Barney Frank Talks Hillary Clinton, Gay Marriage, & His New Book

The former Congressman had a few (well, many) frank words on Clinton's bid for the presidency and how the Republicans are behind the times on gay issues.
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The former Congressman had a few (well, many) frank words on Clinton's bid for the presidency and how the Republicans are behind the times on gay issues.
Barney Frank Photo

Barney Frank. (Photo: KPFA.org)

Sunday night's conversation between CBS newsman Jeff Greenfield and retired Congressman Barney Frank at New York's 92Y had the good fortune to happen just a few short hours after former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's announcement that, yes, she will be running for President in 2016. Greenfield wasted no time in mentioning it, and Frank was chomping at the bit to make a statement.

In no uncertain terms did he endorse her candidacy, and seemed eager to set aside a few minutes from promoting his new book, Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage, to explain why.

On Hillary Clinton's Seemingly Unchallenged Run at the Democratic Nomination

Frank looked to quell any misgivings some Democrats (or boosters of the democratic process in general) might have at the unusual nature of what appears to be Hillary Clinton's unchallenged bid. “They think we need a tough primary?” he rhetorically asked. “Didn't they see what happened to Mitt Romney in 2012?”

Frank asserts that there is no plausible obstacle to Hillary getting the nomination. And he is pushing the line that “we” are unified now.

On Gay Rights in America

In 1987, Barney Frank became the first member of the Congress to voluntarily identify himself as gay. Since then he has naturally been a leading advocate for gay rights. He refers to the sweeping, general acceptance of our current age as “the fastest, most thorough social change in United States history.” And he has a perfectly good explanation for it.

Prior to 1969, he explains, most gays, Frank included, hid their identities. It was easy for people to demonize people they didn't know. As more people, “your neighbor, your sibling, your patient, someone in your life” came out, it “became impossible to hate someone you already knew.”

Barney Frank Photo

Cover of Frank's new book. (Photo: Barney Frank FB)

“In America,” he explained, “we can't deny someone rights because we don't like them.” Therefore, denying gays equal rights, such as marriage, had to be pinned to other ideas. Gay marriage, which most Americans either fully support or just don't care about, became, as he recalled a Republican colleague's explanation, “an attack on the institution of marriage.” Frank remarked, to great applause at the 92 St. Y, “that this was an opinion you'd expect to hear in an institution.”

The so-called “wedge issue” of gay marriage is something that he feels the current likely GOP candidates are way behind on, even among their constituents. He suggested that Republican puppet master Karl Rove wants nothing more than for the US Supreme Court to ratify gay marriage across all states, thus sweeping the issue off the table.

“Most Republican people are at the point where they accept that you can't help being gay,” he offered. “They just don't want you to be happy about it,” he said with a smile, to much laughter.

On Unexpected Occurrences and Politics

Frank explained that anyone looking to get into politics needs to have one thing: something else they like to do.

Like professional sports or Hollywood, there is an abundance of capable people and not many available spaces. He then told of the happy accident that led him to Congress.

His career in state politics was going well and he had an eye toward the US House of Representatives. The district he was in, however, already had someone in Washington: the Speaker of the House, Tip O'Neill. In the 4th District, however, the Rep was a liberal priest named Father Robert Drinan. Pope John Paul II was unhappy that, as Frank put it, “someone wearing the collar and was liberal was in Washington.” (Drinan, while personally against abortion, defended it from a legal perspective.)

Barney Frank Photo

Frank in 1981, as a first-term congressman. (Photo: United States Congress (Congressional Pictorial Directory, p62) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

In 1980, the Pope issued that all priests withdraw from electoral politics, and Drinan (and another Democrat in Wisconsin) complied. Frank ultimately won that seat and said he always wished he could ask the Pontiff, “did it work out the way you hoped?”
Frank compared this, in an off-hand remark, to how our current President found his opening into the Senate. If you don't recall that story, and how it involves Star Trek, Google it and prepare to be surprised!

On book critics

Jeff Greenfield, holding aloft a copy of Barney Frank's new book, said it had received praise from all quarters. Except one.

A critic in the New York Times, Frank Bruni, who is gay, lamented that there isn't much in the tome that is specific to Frank's intimate life. Barney took the book from Greenfield's hand and said, "it's called Frank but maybe he was thinking it would be Fifty Shades of Frank."

Done With Politics?

After 16 terms in the House of Representatives, Frank chose not to run for re-election in 2012. It was the same year he legally wed his longtime companion, Jim Ready. When asked if a future President might ask him to join her cabinet, Frank demurred. “I'm tired. I'm 75. I've seen too many in politics who stay past their expiration date. I'm recently married, and I want to focus on that.”