I would be less than totally honest if I said I was not disappointed when Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick passed up Barney Frank as his appointee to temporarily fill the United States Senate seat vacated by John Kerry. This is not meant as a criticism of his choice, but rather a compliment to Frank. Alexander Graham Bell famously said, “When one door closes another door opens.” Such is the situation I find myself in with Representative Frank. For some time, (and with reader suggestion), I have thought of adding a Progressive Hall of Fame to the site. Today Barney Frank is the first to be enshrined.
The Progressive Hall of Fame will to a great degree be the flip-side of Harry’s Hell. It will be a place to honor the lifetime achievements of progressives. Unlike Harry’s Hell many inductees will be posthumously honored. While this in many ways resembles the baseball Hall of Fame there will be no five year provision in the retirement rule, simple retirement from office will suffice. Like baseball’s Hall of Fame great achievement, not perfection, will be the yardstick.
Frank’s first progressive endeavor was in the summer of 1964 when he went to Mississippi to be part of the Freedom Summer. That was a project when mainly Northern white college student went into the Deep South to help register African-Americans to vote. This was no summer vacation at the beach. This was the days of the Ku Klux Klan and Jim Crow. Three Freedom Summer workers were famously murdered near Philadelphia, Mississippi. A Jewish kid with a Yankee accent working to register African-Americans to vote didn’t exactly find the welcome mat rolled out for him in 1964 Mississippi!
In 1972 Frank ran for and won a seat in the Massachusetts House of Representatives. He remained there until the 1980 election where he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives that interestingly enough was being vacated by a Catholic priest on the instructions of the Pope. That proved to be the last close race Barney Frank would have in his political career. He won both a four way Democratic primary and the general election with 52% of the vote in each.
To say Frank considered others during his time in public office is an understatement. That was underscored by the motivation for his retirement. Massachusetts lost a House seat as a result of the 2010 Census. The reality was that redistricting was going to squeeze a Democrat out. Frank, being a team player, opted to retire and not force another Democrat out.
During his time in the House Barney Frank worked for a number of progressive causes. He will be best remembered for his work in the civil rights and consumer protection areas. Paramount among his civil rights achievements was his work in the gay rights area. Among the many bills he helped get enacted into law the Partnership Benefits and Obligation Act stands out. This 2007 legislation, which he co-sponsored, provided benefits to the domestic partners of federal employees. Frank is known for his intellect and rapier quick wit. The following illustrates them while summing up his dedication to those with less of a voice in our society: “I’m used to being in the minority. I’m a left-handed gay Jew.” Frank is a trailblazer in his personal life. In 1987 he came out as openly gay and in 2012 he married his long-time partner; the first sitting member of Congress to do either.
While his gay rights activities garnered the most publicity it is his work defending the American consumer and economy that will have the longest lasting impact on America and the world. Prior to and during his time, (January 2007 to January 2011), as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee Frank was instrumental in passing a plethora of financial regulations aimed at consumer protection. The most famous of them was his collaboration with former Democratic Connecticut Senator Chris Dodd, the Dodd-Frank bill. Most progressives view this legislation much as they view Obamacare – inadequate but a start. That evaluation is probably accurate. However, the proof of how much of an accomplishment both are is that Republicans to this day campaign on their repeal.
Frank is a realist who has never been afraid to tackle the tough issues. In recent years the Republicans have jumped on the national debt, (which they mislabel the deficit), as an issue. Frank made the politically bold but realistic suggestion that we seriously reduce military spending. The waste is obvious but politically dangerous and unpopular to attack. Frank names specific programs that are unnecessary and in many cases unwanted by the military leadership along with foreign bases that no longer serve a strategic purpose in the post-Cold War world.
To attempt to sum up a lifetime of service by Barney Frank to his fellow Americans in fewer than 1000 words is almost a futile endeavor. It is more the work of a book. I hope that in his retirement Frank is penning said tome – I for one look forward to reading it.
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