Friday, July 3, 2015

Barney Frank has an interesting book out.

The concept for this post came from some comments by Barney Frank promoting his book on Meet the Press.  He is funny, realistic and sometimes blunt.

At the beginning he points out when he started, being gay was something to be hidden from the public and Congress was in high esteem.  Now he feels being gay is quite acceptable, but Congress is in very low esteem.

Politicking is a skill sometimes natural and sometimes learned.  Barney felt incremental improvements worked best, rather than going all out for the perfect which often results in nothing.  He got caught giving a phoney excuse for not doing something and when it was corrected he was obligated to do something he really didn't want to do for other reasons.  The test of courage is not opposing the enemy, but standing up to your friends when there is difference of opinion.  Some realism came when a colleague suggested every one wants to go to heaven, but nobody wants to die.  His book gives lots of what he learned about getting things done over the years.

Barney was involved with the Clinton impeachment.  In most countries such actions would never be an issue, but in the United States politics is so polarized that one side will use whatever tools are available to hurt their rival.  The base of the Republicans includes a good portion of religious fundamentalists who are easily offended.  The politicians eventually learned that the average voter was more upset about the government being disrupted than with the supposed sin.

The 2000 election has left a lot of bitter feelings.  Barney felt Ralph Nader went too far with his statement there is no difference between the two old parties.  The problem is that under the United States system third parties mostly just split the vote.  In that fateful election there were actually 3 million more votes for Gore+Nader than there were for Bush+Buchanan.  Barney also feels that the Log Cabin Republicans shifted votes claiming again on LGBT issues there was no difference.  Personally I would like to see something like many Europeans where there is a second election to arrive at 50% +1.

Barney is not afraid to bring up his own personal problem.  He had been charged with associating with a male prostitute.  His opponents tried to make a big deal of it, but he was able to get off with only a reprimand from the House Ethics Committee.  Living in the closet presented an awkward life style.

Terry Shiavo (the woman being kept alive in a vegetative state) represented some hypocrisy for political gain.  Barney was disgusted at how far the Republicans were willing to go for what they thought would be a political benefit.  In the end most of the public felt the government should not interfere with end of life decisions.

With the crash of 2008 Republicans tried to lay a lot of blame on Barney, but he tells a different (believable) story.  He worked well with Hank Paulson (who provided a testimonial for the book).  In general the Bush Administration got more support from Democrats than they did from many Republicans.

His sense of humour is spread over the book, including a few misfires.  One of my favourites was referring to a common excuse of people caught in scandals of being too drunk to remember.  He noted that anyone really too drunk probably didn't do much.  A bumper sticker he came up with was "Vote Democratic.  We're not perfect, but they're nuts."   His ability to come up with a quick quip has aided his career.

Barney had a substantial number of Portuguese constituents and he visited the Azores and Cape
Verde as a result.  The borders of his district changed from time to time, but Barney was always careful to protect the interests of his constituents.

Another question asked about Barny, a formerly openly gay Senator concerned how gay rights have progressed.  As more Gays have come out in the open, people can see that the sterotypes are not all true.   Barney felt at one time he couldn't be a politician and be honest about his sexuality.  Interesting story about how he met his spouse,  Jim Ready.  He first met his spouse's long time partner without realizing he was gay as neither felt able to declare the truth.  The other partner died and apparently saw Barney as a possible replacement.

It took Barney a long time to come out of the closet, but he respected those who weren't ready.  He drew the line at hypocrisy and would threaten to expose someone who was advocating anti LGBT laws while actually being gay which apparently was significantly common.  Illustrating his belief in incremental progress and wanting to include transgenders in anti discrimination legislation, but accepted their exclusion as part of deal to help the others.  As time went by he was able to get more protection for transgenders.

There is great distrust of the government, but most is unfair.  Barney maintains that many who do believe in what government can do are deeply disappointed in the results.  Ironically they too often vote for the very people who are making it difficult to get the results they expect.  Republicans tout the evils of government and by restricting funds available for programs that help the poor and middle class.  "Starve the beast" still seems to be their strategy.

Throughout the book Barney offers many examples of what politicians contend with.   Still, politicians are able to make progress, but are constantly battling to do so.

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