Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Barney Frank in The New Yorker

I first heard of Barney Frank when I was a relatively new Legal Services lawyer back in 1981. It was the first year of Reagan's presidency, and also the first year Reagan tried to implement his war on the poor by killing off the Legal Services Corporation. We heard that the appropriation for Legal Services was going to be taken up, so a few of us went to watch the debate on the floor of the house on C-SPAN, which was also brand new at the time.

Although Frank was a new congressman (it was his first term), he was the floor manager for the Legal Services appropriation. I was completely impressed. He was pretty much everything you see when you see him today: smart, prepared, funny, and completely unwilling to back down from a fight.

We won the funding debate, and even in a year when Reagan was getting Congress, under Tip O'Neill, to give him just about everything he wanted, he never succeeded in destroying legal services for the poor.

Last week's New Yorker had a profile of Frank, much older (aren't we all) but otherwise unchanged. In a 2006 poll of Capitol Hill staffers by Washingtonian, published shortly before the elections that gave Democrats control of the House for the first time in twelve years, Frank was voted the brainiest, funniest, and most eloquent congressman—a notable achievement, since he often speaks in a barely comprehensible mumble. With the Democratic victory he is now a powerful committee chair, he's an expert on affordable housing, and I think the profile is definitely worth reading. The article suggests that because of his committee chair he isn't likely to be interested in a Senate seat, but I can't think of anyone who would be a better successor to Ted Kennedy when he leaves office.


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