenta and as prickly and dangerous as a T Rex – with the same short, stubby arms, come to think of it. Once he had someone in his sights, his wit flayed its victims quickly and mercilessly. Though Frank could be laugh-out-loud funny, his own range of facial expressions ran the gamut from displeased to disgusted. I’ve always suspected that Washington accepted his homosexuality with relative ease, in part because it’s really hard to imagine Barney having sex. Or doing anything one might possibly enjoy.

Frank has been a mainstay of cable talk shows, and I can see him taking up the cause after he leaves office in much the way Ed Rendell and, from the idiot wing of the American People, Michael Steele has, either with MSNBC, CNBC or Current. That would be interesting because Barney Frank is primarily a pragmatist, not an ideologue. He believes that the purpose of government is to do that which is in the preamble to the Constitution –form a more perfect union, establish justice, ensure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense and promote the general welfare. So, he can work across the aisle and has frequently done so with folks like Ron Paul. It’s interesting to me that the two liberal boogie men of the Congress in 2009-20, Barney Frank and Allan Grayson worked with Paul to pass legislation requiring the audit of the Federal Reserve. Paul and Frank will go out together, and that will be a loss. I don’t agree with Paul about much except transparency and freedom from intrusive government in the private life of citizens. But, they are both honest men, and we’re going to miss them. I believe substantively we’ll miss Barney Frank more, but the vision of the skeletal elf and the lumbering troll scaring the hell out of lobbyists, bankers and bureaucrats is incredibly amusing.  As the Times points out

Mr. Frank supports a muscular government that exercises both oversight and aggressive action on behalf of the less fortunate. That used to be a fairly standard position for many members of both parties. Congress may be losing one of its best-informed and quotable members, but it is not losing a radical.

Probably not again in our time, because as Barney Frank has so accurately described the Republican party, “It consists half of people who think like Michele Bachmann and half of people who are afraid of losing a primary to people who think like Michele Bachmann.”

 

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One Response to “Barney the Dinosaur”

  1. Warren and Krugman are public intellectuals? That’s one interpretation, I guess. Not my own, but so be it.

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