Politics, Banking and Congressional Gridlock: A Q&A with Barney Frank

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The World Bank has something called the Doing Business Report, in which the more you screwed your workers, the better you were treated. Saudi Arabia would come out better than Sweden. And we got that changed. Literally, you got a negative if you had vacation days.

And debt relief. Maxine Waters, Jim Leach, Spencer Bachus and I beat the Clinton administration and both parties' leaderships over debt relief for the highly debt-poor countries.

How much do you think your legacy will be dominated by Dodd-Frank?
Not my concern (shrugs).

Look, somebody asked me the other day. I'm the first person in Massachusetts history to file a gay rights bill. First member of Congress to come out voluntarily. I think maybe one of the first, or second, of any national parliament.

The first [gay member of Congress] to get married.

So somebody said "when you die, do you think your legacy will be you were the first person to come out?"

And I said, "No, because I hope I live long enough so people say, 'Was that ever a big deal? What was that about?'"

There are other factors. One of the things I'm very proud of is in September of 1998, when they found Clinton's DNA on the dress, there was a sense that Clinton was going to go. People were already getting ready for that.

On the first votes in the House, the first vote… against Clinton was something like 240 to 60.

I was No. 2 on the [Judiciary] Committee. I think we helped turn that around. I'm very proud of having helped stop that effort to throw him out. I think we turned it around in public opinion.

In the broader world, you are seen as very partisan, very associated with the Democratic brand. But with financial services issues, you seem less so. Can you explain that?
Well, there are two things about it. Maybe it's a little bit of the curl in the middle of my forehead. When I am partisan, I am very, very partisan.

Actually, I was very proud, I was voted one of the five most partisan and the five most bipartisan. That's my view. Partisanship is very important and there are very real differences.

Partisanship is bad when people get so angry over the differences that do exist that they can't cooperate when they should. I think you should be both partisan and bipartisan at the same time and not let one poison the other.

The other thing is I think I'm more of a free market economist than a lot of liberals. My view is that ideally I would like to make it possible for the free market to make a lot of money and I would take some of it and help poor people but also have some fair rules.

I guess it's seen that way because the partisan part of it makes better copy. It makes better TV. Working out a deal with Mike Oxley in his office doesn't get on TV. Part of it is that you can't put that stuff on TV.

Your public profile for a member of Congress is outsized. You were mentioned on Glee the other day.
I heard that — a sign of the coming of the Apocalypse.

I don't know. I tend to say things in colorful ways. Part of it is in some ways I was an accidental congressman. I didn't know I was going to go to Congress. I'm not one of these kids who thought I could always do this.

I got here because of the Pope and other things.

It could be [because] I'm gay, I'm Jewish, my diction is imperfect, I have a slight lisp. I grew up in an area with a very pronounced regional speech pattern and moved to an area with another one so I have an amalgam of Northern New Jersey-Massachusetts.

I do have certain… I'm good at some things, bad with others. I'm good with words. That may be it.

It could be because I'm unconventional. I have some colleagues that are much better people in private than they are in public. I want to say, 'Be yourself.' You get to be a certain point of success in politics and people say, 'Okay, now you have to change, now you have to do something different."

I talked to [JPMorgan CEO] Jamie Dimon about you yesterday and he said, "The guy you see on TV is the same guy in private."
A lot of my colleagues aren't. And you lose. One, it's harder to do and you become less interesting. People censor themselves and filter themselves and I think that's a part of it.

The other thing is, Look, I'm lucky. There are some things that I'm terrible at. I've had three relationships with men in my life. They are three different guys but I can hear all of them saying the same thing, "Barney, don't touch it." I break things. I get frustrated. I have no manual dexterity. I'm not good at it.

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Comments (2)
Frank as senator? NOT!
Barney Frank has built his career and "personal" life on the misery of twelve million Americans who now face foreclosure.
Frank's only regret is that he didn't rip off enough from middle-class taxpayers.
Frank's philosophy is from the "we'll get ours" school of thought.
There is nothing warm and fuzzy about a crooked Marxist who created the real estate housing mess and whose goal was to disenfranchise the American middle class.
Massachusetts voters are sick of the Champagne Socialism Frank represents. As a representative, Frank refers to his constituents as "nobodies" who are "pieces of furniture."
The twelve million Americans who are facing foreclosure want to know when Frank is going to be convicted.
If Frank had the guts to visit the people whose homes he has put into foreclosure, they would SPIT on him.
Posted by libertyfreedom | Saturday, December 22 2012 at 4:55AM ET
The root of the problem is that politicians confuse "shelter" with housing, then seen mortgage finance as a tool to address shelter issues. That bankrupted savings and loans a generation ago and when lending then moved to the capital markets it bankrupted them as well, including Fannie and Freddie.
Posted by kvillani | Wednesday, December 26 2012 at 10:46AM ET
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