(By American Zen
's Mike Flannigan, on loan from Ari Goldstein.)
It almost seems like a betrayal that, in a festering cesspool of corruption and stupidity, a man like Barney Frank would lay down his arms and walk off the field of battle. When political correctness was draped over the Beltway during the Reagan era like a wet Christo, Frank either didn't get the memo or balled it up and threw it in the circular file. However abrasive he was toward his detractors, whether it be a student full of himself, right wing pundits or misinformed Tea Bagger constituents, it can't be said that Congressman Frank suffered fools gladly.
Frank, the ranking Democrat and former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, announced yesterday that he would not be seeking reelection. His reason was that his CD had been redrawn. Frank found himself in the ironic and absurd position of fighting a wave of anti-incumbency from new constituents who've never been represented by Frank. What was once arguably the safest seat in Congress, MA-4, is now conceivably vulnerable to a Republican challenger in an ominous environment of gerrymandering that almost always seems to favor Republicans (Frank lost the entire town of New Bedford, losing in the process many reliably Democratic-voting Luso-Americans and the bedrock of his support on the South Shore).
And, most inescapably, he's 71 and understandably wants to put up his feet in his golden years.
So let me add to the growing pile of premature political elegies by saying that the beginning of Frank's farewell is almost like eulogizing intelligence itself. As any real liberal knows, it is the moral and intellectual imperative of every one of us to lampoon and pillory stupidity, ignorance and bigotry whereever we find it. It's a long established if unwritten code on the Beltway and beyond and the 16 termer took full license of that invisible rule and then some.
The Frank anecdotes are as plentiful as those of the late Molly Ivins. After being called "Barney Fag" during a Dick Armey interview, which Armey then tried to worm out of by stating it was a slip of the tongue, Frank replied, "I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag."
To a Tea Bagger who likened ObamaCare to Nazism in Dartmouth two years ago: "Madam, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining room table."
To ignoramuses who'd blame Frank for not being able to understand him, he'd once famously said, "I can read it for you. I cannot understand it for you."
No, Frank did not suffer fools gladly any more than did Anthony Weiner or Alan Grayson. Hopefully in '13, former Congressman Grayson will be occupying his old chair with the stubbornness of an Occupy Wall Street protester in Zuccotti Park. Congressman Frank's quick and incisive wit desperately needs to be succeeded.
As well as his quite impressive record, one that almost rivals that of Ted Kennedy, on issues ranging from financial reform, gay rights and human rights in general and the economy and how it impacted on the working class people in MA-4, the most valuable lesson that Frank has taught us is that it's OK to call a spade a spade or a moron a moron. It's that kind of Bulworth-class straight-talking that used to be part and parcel to American political discourse until Ronald "Thou Shalt Not Speak Ill of a Fellow Republican" Reagan decided it was far better to hide our lights under a bushel if they threatened to torch any dessicated political egos. Barney Frank at low ebb could still make a mockery of John McCain's straight talking.
Frank shattered the longstanding tradition of politicians seriously entertaining college students. Once, on national TV, a right wing Harvard law student dutifully parroted right wing talking points by saying, "You're a public representative, I'm a student..." and Frank immediately shot back, "Which allows you to say stuff you don't back up?"
When Republicans shied away from all but soundstages owned by Rupert Murdoch, Frank was almost a regular fixture in the lion's den of Fox, always girded for battle. To a theatrically "out of control" Bill O'Reilly, an exasperated Frank finally said, "Your stupidity gets in the way of rational discussion."
Nobody was sacred to Frank whether you were a college student at a prestigious Ivy League University or a fellow member of Congress: If you were stupid, ignorant, impertinent or disrespectful, you were fair game. Barney would shoot you, bag you, hollow you out, stuff you and mount you over his mantle before it was shown to all on the 5 o'clock news. And he'd get away with it with comebacks zooming in on the weak point of a fallacious argument, ripostes mercilessly delivered with stunning dispatch and accuracy.
Sadly, Frank will never be emulated as a role model for straight talking that gleefully skewers the willfully ignorant and stupid. Parliamentary protocol, political correctness and an ever-vigilant eye on demographics and a fear on the cellular level of pissing off thin-skinned Republicans means we won't see another Barney Frank again any time soon.
But it ought to be remembered that Frank did it often enough with relative impunity that it should serve as an object lesson to all of us, both private citizens and elected officials alike, of the importance of all of us being Frank.