The Sayings of Chairman Barney
WASHINGTON — I first met Barney Frank in 1979, when he was a state legislator in Massachusetts. We spoke the same language, Jersey cynical, because we grew up a couple of miles from each other. He was from Bayonne and I was from Jersey City, the jewel of Hudson County.He got to Boston by way of Harvard and Harvard Law School, but he always sounded the same.“Who runs Massachusetts?” I asked that day.“The businesses who threaten to move out of the state,” he said. “They have a chokehold on us. We have to do what they want done or they’ll move someplace else, taking their taxes, taking their jobs, and leaving government to clean up the mess, to take care of the people who are hurt when companies move.”Oh, how things have changed. Right. Frank had already figured it out back then: “Justice Brandeis on the Supreme Court said the states were the laboratories of democracy. That’s not true anymore. The rats have figured out that they can move from lab to lab. We have 50 political entities and one giant entity, the country. Someday the world.”A year later he was elected to Congress, and last week, he announced he was quitting. There were local reasons — redistricting — and a big national one: Congress is broken. He did a good job all of those years despite being something a bit different from most of his colleagues. He had a couple of scandals related to his sexuality. “I’m used to being in the minority,” he said. “I’m a left-handed gay Jew. I’ve never felt, automatically, a member of any majority.”He was a roaring liberal to the outside world; inside the House he was a skilled negotiator and compromiser, but he bent as little as possible on the core principles of democratic liberalism.
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