Fare You Well, Congressman Frank

(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.

38 replies
  1. 1
    Schlemizel says:

    My favorite moment came after the foul mouthed dick, Army kept ‘slipping’ and calling him “Barney Fag”. Barney asked him several time to be more careful with no results so he went to the House floor and announce that the next time that slip occurred he would read the names of every Republican House and Senate member that he knew to be gay on the floor.

    That was the very last time he was referred to as Fag!

    We’ll miss the man a lot.

  2. 2
    Schlemizel says:

    Apparently f.a.g. also gets you tossed into moderation! Sorry about that but the story is too good not to tell

  3. 3
    The Thin Black Duke says:

    Barney is a mensch.

  4. 4
    Paul in KY says:

    Great congressman. Deserves his retirement, can’t expect them to stay in there till they die.

    I’d like to see him commenting on MSNBC or CNN, or putting his wit on paper.

  5. 5
    Dork says:

    I read that they re-districted him so he’d likely lose re-election. The ability of pols to jimmy with districts will be the end of our republic. Seriously, ya cant beat the guy in an election, so you change his voters? Such bullshit.

  6. 6
    Cheryl from Maryland says:

    Hey, MSNBC, hire Mr. Frank after he retires. You need him. Love his reply on the return path to moderation.

  7. 7
    Napoleon says:

    I hope he has a good retirement. Politics will not be as much fun to watch (at those rare times it is fun) without him.

    I can just imagine how being retired will free him to say what he really has on his mind.

  8. 8
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Dork: In Massachusetts, not bloody likely. Torkildsen and Blute were the last two US Reps the GOP will field in your lifetime from the Bay State.

  9. 9
    Nutella says:

    AL, you do know that Pierce has his own blog, don’t you? He is quite an entertaining writer and everyone who enjoys his work is undoubtedly reading his blog.

    It’s poor blogger etiquette to quote half of someone else’s article.

    /net nanny

  10. 10
    EconWatcher says:

    I’ll never forgot this one from Frank, in reply to a question about whether gay marriage would be damaging to the institution of marriage:

    “We have a 50 percent divorce rate in this country. How is that my fault?”

  11. 11
    Tom Levenson says:

    Barney is my congressman. He’s great. Full stop. Smartest Rep. on the hill.

    Great staff too: I called them a lot around the health care debate and found them responsive and enormously competent. Whoever takes the seat next should look to Barney’s crew for talent.

    Finally: Barney made the step up from the State House to Congress after scumbag Republican Robert Dornan poked the Vatican into, in essence, ordering the good Father Robert Drinan to leave elective politics. Drinan was an equally impressive figure…which means the next person up in the seat has a hell of a pair of a pair of shoes to fill.

  12. 12
    amk says:

    Pity the smart ones are throwing in the towel while the totally imbecile, 200% bat-shit-crazy loonies are still in.

  13. 13
    Butch says:

    Back a long time ago when I was a reporter on Capital Hill I interviewed Mr. Frank, about a wetland in his district that was to be developed into, if memory serves right, a shopping mall, contrary to federal policy. To say that the publication I worked for was obscure inflates its importance, and I couldn’t believe he took the time for me. He even knew what he was talking about.

  14. 14
    Paul in KY says:

    @Nutella: I cannot get to Mr. Pierce from my computer. The icky ‘Esquire’ thing stops me (so the firewall says). Thus, any excerpted Pierce I can get is OK by me!

  15. 15
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Tom Levenson: Fr. Drinan introduced the first articles of impeachment against Nixon, for Cambodia, not Watergate, and the GOPolitburo walruses like B-1 Bob never forgave him for it.

    Gotta love a guy who runs on the slogan “Our father, who art in Congress…”

    ETA Trend Micro — a ubiquitous firewall package, especially in schools — blacklists all of Esquire by default. I for one appreciate the long quotes… or ‘quotes’.

  16. 16
    eemom says:

    I’d like to follow up on the dumbassery yesterday about how it’s great that an OLD congressman is retiring, even if it’s sad that it’s Frank.

    From his comments yesterday, I think he made it quite clear that he’s not retiring because he’s “ready” to, much less because of his age. He specifically cited (1) the impossibility of getting things done in today’s unbelievable clusterfuck of a House; (2) the redistricting, which causes him to face “the worst of both worlds” in running for re-election, and (3) that he hates fundraising.

    So the lesson to me here is that the current toxic political environment is causing us to lose the few dedicated public servants we have — not that we should celebrate this retirement as a helpful hint to other OLD Congressman to vanish gently into that good night.

  17. 17
    Judas Escargot says:

    @Davis X. Machina:

    Richard Tisei (most recently the GOP candidate in 2010 for Lt. Gov) announced that he’s going to try to unseat Tierny in my district (MA-6th, which also happens to be Torkildsen’s old seat). IMO he has a good chance.

    Tierny beat his last opponent (a Tea-Bagger named Hudak) in 2010 by getting 57% of the vote, but the 6th district has since had Billerica, Andover and Tewksbury added to it in the recent redistricting. Those are all reddish suburbs: Deval Patrick lost all three of those cities to Baker/Tisei in 2010, though he obviously carried the state as a whole. And Tewksbury went for McCain in 2008.

    This is Scott Brown territory, BTW (he got 58%). Low-information voters, mostly Catholic, white middle class; cops, firemen, contractors and their stay-at-home wives. This is the “This Old House” voter that I keep mentioning.

    Depending on who the GOP Presidential nominee is, and how heated the Brown/Warren election gets, MA-6 might just turn red.

  18. 18
    snoey says:

    He did constituent service like few others, and thus learned lots of things he didn’t expect to.

    We were added to the district during the last reshuffle, and he went a put his boots on and headed to the bogs to learn the cranberry business. Lesson 1 is that despite the name you don’t need rubber boots in a cranberry bog.

    The number of growers who voted for him is still about 0, but they got a staffer as well as the gesture.

  19. 19
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Judas Escargot: It’s a presidential election year, and that lends some of the national framing of the election even to local races — and the national face of the GOP is now, irreversably, southern, theocratic, and mad as a March hare.

    I’m not worried.

  20. 20

    One of the smartest and most caring of our legislators. It’s going to be hard to fill his shoes.

  21. 21
    Mino says:

    Does the Mass Democratic machine have hardening of the arteries? First the Coakley fiasco and now redistricting Frank out of a job?

  22. 22
    gene108 says:

    Best thing about Barney Frank is he is related to the Three Stooges by marriage.

  23. 23
    Mojotron says:

    so many people are saying nice things about him

    The Potomac Pravda had a piece up by Jennifer Rubin yesterday titled something like “Good Riddance to Barney Frank”; I didn’t bother reading it and ain’t gonna link it neither. I’m pretty sure they pulled the link from the front page after getting an earful.

  24. 24
    terraformer says:


    The ability of pols to jimmy with districts will be the end of our republic.

    Indeed. It’s so transparent – look at some of the shapes of districts out there – they resemble a meandering river doubling back on itself. And there is no other reason for it other than to wall-in folks who support you or wall-out those who do not.

    There really should be a federal law that a district must be a polygon with no more than, say, 10 sides. Straight lines only.

  25. 25
    Lurking Canadian says:

    @terraformer: I remember back in the old days of USENET, somebody proposed that congressional districts should be assigned after a competition, open to the public, to see who could submit a congressional map that met the constitutional requirements for population content while minimizing the total district perimeter. Apparently, this problem is NP-hard, so the actual optimum is not likely, but that doesn’t mean people couldn’t try.

  26. 26
    liberal says:

    BF was good overall, but his performance in the aftermath financial implosion wasn’t all that great.

  27. 27
    Judas Escargot says:

    @Lurking Canadian:

    I’ve sometimes suggested tying Congressional Districts to zip codes, but then Congress would just start mucking about with those to get whatever it happened to want that year.

  28. 28

    The quote near the end of Pierce’s blog entry is vintage Barney Frank:

    “I will miss this job,” Barney Frank admitted. “But one of the advantages of not running for office is that I don’t ever have to pretend to be nice to people I don’t like.”

    We really are losing one of the best.

  29. 29
    William Hurley says:

    Among the many hilarious and savage retorts Rep Frank has uttered over the years, his reply to the excuse Dick Armey offered for referring to the MA Congressman as “Barney Fag” being an “honest slip” was:

    No one’s ever called my mother Mrs. Fag.

  30. 30
    MikeJake says:

    @Dork: We have 435 Representatives representing over 300 million Americans. I feel it’s long past time we considered drastically increasing the number of members in the House (4x? 10x?). One beneficial side effect would be the elimination of much of the redistricting nonsense that happens every ten years.

  31. 31
    Liz says:

    @Mino:One wonders. Taking New Bedford away from him must’ve been the last straw. Many of his constituents are in mourning.

    My favorite was when he told a woman during a Town Hall Meeting that arguing with her was like having a discussion with a coffee table.


  32. 32
    John Weiss says:

    Bye Barney. It sure was fun listening to you. When your time comes I hope you wind up in the same place as Molly Ivens.

    Damn! I’ll miss you, your eloquence and your sharp tongue!

  33. 33
    SectarianSofa says:


    It’s poor blogger etiquette to quote half of someone else’s article.

    You mean half of someone else’s entire corpus. Ha! Ha! I kid.
    But anyway, fine by me, as it’s good stuff.

  34. 34
    SectarianSofa says:


    Ah, yes. A golden moment in modern cinema. I’ll miss him.

  35. 35
    russell says:

    “I will not become a lobbyist, nor will I become a historian.”

    God bless Barney Frank.

    Richard Tisei (most recently the GOP candidate in 2010 for Lt. Gov) announced that he’s going to try to unseat Tierny in my district (MA-6th, which also happens to be Torkildsen’s old seat).

    Yikes, I’m 6th district too. I will be sending some $$$ Tierney’s way.

  36. 36
    humbert dinglepencker says:

    RE the Armey ‘slip o’ the lip’ about Barney Frank…wasn’t it Letterman that remarked “I’d be more careful about calling someone Barney Fag if my name was ‘Dick Armey.’

  37. 37
    Anne Laurie says:


    I read that they re-districted him so he’d likely lose re-election. The ability of pols to jimmy with districts will be the end of our republic. Seriously, ya cant beat the guy in an election, so you change his voters?

    To be fair, Massachusetts is losing a seat — going from 11 Reps down to 10 — so the lines had to be redrawn somehow. One (D) congressman had already decided to retire (the guy who basically represented the entire left-hand, mostly right-leaning side of the state) — but “balancing” population on the crowded right-hand side was going to be tricky regardless. General commentary I’d seen was that Frank would have to hustle a bit, but shouldn’t have too much trouble holding his seat.

    I think part of his calculations were that any Democrat hoping to replace him has a big advantage running in a presidential-election year. Higher voter turnout, in this state, means more Democrats showing up at the polls, and more “independents” and “low-information” voters giving their fickle allegiance to the (D) column. One last “constituent service” Rep. Frank can perform for his people. If he’d been 61 instead of 71, or if the percentage of screaming jeebus-humping randroid gerbils on the (R) side of the aisle looked to drop below three-quarters, or if he hadn’t hated campaigning so much… but, such is our imperfect world.

  38. 38
    Skepticat says:

    @Judas Escargot: I think you may well be right. Makes me sorry I’ve moved out of state (though I don’t miss having that jerk Hudak as a fellow town resident). Tierney used to be my lawyer (many years ago), and I was pleasantly surprised that he wasn’t the total lightweight I expected. His wife’s wacko family is going to present a problem he doesn’t need.

    Go, Elizabeth!

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