Rep. Barney Frank's announcement that he would not seek a 17th congressional term came just as former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was rising in the Republican presidential polls. Fate showed her sense of humor, but Rep. Frank rolled with it: "I did not think I had lived a good enough life to be rewarded by Newt Gingrich being the Republican nominee."
He continued, "I look forward to debating … the Defense of Marriage Act with Mr. Gingrich. I think he is an ideal opponent for us, when we talk about just who it is, is threatening the sanctity of marriage."
Many of Frank's opponents, including conservative gay bloggers, have posted "good riddance" comments. Unluckily for them, his decreased fundraising and campaign duties will, if anything, make him more available as an advocate in 2012.
Rush Limbaugh and others are not content to point out that in 1987 Frank fired chauffeur and personal aide Steve Gobie after learning that he was running a prostitution service out of Frank's apartment. No, they have to goose it up by claiming that Frank himself ran a prostitution ring.
As biographer Stuart Weisberg writes, Frank's 1989 reprimand by Congress was for "two minor actions — sending a misleading memo to Gobie's parole officer and fixing several parking tickets." Frank was subsequently re-elected 11 more times. Gingrich, in contrast, who had driven Democratic Speaker Jim Wright from office over ethics issues, was fined $300,000 for his own ethical lapses, was driven from the Speaker's chair by his own party, and had cheated on two wives when he pushed the impeachment of Bill Clinton over the Lewinsky affair.
Frank's pleasure at the prospect of a Gingrich nomination was heightened by Newt's recent statement that Frank should go to jail. Somehow, it seems, we cannot try Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld for war crimes, but Frank should be prosecuted for things that began going wrong with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac when Republicans ran the House (and Newt was Freddie Mac's highly paid "historian"). Frank concedes that at first he underestimated the risk faced by those agencies; but after Democrats retook the House in 2006, he pushed reform legislation. Republicans' selective indignation would be comical were they not trying to harm our economy for partisan gain.
Gingrich's nonstop policy proposals are treated as evidence of how smart he is; yet he is thin on details of how he plans to implement his know-it-all chatter. Paul Krugman calls him "a stupid person's idea of what a smart person sounds like."
Frank is faulted for lacking social niceties, though unlike Gingrich he has earned strong loyalty from his colleagues and staff. Gingrich trades in racial dog-whistles about Michelle Obama being "uppity" and poor people not wanting to work. He boasts about his $60,000 speaking fee, and talks as if a $500,000 revolving line of credit at Tiffany's were a sign of frugality. His current leading position in the Republican demolition derby appears accidental, given that his initial campaign priority was to hawk books and videos.
I have been privileged to know Barney Frank for many years. He may not be an easy friend, but he is a good friend. Thank goodness he plans to continue his public advocacy. His passion for fairness and his well-aimed wit are a model for how to take the fight to the radicals who have taken over the GOP.
Alas for Rep. Frank's detractors, they are dancing on an empty political grave. He is very much alive, and seldom loses a war of words. With the Gingrich revival reminding everyone of Newt's egomania and overreach, we will see how long it takes for Republican operatives to realize that their celebrations of Barney Frank's demise were premature.
Richard J. Rosendall is a writer and activist. He can be reached at email@example.com.