(via Ezra Klein’s Wonkblog)
Poor Barney, so many people are saying nice things about him, he’s got to wonder if he accidentally announced his demise rather than his retirement. Per Charles P. Pierce, at Esquire‘s Politics Blog:
He is, as the Irish say, himself alone. He was Jewish, and gay — and open about both of them, eventually — and yet he made his bones in the Hibernian House of Borgia that is the Massachusetts State House. He never liked to campaign. He hated to raise money. But he loved the act and the process of legislating. There was a lot of talk once about the possibility of his becoming the first Jewish Speaker of the House, but his coming out pretty much ended that. (Also, the fact that a male prostitute with whom he was involved wound up running his operation from Frank’s home in Washington, D.C. Like the first three Mrs. Gingriches, Barney occasionally fell for the wrong guy.) More important, he was one of the very few Democrats able to respond properly to the witless sarcasm that passes for conservative debate in the House. He fought them with mockery — “Republicans,” he once famously said, “believe that life begins at conception and ends at birth” — and with a kind of withering excoriation. At the same time, he became so adept at compromise that many of his original liberal supporters were critical of him, and he didn’t treat them any more gently than he did the Republicans.
His announcement at the city hall here was of a piece with his whole career. Asked if he was planning to be a lobbyist, Frank replied, “I will not become a lobbyist, nor will I become a historian.” He has taken Newt Gingrich on as a particular adversary ever since the latter became famous as a bomb-throwing back-bencher and, later, as the leader who knocked Frank into the congressional minority in 1994. Frank’s mastery of the acerbic is almost a perfect foil to Gingrich’s blowfish quasi-intellectualism. Asked to discuss the 2012 GOP presidential primary season, Frank mused, “I did not think I had led a good enough life to be rewarded with Newt Gingrich as the Republican nominee for president…. For example, I would look forward to debating Mr. Gingrich on the Defense of Marriage Act. I think he would be the perfect opponent to debate on that.” When somebody asked him to assess the state of the Republican congressional majority with whom, he said, it has become impossible to work, Frank explained that “half of them think like Michelle Bachmann and the other half are afraid of being primaried by someone who thinks like Michele Bachmann.”
He teased, roughly, a woman from the local Fox affiliate who asked him whether he was involved with the kind of congressional insider trading that was exposed by 60 Minutes a few weeks back. “Where are you from?” he asked and, when she told him, he replied, “Quel surprise,” before explaining that his only investments are in Massachusetts Municipal bonds. And he declined to let the voting public off the hook when discussing the polarized state of the national debate. When someone asked him if there was a “path back to moderation,” Frank shot back immediately: “Yes. It’s called the people who don’t vote in primary elections.”
The Washington Post, in its position as the paper of record for a company town where the controlling industry is politics, measured his value to that industry:
Frank mastered the subject matter. This is rare, probably increasingly rare, in the modern Congress. Frank mastered complicated subjects, particularly in the realm of financial regulatory reform. The work he did on what became the Dodd-Frank bill, one of the most substantial pieces of legislation passed in many years, made him an expert “on subjects I never wanted to know about,” as he once joked. He knew about housing policy, and took a lonely position for many years in favor of more federal aid for rental housing, when the fashion was to favor homeownership for all, or nearly all, Americans. Some people, Frank argued, shouldn’t own; for them, renting is fine.
He also learned civil rights law, and worked fiercely to advance gay rights however he could. He has lately been studying the defense budget, which he thinks needs to be cut substantially as part of any effort to reduce budget deficits. In the words of his pal Segel, who worked for him from 2007 until this year as a political aide, Frank “has passion and political skill. He had no illusions, but he had the passion to go after big issues and the skill to effect real change.”
I’m proud to have been able to vote for Barney Frank, when we’d first moved to Massachusetts and were renting in Newton. I hope he’ll continue to be an affliction to the Republicans and their cold-hearted, narrow-minded fellow travellers for many years to come.