There are many reasons for progressives to cheer for the campaign to bring veteran Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank out of retirement to fill John Kerry’s Senate seat.
Not least is the sheer fun of listening to Frank lob verbal grenades at the Republicans, as the battle over austerity heats up in Washington.
“I will miss this job, but one of the advantages of not running for office is I don’t even have to pretend to be nice to people I don’t like,” Frank said at a press conference announcing his retirement.
Not that he was all that nice.
Among the myriad gems journalists have mined from Frank over the years:
“Trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to have an argument with a dining room table,” Frank observed to a colleague during a hearing on health care in 2009.
Large financial institutions became Frank’s particular nemesis after he began work on the Dodd-Frank Act and on consumer protections for their customers.
"To some extent, financial institutions have latched onto the motto of a 14-year-old child of divorced parents playing Mommy off against Daddy: ‘Well, if you don’t treat me better, I’m going to England," he once observed.
And, likewise: "A year ago, we were being told, you have to deregulate more. Now, we are going to have to save capitalism from the capitalists."
To Dick Armey, who once called him “Barney Fag” (Frank was the first openly gay man elected to Congress), Frank was contemptuous of the explanation that it was just an obvious stumble over his name: “I rule out that it was an innocent mispronunciation. I turned to my own expert, my mother, who reports that in 59 years of marriage, no one ever introduced her as Elsie Fag.”
And on the repeated accusation that he was a proponent of “radical gay agenda”:
“I do not think that any self-respecting radical in history would have considered advocating people’s rights to get married, join the Army, and earn a living as a terribly inspiring revolutionary platform.”
Frank would join his colleague, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, as a strong advocate for protecting Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the Senate Finance Committee.
For the financial industry and Republicans, they would be a dreaded duo.
In 2010 then- Minority Leader John Boehner, Republican of Ohio, in an appearance before the American Bankers Association, told bankers to fight financial reform: “Don’t let those little punk staffers take advantage of you,” he said.
Congressman Frank shot back with a letter deploring Boehner’s “cheap shot” at Hill staffers. He made buttons for the financial services committee staff that said “little punk staffer.”
“They’re mostly gone,” Harry Gural, Frank’s press secretary, told me at the time. “I had a box of them under my desk.”
The banks have “buyer’s remorse” when it comes to electing Democrats, Frank said.
The financial sector has traditionally funded both Democratic and Republican campaigns about evenly. In 2008 the industry helped propel Obama into office. But in 2010 it began leaning more heavily Republican.
“What happened is when we took power they gave us a lot of money. I said I made a lot of new friends without getting any nicer,” Frank said in his characteristically acerbic style. “But then they’ve since moved away from us.”
In a 2010 memo leaked to Huffington Post, Republican Pollster Frank Luntz advised Republican members of Congress to take advantage of “the simple belief the government cannot effectively regulate the financial markets at any level.”
“Frankly,” Luntz writes, “the single best way to kill any legislation is to link it to the Big Bank Bailout.”
Luntz singled out Barney Frank, citing big unfavorable ratings as evidence that voters don’t trust Washington.
“Understand that Luntz’s memo is aimed at the consumer protection agency,” Barney Frank told me when it came out. “Even if you thought this was a bailout, this has nothing to do with that. The big financial institutions don’t want consumer protection. This is one of the things they hate the most in the world. That’s their major focus, trying to undermine it.”
Thanks to Frank, the banks got a consumer financial protection agency—even if Elizabeth Warren, the agency’s creator, did not get to head it.
And then Massachusetts elected Elizabeth Warren to the Senate.
And now, just when they thought they were rid of him, Republicans and their sponsors may have Barney Frank to contend with as well.
If you liked this article by Ruth Conniff, the political editor of The Progressive, check out her story "Yes we CAN protect our children from gun violence".
Follow Ruth Conniff @rconniff on Twitter