Artwork by DONKEY HOTEY
BY CHRIS MCCARY Barney Frank grew up around a Jersey City truck stop, went to Harvard, and in 1981 became the first openly gay U.S. Congressmen. During his 30 year tenure in that absurd and corrupt institution Frank has been one of the loudest voices for liberal and progressive causes. In 2013, he retired from Congress and is currently working the lucrative speaker circuit. Frank will be reading from his just-published memoir FRANK: A Life In Politics From The Great Society To Same-Sex Marriage tonight at the Free Library. Last week we got the former Congressman on the phone to talk about scandal, Dodd-Frank, coming out in the ‘80s, the state of our un-democracy, the Tea Party, weed, dark money and darker politics, Occupy, Edward Snowden, the Patriot Act, the demise of the Fourth Amendment as we know it, the 2016 presidential race and more.
PHAWKER: What is the proudest moment of your congressional career? And, I guess conversely, what was the low point of it?
BARNEY FRANK: Well the low point was stupidly getting involved with a hustler in my vulnerable emotional state from trying to be confident and prominent. I felt terrible that I had damaged one of the causes I cared about the most. As for the highpoint, there were several, one was the passage of Dodd-Frank. Another was when Congress enacted the immigration bill of 1990 which repealed the anti-gay exclusion in American immigration law that had been there since 1900. I made that a personal crusade and I felt very good about getting rid of that one.
PHAWKER: Right, right, it was in 2010, what was it, 87 freshman Congressmen the Tea Party elected in 2010 in the mid-terms which seems like an unimaginable number.
BARNEY FRANK: When the right gets angry they vote, when the left gets angry they march. Voting beats marching.
BARNEY FRANK: Yeah, I’ve always voted for that. The paradox is: the angrier people get at government the more they oppose public financing which would be one way to resolve the problems they’re angry at. It’s too easily characterized as, “Oh, these politicians want us to pay their campaign expenses,” instead of being a way to diminish the influence of outside groups. Because part of this problem begins with the Supreme Court because what this right-wing Supreme Court has said was that–it had always been the case that you could not simply restrict certain kinds of campaign activity but you could do that if you made that a condition for accepting public financing. But this Supreme Court, in one of their other terrible opinions, struck that out. So now you cannot have public financing that is conditioned on people accepting these other restrictions in effect. But yes, it would be much better if things were publicly financed, it would substantially enhance democracy and diminish the overall advantage that the right-wing has over the left with the contributions and it would specifically diminish the influence of particular vested interest groups.
PHAWKER: The 113th Congress has a median net worth of about $1 million this year, which I think is the first time in history that the majority of members are millionaires. How can a body comprised of millionaires really understand middle-class, working-class families, what they go through in daily life?
BARNEY FRANK: Well, I’ll tell you, I thought Ted Kennedy did a pretty good job of advocating middle class issues. I think that’s a somewhat unfair question. You know, there are a lot of very wealthy liberals. You know who’s very rich? Nancy Pelosi. There hasn’t been a stronger defender of the average citizen and the true public interest I have ever run into.
Read the rest of this entry »