(Photo: Reuters/Adam Hunger)
In an in-depth interview with New York Magazine, 73-year-old Rep. Barney Frank, the liberal icon from Massachusetts looks back on his past three decades in Congress and examines among other things, the rise of gay activism, Republicans and his regrets on the failures of Fannie Mae and the housing industry.
Frank plans to wed his long-time partner, Jim Ready, in July because he wants his colleagues to be forced to interact with a married, gay man and says he sees an unintended benefit in the same-sex union.
"I want to get married. I do think, to be honest, if I was running for reelection, I might have tried to put the marriage off until after the election, because it just becomes a complication," said Frank. "But I did want to get married while I was still in office. I think it's important that my colleagues interact with a married gay man."
Frank's brash, take-no-prisoners style that has become his trademark is clearly on display in the interview. Frank came to Washington in 1981 after serving 10 years in the Massachusetts state legislature, where he introduced the state's first gay marriage bill in 1972. Afraid he was going to be "outed," he kept his homosexuality a secret for many years as he attempted to expand the homosexual agenda and his liberal ideas when he arrived in the nation's capital.
"I had a kind of general liberal agenda," said the Massachusetts congressman. "I also had in mind to try to do something about gay rights, as we then called it, because I'd been a leader on that in the [state] legislature. I was still closeted, but from the day I decided to run for office, I decided that I would, of course, still be closeted but that I would work very hard for gay rights."
One area Frank is optimistic about is same-sex marriage. He doesn't see much progress being made in the near term but expects homosexuals to have reached "equality" sometime in the next ten years saying, "We're going to have pretty close to full legal equality for gay and lesbian people in much of America. There still won't be marriage rights, I believe, in many states, but there will be marriage rights in states that are at least half the population, and there'll be no federal restrictions on recognizing that."
Having served in both the majority and minority party in Congress, Frank quickly pounced on former Speaker of the House and now GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich and as the reason partisanship is so firmly grounded in Congress. And his disdain for the sudden rise and influence of the Tea Party (who he associates with Michele Bachmann) and the advent of how people get their news and information was more than evident.
"The main reason for the increase in partisanship is Newt Gingrich and the success of his decision [as speaker] to demonize the opposition as a way to win," Frank said. "People ask me, 'Why don't you guys get together?' And I say, 'Exactly how much would you expect me to cooperate with Michele Bachmann?' And they say, 'Are you saying they're all Michele Bachmann?' And my answer is no, they're not all Michele Bachmann. Half of them are Michele Bachmann. The other half are afraid of losing a primary to Michele Bachmann.
"That was reinforced by the right-wing takeover of the Republican Party. And finally, modern communications: Twenty years ago, people had a common set of facts that they read. They read opinion journalists, but they got their information generally from newspapers and from broadcasts. Now, the activists live in parallel universes, which are both separate and echo chambers for each. If you're on the left, you listen to MSNBC; you go to the blogs, Huffington Post, et cetera, and you basically hear only what you agree with. If you're on the right, you watch Fox News and the talk shows, and you hear only what you agree with."
But one of the areas where Frank has drawn a great deal of criticism when it comes to his legislative career is what he did or didn't do about the mortgage giants, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. When asked if he accepted the criticism that he was wrong about them, he quickly shifted the blame.
"No! Yes, I was wrong in 2003, but I wasn't in charge," said a perturbed Frank. "This is the most intellectually dishonest argument from Republicans. Their argument appears to be that I stopped Tom Delay from doing something (about Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae)."
"I became chairman of the committee in 2007. The first thing we did was pass tough legislation restricting Fannie and Freddie," a fact disputed by many GOP members of Congress. "They talk about Fannie and Freddie when they're out of power. When they're in power they do nothing."
The entire interview in the New York Magazine can be read here.