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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, March 20, 2015 - Volume 43 Issue 12
SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Barney Frank Former Congressman as combative as ever
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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Barney Frank Former Congressman as combative as ever

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Former Congressman Barney Frank showed himself to be as combative as ever in an interview with SGN, despite his claim to be enjoying retirement.

'I am retired,' Frank insisted. 'I have no ongoing job. I continue to be an advocate, but I'm an advocate without a job title.'

A 16-term Congressman from Massachusetts and Democratic Party warhorse, Frank will be in Seattle March 29 and 30 to promote his new book Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage. He will appear March 30 at University Temple United Methodist Church, 1415 NE 43rd Street, at 7:00 p.m.

Tickets are $27 and are available from Brown Paper Tickets - 1-800-838-3006; www.brownpapertickets.com/event/920339. One ticket admits up to two people and includes a copy of Barney Frank's book.

For more information, Google University Book Store or visit www.bookstore.washington.edu and visit Reading Aloud Events and scroll to March 30 or call 206-634-3400 or 1-800-335-7323.

The book is noteworthy for - among other things - Frank's multifaceted analysis of the major legislative measures he shepherded through Congress. For each major bill - hate crimes legislation through the Dodd-Frank financial reform - Frank explains not only policy consequences, but also the political calculations behind the measure.

'That's reality!' he told SGN. 'And that's part of my message. Being for the right things - morally and ethically - is a necessary condition, but it's not sufficient. You gotta get tough minded and realistic about what you can achieve and how.'

Frank's steadfast belief in getting half a loaf rather than risking losing out on any bread at all often led to friction with LGBT activists who wanted him to lead the charge for their maximum demands.

The ENDA controversy
This friction came to a head in 2007, when the U.S. House of Representatives passed a version of ENDA (Employment Non-Discrimination Act) that excluded Transgender Americans, and again in 2009, when veteran activist Cleve Jones organized a nationwide march for LGBT rights in Washington, DC.

Frank's book still reflects bitterness over accusations by Trans activists and their allies that Frank sold them out by cutting them out of the 2007 ENDA bill.

'I'm still very offended,' Frank told SGN. 'Not that they disagreed with me over political strategy. I'm very offended that they blamed Nancy Pelosi and me for doing this willfully, and not because of the reality of the political situation.

'Their refusal to be realistic - the idea that you could just demand things and expect that to happen because it was right - that was not helpful. Not once did they lobby Congress members, they just demanded.'

Since then, Frank added, Trans leaders 'have done a much better job,' and 'now we're in a position where - if Democrats would regain control of Congress - we'd have the votes to pass a Trans-inclusive ENDA.'

While the non-Trans ENDA passed the House in 2007, it was blocked by Republicans in the Senate. In 2009, Frank introduced a Trans-inclusive ENDA, but it failed to get to the House floor for a vote. The Senate passed a Trans-inclusive ENDA in 2013, but control of the House had by then shifted to Republicans who did not bring the bill up for a vote.

Disagreements on ENDA within the Democratic Congressional caucus led to clashes between Frank and his Lesbian colleague then Representative and now Senator Tammy Baldwin. That rift healed fairly quickly, Frank said, with the two working closely together to repeal DADT in 2010.

The 2009 National Equality March on Washington

In 2009, with President Obama newly sworn in and Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, many activists believed that the time had come for comprehensive LGBT civil rights legislation. Cleve Jones, once a protégé of Harvey Milk, organized what he called the National Equality March on Washington to demand action.

Frank, on the other hand, brushed off the effort. 'The only thing they'll put pressure on,' he said at the time, 'is the grass on the National Mall.'

Speaking with SGN, Frank repeated his criticism of the march.

'That march accomplished zero!' he insisted. 'Better off to have done mass voter registration. Their method was not very productive.

'What do they think a march helps? Most Congressmen are sitting in their offices. They don't even see the march. They don't see the connection between some march and legislation.'

The civil rights marches of the Sixties were in a different category, Frank continued, because African Americans for the most part had no voting rights and could not influence lawmakers by lobbying.

'Martin Luther King understood politics much better than Cleve Jones ever did,' Frank stated flatly.

'In the first place, it was the South. Black people had no right to vote. Once the Voting Rights Act was passed, the emphasis was on voter registration.

'In Ferguson - and that's a very complex situation, it's not as clear cut as some people think - in Ferguson the really constructive thing has been a mass campaign for Black voter registration.'

Congress
Frank also showed no love for the Republican Congressional leadership, ushered in in 2010.

While he believes Nancy Pelosi was one of the greatest and most effective Speakers of the House, he labeled the current House leadership as 'the most rigid and extremist faction since probably the Civil War.'

'The new Congress is not moving at all,' Frank complained. 'The problem is it's controlled by an extreme right-wing group that does not believe in government. They're happy when they get an opportunity to shut the government down.'

Asked if he was glad to be out of Congress under Republican leadership, Frank chuckled, 'I'm actually very good at rancor.'

'But I'll be 75 in a few weeks,' he continued. 'I'm tired. And you know what, it's true what they say. Stress sucks.'

The future of the Democratic Party
Frank says he thinks Republicans will hold on to the House in 2016, but that Democrats will win back control of the Senate and retain the presidency. But he is touting a major revision of Democratic Party strategy.

'What we [Democrats] need to do morally and politically,' Frank explained, 'is concentrate on white working class men, people who feel they've been disregarded and left behind.

'The problem is, we don't have the resources to do it effectively. That's why I'm advocating for two things - cutting the military budget and legalizing drugs that don't lead you to cause harm to others.

'You could save $80-$100 billion on the military budget and $40-$50 billion on drug enforcement, and use it to finance things [white working class men] need. Access to higher education. Compensation for medical expenses. Investments in infrastructure that create jobs.'

Cutting the military budget
Frank expressed 'major frustration' with the size of the U.S. military budget and the reluctance of his former Congressional colleagues to whittle it down to a reasonable size. The military should not be seen as a cure-all for international problems, he warned.

'We have the best military in the world,' Frank said, 'and they're very good at doing what a military can do. That is to stop bad things from happening. But they can't make good things happen. They can't fix everything in the world.'

Frank said he worried about the U.S. getting further involved in conflicts in the Middle East. He opposed the recent visit of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he explained, because he believes Netanyahu wants to implicate the U.S. in a war with Iran.

'I implored my colleagues to boycott Netanyahu's speech,' he told SGN. 'What he really wants, and what the people who invited him really want - they want to go to war with Iran. And that will be even bigger than the invasion of Iraq or Afghanistan.'

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SGN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Barney Frank Former Congressman as combative as ever
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