Tuesday, November 29, 2011
The WaPo has a nice article wrapping up Barney Frank's career. No doubt there is room to differ with the Post's take, but still worth reading.
At a rather ginormous risk of infuriating our readers, I am going to confess that I rather enjoy Barney Frank as a person and worry that the Congress will be worse off without him. Almost twenty-five years ago, Frank visited Michigan Law School and for reasons I cannot quite remember I had an opportunity to have a genuine conversation with him. I had never before, and have not since, encountered a politician who was so interesting and original on so many subjects and so willing to engage directly, even with a non-constituent who obviously mostly disagreed with him. Like my lightening rod friend, Ann Coulter, Frank both enjoyed the tussle and was intellectually equal to it. And he respects smart people who sincerely engage back. See the linked article on his relationship with Hank Paulson. I wish there were more politicians like him.
Indeed, I wish there were a gay, pugnacious, smart, articulate, engaging, member of Congress on the right. Both the Republican Party and the country would be better off. And, no doubt, our democracy is enriched every time a serious person emerges who speaks words not directly lifted from the morning's talking points email.
Finally, Frank's retirement will, at the margin, hurt the GOP this year. He had become a favorite whipping boy on the right -- see, e.g., Newt's rise in the polls after bashing him a few weeks back -- but now that attack will lose its potency. We won't have Barney Frank to kick around any more.
UPDATE: Oh, and there is this. Frank's successor as the ranking minority member on the House Financial Services Committee is Maxine Waters. I'll have to stop watching CNBC in the morning if Waters becomes a regular.
Of course, your results may vary.
I'd love to see Bill Clinton in the Senate in lieu of some pointless Democrat, sure. He is also an original thinker and willing to engage. See, e.g., his post-presidential friendship with the Bushes. I never got the sense that there was an original or creative bone in Ted Kennedy's body, but maybe I'm selling him short.
One can appreciate pugnaciousness, audacity and intelligence but how can you overlook his dominant side? A man unwilling, even in his retirement news conference, to admit he was wrong about his greatest cause-- the expansion of Fannie and Freddie, and protecting them from audits and oversight for a crucial decade. American government will be better off without him.
He may be all you have said of him---but was he a "GOOD" man. That is the point. Was he righteous.
All the intelligenice, pugnaciousness, "willing to engage" is all quite superficial to being "Good".
Barney Frank was a Leftist demogogue who was willing to destroy this country for partisan politics. He was bought and sold.
The financial cataclysm that we are approaching, he is going to be recognized as a major cause of this catastrophe.
On Bill Clinton, David Bay records this incident:
"A visiting professor was the speaker. He gave a rousing talk on overthrowing the 'dictatorship of the bourgeoisie' in America. How would this be accomplished? By taking over the Democratic Party through its left wing. The speaker said it was possible to elect a stealth socialist president, who would effect a peaceful transition to socialism during the next great economic down-turn. Capitalism would be unmasked as a bankrupt system. The people would then support a new socialist system. All businesses would be nationalized by the government and run like the Post Office. This socialist president, said the speaker, could be elected in either 1988 or 1992. The only problem was that of timing. When would the next major economic downturn hit?" [Obviously, this speaker's concept of the requirement for an economic downturn to occur before a "stealth" Communist President could be elected was wrong]
"Some days later I went to visit my professor at her office hours. We talked about the speaker and the book he had written. We talked about Marxism and the idea of changing the system. Then, suddenly, my professor said: 'We have such high hopes for this young Arkansas governor, Bill Clinton'."
(From The first time I heard of Bill Clinton)
I served in the US Military during the Cold War willing to put my life down for my country. Bill Clinton was in Russia hob-knobbing with the very enemy. He is a Marxist. He is Un-American. He is a betrayer of his kinsmen.
As David Bay says, "Bill Clinton was a leader and organizer of anti-Vietnam War rallies".
Bill Clinton is a pinko-communist f*ggot. Like Jane Fonda--
As Rush Limbaugh said, they are trying to purposely crash the system, captialism. Clinton, Bushes, Obama--they are all the same! Traitors to their country. A pox on all of them.
Barney Frank was the Don Rickles of political discourse. Quite cleverly, he used his gayness as an excuse for conduct that would have gotten most others hounded from office. He survived -- and thrived -- as the representative of a highly gerrymandered district. He had an outsized influence on creating the housing crisis that still threathens our gentle Republic. He has no remorse. He will be missed.
I always liked Bill Clinton, and used to agree with him a lot. Not so much Teddy, or any of the other Kennedys.
I posted this comment earlier, but it seems to have been disappeared (as happens here sometimes). Anyway...
Allahpundit, via Jim Geraghty's invaluable morning email, has a great take on the Frank retirement:
"Of all the losers to have passed through Congress, how many can say they played a major role in precipitating a global economic catastrophe? It'll take a lot of media whitewash to obscure that legacy, but I'm sure they're game: The ratio of political eulogies today that mention his wit and intellect to those flagging his boosterism for Fannie and Freddie is running about five to one from what I've seen. As Ted Kennedy's career so beautifully illustrates, if you're a sharp-tongued fightin' liberal from deep blue Massachusetts, there's no wrong so terrible that it can't be forgiven."
Barney is a good example of how to be an intelligent, witty, bright, charming, pugnacious, articulate human being who is a pleasure to talk with, but still be able to produce the most disastrous legislation known to mankind when let loose with a word-processor and a Legislative branch.
My vote is we put him in charge of the Iranian nuclear program.
Tigerhawk - I can see your point.
After all, what's $300 billion (or whatever the current total cost of the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac bailouts is) among friends?
And, if the Dodd-Frank monstrosity costs us a lot more, as it probably will, well that audacity, pugnaciousness, and intelligence will make it all worth while.
On the tail of Georgefelis's previous comment, I'd like to point out a TH internal inconsistency: Barney Frank is (was, I guess) a standard bearer of the WPCE, knee deep in the dysfunction and corruption of Washington including not only, as has already been pointed out, his social engineering projects but also running a prostitution ring out of his home, rank nepotism, and run-of-the-mill influence-buying.
Altogether, I'd rather have a stammering honest hermit as a member of Congress than a "gay, pugnacious, smart, articulate, engaging," yet corrupt, member of Congress. But I'm in the minority. Plenty of people seem willing, even happy, to support the Congressional equivalent of Jack McFarland. We even have Republicans wishing for more of them.
*sigh* This country is totally screwed.
The following is getting missed in most accounts: Barney Frank quit because he was redistricted. He lost his gerrymandered seat in a backroom deal that involved the current Democratic governor, Deval Patrick, having to deal with Mass losing a seat in the House. Barney could have run, but knew he'd lose a "fair fight". In 2010, he almost lost an "unfair fight".
Years ago, Chuck Schumer had to put on his best Gucci kneepads when he had a similar problem when he was a New York Congressman and the state was losing a seat. That's what pushed Chuckie to say never again and instead make the big jump to the Senate from the House. Barney's too old now to even give it away.
Via Instapundit, the Boston Herald has a retrospective up of their favorite Barney front pages from over his career. Lest we forget Maxine Waters ongoing ethical troubles, here is a Barney/Max scandal two-fer.
The lede talks about what great pals Barney became with Hank Paulson over Fannie/Freddie and financial reform.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek just today came out with a story about how back in July 2008 then Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson had a private meeting with a select group of hedge fund managers -- most of whom had Goldman Sachs pedigree -- to tell them about how he was going to put Fannie and Freddie into conservatorship seven weeks before he did. He even gave details about how the different layers of their capital structure would be affected. He also said that he regretted not fucking Bear Stearns shareholders even more.
You know what a Big Swinging Dick could do with that information and a seven week lead? Even I could make money doing trades.
This happened before the crisis really hit, so you can't say Paulson was trying to stem a panic. Quite the contrary.
HBO did "Too Big To Fail" with William Hurt playing Hank Paulson. It's based on a book by a New York Times suck-up who's got all the bodies in the right places at the right times, but with lots of self-serving attributed dialogue. I've thought of creating an alternative soundtrack of what might really have been said. Paulson was calling Geithner like 30 times a day in the fall of 2008, which I can sort of understand. But calling Blankfein at Goldman even more?!!! Not even counting the calls on their super secret shoe phones?
If Paulson would hold a meeting with hedgies like he did, you can bet he was giving Blankfein inside information about everything all along. And plotting when and how to take down Lehman.
I've long suspected shit like this was going on and still does and I'm not close to wrapping my head around half of it. At this point, I'd believe almost anything.
Anyone here still want to defend Goldman Sachs for being the righteous paragon of free market enterprise?
Back to Barney. Everyone that matters in DC is fucking someone that gets paid because of that connection. Lobbyists, realtors, lawyers, boytoys, its one big daisy chain. A change in administration just changes whose turn it is to be on top.
Am I wrong?
TigerHawk, for some reason it appears I have the ability (never indulged) to delete comments not my own. I've noticed this before, and never thought much about it. But the mention of 'disappeared' comments above made me decide to alert you to a possible source of this problem.
And Ignoramus, you're not wrong.
Barney Frank helped end Eason Jordan's career at CNN when he revealed that Mr. Jordan claimed that American troops were targeting journalists. That one.
I keep trying to think of others, but I can't. The whole Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac meltdown cost all of us so much.
While Fannie and Freddie and the policies behind them were part of the mix, the idea that they were even the primary factor behind the housing meltdown is a conservative talking point, plain and simple. Start with, neither agency dealt with subprime loans or "alt A" loans, both of which were a huge part of the mortgage problem. Then, consider that plenty of other countries that had no program akin to Fannie and Freddie had housing bubbles. No, the real villain of the story are the world's central banks, including our Fed, which allowed credit (including but not limited to mortgage credit) to expand faster than GDP for far too long.
Now, to be clear, I agree with Barney Frank on next to nothing. I am not advocating his policies. But the House is full of liberal Democrats who share his politics, but without being smart, interesting, and willing or able to engage. As I wrote, I think it would be great if the right had a few people with Barney Frank's brains, wit, and willingness to engage, but it really does not. Newt gets close, I suppose, but who else?
You mention Ann Coulter as an example of someone from the Right who enjoys an intellectual tussle. Even as a non-politician, Ann Coulter is sometimes banned from speaking on campuses for "security reasons". I do not ever recall Barney Frank having been denied the opportunity to speak for fear that his appearance might cause a violent reaction.
In today's media and academic climate, an elected politician from the Right with similar attributes would have a very hard time getting elected or re-elected, I believe. Particularly if such a person had the nasty, bullying characteristics of Barney Frank when "engaging" with someone whom he thinks is not his intellectual equal or when he is challenged in a way which could affect his ability to win on a legislative issue.
When I think of someone from the Right who is "pugnacious, smart, articulate, engaging" I think of the old YouTube video of Thomas Sowell "engaging" with Francis Fox-Pivens. No matter how persuasive, I believe that it would be difficult for younger elected politicians who "engage" like Sowell to survive politically.
I think that there are some smart, articulate people on the Right who may not be as pugnacious or witty as Frank, but who are willing to engage in a quieter manner. Paul Ryan for example. Some of his writing, in particular, is very solid intellectually. Despite his mild presentation of issues, his effectiveness leads to truly vicious responses from the DNC. Someone more "colorful" on the Right in national elected office is a nice dream, though.
AEI scholar Peter Wallison and former Congressman Bob Beauprez seem to have different facts at hand on sub-primes in the GSE's but, hey, to each his own. The causes of the financial crisis is disputable. What seems indisputable is that for more than a decade Barney Frank was the Congressional champion of Fannie and Freddie and blocked the more aggressive oversight sought by the Bush administration several times. In 2000, when Rep. Richard Baker proposed more oversight for the GSEs, Frank called concerns about Fannie and Freddie "overblown," claiming there was "no federal liability whatsoever." in 2002, the Bush budget proposed expanding OFHEO, citing the risks to the financial system from Fannie and Freddie and the very poor state of oversight of the GSE's, and Frank said (in blocking the proposals) "I do not regard Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac as problems." And then: "I regard them as great assets." He went on to block reforms in 2004 and even as recently as 2007, claiming each time that greater oversight was unnecessary and based upon ideological opposition to greater home ownership by disadvantaged people. When, in 2004, the Bush administration fretted about how devastating the collapse of Fannie and Freddie might turn out to be for the financial system, Barney said only "I think Wall Street will get over it". [quotes lifted unceremoniously from the RealClearMarkets piece-please don't accuse me of plagiarism!]
So to hear Barney talk portentously about the virtues of regulation makes me throw up in my mouth a little, as it should anyone who likes honest discourse. Of course, you probably also know that his live-in boyfriend, Herb Moses, the one after the the guy running the prostitution ring out of Barneys house, was employed at Fannie during an eight year part of this time as well.
Barney Frank is the worst kind of hack politician, as even the NYT owned Boston Globe says. Articulate, yes. Pugnacious, yes. Engaging, yes. So indeed he does have many of your sought after virtues. But to me he's a prime candidate for tar and feathers, and not to be missed at all. As you like to say, though, your mileage may vary.
I think it is fair to say that if Frank were not there to support the GSEs there would have been a long line behind him to do so, including plenty of Republicans. Very few politicians like to stop a bull market before it, well, collapses, and nobody seriously wanted to stop the bull market in housing, either.
The biggest argument against the pre-eminence of the GSEs in the housing debacle (not saying that had no role, just that they were not the pre-eminent cause) is that the biggest bubbles occurred in loans that the GSEs did not support, including jumbo loans, no-docs, etc. (You're right, they did support sub-primes, I had a brain fart.) The GSEs are great to bash (and I think they should be wound down) because as a government program it is possible to tag politicians with involvement with him to a degree that it is not with other debt-bubble issues, not because they were such a large part of the reason for the crisis. The continued bleating on this question from the right is largely a GOP talking point, and should not be confused with received truth. Put differently, the GOP is right to bash the GSEs, but they are only one cause of the crisis.
Trying to argue jumbos were a bigger problem for GSE's than sub-primes is getting pretty granular, but it also misses the point. In 2000, the private market still supplied two thirds of the mortgage credit consumed in the US housing market (and some Repubs fretted GSE involvement was ungodly high at even that level) and the ratio changed to the point that GSE's were supplying more credit than all other sources combined by the inception of the financial crisis in 2008 (see the RealClearMarkets piece in my last comment). And, all this growth was a direct result of government regulation and rules against "predatory lending".
Your straw-man argument that had Barney Frank not staked his whole career on building up GSE's then plenty of Repubs would have stepped into that same tar pit is hard to answer seriously, because it's purely speculative ( I'm by nature ready to agree with HL Mencken when he said "Every election is a sort of advance auction of stolen goods."), but it's really beside the point.
As far as Barney himself goes, I've already agreed that (despite his ridiculously lispy speech) he can be entertaining in an infuriating sort of way. I also agree Maxine Waters, who has an IQ of about 12, will be a disaster if the Demons ever get back in power while she still haunts the Congress. Where I don't agree is that losing Barney from Congress is anything but a cause for public spirited celebration. You know, I like Mike Oxley (I'm from Ohio and have had dinner with him a couple of times) but I think SarbOx is an abortion. Similarly, you can maybe admit that while Barney Frank, the private person, is entertaining and will make an engaging college professor, the same guy in his public role was a frigging disaster of the first order.
By the way, before I buckle down to work, I just want to say there's plenty of blame to go around in the financial melt down of our economy. It's just that, here, the subject is Barney Frank and he never held a job as a banker. So while I haven't said anything about private market contributors that doesn't mean I can't. So, please, enough already with the "talking point" nonsense.
Reading through this thread one thing worries me: I really like your blog and look forward to reading your views, so I apologize for arguing this one point so vociferously. I will shut up now, and if you want me to buy you a Starbucks gift card by way of apology for going overboard on the inherent evil inside Barney I'd be happy to.
Echoing Carolyn: I compared Barney Frank to Don Rickles because Barney's schtick is to use his quick mouth to bully, belittle and talk over people -- he's an "insult politician" the way Rickles is an "insult comic". The last thing Barney wants to do is "engage".
We have a military-industrial complex -- the one Eisenhower warned us about. We created it out of necessity, and we still need it to some degree. But Ike was fearful that it would gain ascendant political power and grow beyond what was required. His fears were well placed, as both Republicans and Democrats in Congress had to bring back pork to their district. Lets call it 2:1 Republican/Democrat.
We also have a housing-industrial complex with a quite similar dynamic, but it's 2:1 Democrat / Republican. We didn't need it, but it was sold to us like Mom and Apple Pie. Fannie/Freddie have been at the center of this. Barney was a big enabler. Just because he wasn't the only one doesn't mean Barney is innocent.
You can blame the Fed, and it deserves blame, but since the age of Greenspan its handling of monetary policy has been tied to pumping up our inflated housing market. Lately this pumping has gone into exponential overdrive. The Fed has over a trillion of Fannie/Freddie paper on its balance sheet with more to come. This has become necessary because Fannie/Freddie are now 90% of the US new mortgage market and their aren't enough buyers.
The Fed is actually a collection of twelve banks that act like ordinary banks in many respects but with certain magical powers, most especially by being able to fund themselves with 0% liabilities -- i.e. dollar bills. Thus, it's hard for a Federal Reserve Bank to go broke on an income statement basis. But they can go broke on a balance sheet basis. This may already have happened, if you marked all the Fed's non-Treasury assets to market. If it hasn't happened yet, it can still happen if a double dip recession drags down the housing market. Or if we stop the embargo on foreclosures. Then what?
Since 2008 the USA has already lost far more money on Fannie/Freddie than on all the rest of Obama's boondoggles combined. And it's far from over.
Ironically, Obama & Co's signature financial reform legislation will be forever known as Dodd-Frank. It didn't address Fannie/Freddie at all. It purported to rein in crazy-ass derivatives but that market has exploded in size in the last year. It purported to end Too Big To Fail but our financial sector is dominated by six banks that are anything but healthy (just look at their stock price / tangible book value).
So that's Barney Frank's legacy. And he's unrepentant. He deserves an Old School public horse whipping. It'd be a Hate Crime, but would have nothing to do with his being gay or Jewish or fat.
Here's a little list of Fannie Mae miscreants, taken from the Morgenson-Rosner book.
You'll notice that Barney Frank is 5th on their list, and that Herb Moses, who was given a job at Fannie Mae as a bribe to Barney Frank, is also on the list.
It is true that Fannie Mae was not the sole cause of the housing meltdown, but it is also true that James Johnson and the rest of the miscreants played a large part.
Here, by the way, is one of my conclusions in that post: "It is almost as if helping destroy Fannie Mae and cause the 2008 financial crisis was a resumé-enhancer for our current administration."
So, if Obama is re-elected, don't be surprised if Frank gets a job in the administration.
I read the Tigerhawk piece on the proper perspective necessary to understand the housing crisis. I still don't forgive Frank for lying about the situation. I knew we were heading for trouble way before he publicly denied it. His politics would not allow him to admit the truth and work with the Republicans to find a solution before it was too late. Whatever bubble the world was in, the US did not have to participate. Or perhaps maybe we did. If that was the case then Frank had a duty to warn us instead of covering it all up. As I mentioned, he was far from being a simple political hack, but we needed some real greatness after the Post-Cold War Recession and we did not get much, and so much of what was great was squandered.