STANDING FIRM Retired Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank.
Stop believing that Big Money has a big effect on politicians.
That's not the problem with Washington. You are the problem.
Big Money given to politicians of both parties is not why Washington is paralyzed, said liberal hero Barney Frank at an extemporaneous talk April 21 at Colby College on "Gridlock in Washington: How it Came About, and How it Can be Ended." For the most part, "the votes [in Congress] don't follow the money," he claimed.
Frank, 73, the recently retired, longtime Massachusetts Democratic congressman who for several years headed the House Banking Committee, bristled when a student asked about the ethics of a member of Congress taking campaign contributions from special interests that he was involved in regulating. In reply, Frank described how he took money from some people whose interests he then voted against.
Rather than the influence of the One Percent, it's the view of many in the 99 percent that government is bad — a view he felt had deep cultural roots — that explains why Washington is unable to deal with vital issues. "The voters are no bargain," he said.
In an interview, he was also critical of what he perceived as left-wing perspectives on Washington. Besides falsely blaming the rich or the corporations for gridlock and letting average citizens off the hook, he said the left's negative view of government feeds the anti-government fires.
But, even when average folks have difficulty seeing the light, Frank had a simple answer for progressives' concerns about Congress: find good candidates.
As it is, there are already lots of people in Congress willing to compromise. Before right-wing Republican extremists got elected in 2010, he said in his speech, fine things previously happened because of cooperation between Democrats and Republicans, like the 2008 economic stimulus legislation and the bailout of Wall Street at the height of the financial crisis known as TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program.
But voters just don't seem to get the message that politicians are taking care of Wall Street appropriately.
The 2010 election to Congress by a "furious" electorate of "extreme right-wing" Tea Party Republicans who "don't believe in government" he said in his speech, has been specifically responsible for congressional gridlock. Citizens were angry at the bank bailouts — and, he mentioned in the interview, with Obamacare.
In the interview, Frank aggressively defended his signature achievement, the post-crisis Dodd-Frank regulations on the financial industry, in the face of a recent New York Times story about how "the alchemists of Wall Street are at it again" manufacturing "arcane-sounding financial products" like the derivatives that nearly collapsed the economy five years ago. He said Wall Street has been well restricted and the new derivatives are not a threat.
Mindful of the controversy at the Waterville college over its trustee chairman Bob Diamond, the disgraced Barclays bank president (see "Understanding the Colby College Protests," by Lance Tapley, September 28, 2012), the Phoenix asked Frank, as he left the Diamond Building lecture hall, if he thought colleges had been taken over by wealthy interests.
"When were they not?" he replied dismissively.