Barney Frank and the Financial Crisis

Gay and Jewish, He Got Used To Fighting Uphill Battles

Long Slog: Barney Frank didn’t shy away from tough battles. But it must’ve gotten tiring dealing with Republicans who treated him like a human punching bag.
getty images
Long Slog: Barney Frank didn’t shy away from tough battles. But it must’ve gotten tiring dealing with Republicans who treated him like a human punching bag.

By J.J. Goldberg

Published December 01, 2011, issue of December 09, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

Democrats have never recovered from the trauma of 1994, when they lost the House of Representatives to Newt Gingrich’s Republicans and found themselves in the minority for the first time in 40 years. One Democrat emerged relatively unruffled, however: Barney Frank of Massachusetts.

“I’m used to being in the minority,” he famously wisecracked in a 1996 interview. “I’m a left-handed, gay Jew. I’ve never felt automatically a member of any majority.”

There are several layers of meaning there. Obviously, he’s always been an outsider. With Frank, though, there’s an edge. Though passionately outspoken on both gay and Jewish concerns, from Iranian nukes to gays in the military, he’s never let labels define his work. He’s treated identity issues not as personal missions but as the proper concerns of all fair-minded Americans. He’s been a legislator for the majority first, minorities second. It’s an old-fashioned liberalism. As he wrote in a 1992 book, it’s what Democrats have forgotten.

The bills he’s sponsored over 30 years in Congress address broad, national concerns: the environment, railroad security, help for families of fallen police officers and, most single-mindedly, the financial system. His popular image is a flame-throwing liberal with a lacerating wit. (On Ronald Reagan’s napping during meetings: “It’s not the dozing off of Ronald Reagan that causes us problems. It’s what he does on those moments when he’s awake.”) His record, though, reflects pragmatic, bipartisan lawmaking.

Search the Web for “Barney Frank” and “mortgage crisis” and you’ll find a string of conservative attacks branding Frank the main culprit. The charges: He publicly defended the federally sponsored mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in 2003 and 2004, even as their insolvency was surfacing. He took over the House Financial Services Committee in 2007, when the Democrats recaptured the House, putting him in charge of the banks when they collapsed. He co-authored the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, partly reversing the bank deregulation that liberals say caused the crisis. Conservatives say the law worsened things.<> The accusations are half-baked, but passionate. A 2008 interview with Bill O’Reilly on Fox News turned into a six-minute screaming match, now a sensation on YouTube. Gingrich called for Frank’s imprisonment this past October.

Democrats’ analysis of the crisis isn’t much better. The usual suspect is the banking deregulation enacted by the Republican Congress in 1999, capping two decades of economic deregulation begun under Reagan. The bank deregulation largely repealed the Depression-era Glass-Steagall Act separating commercial banks, which serve individual depositors, from investment banking, with its high-risk market maneuvers. Free to play, banks began speculating wildly with clients’ mortgages.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "If you want my advice: more Palestinians, more checkpoints, just more reality." What do you think?
  • Happy birthday Barbra Streisand! Our favorite Funny Girl turns 72 today.
  • Clueless parenting advice from the star of "Clueless."
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.