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In Conversation: Barney Frank


But at the same time, there’s that famous sign, “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare.” There’s this contradiction in what people want from government.
Yes, there is. But that’s because people don’t like government. You didn’t ask me what the attitudes would be toward government but what government would do. I think there will be an expansion of government’s activity. People may not call it government.

If the Republicans win everything in November, then we’re in for a very bleak period, because they’ll take it as ratification of this anti-government attitude. I think it’s going the other way. I have a bumper sticker for us: “We’re Not Perfect, But They’re Nuts.” And I think the public buys that.

Are there structural reforms that you think need to take place?
To get rid of the filibuster in the Senate.

Is that the only one?
That’s the only one.

You were talking about the Republicans and not being able to work with them. But isn’t your ultimate beef with the voters, since it’s the voters who reward that behavior?
I’m glad you said that, you’re very smart. These days, in developed countries, everybody says you need a private sector to create wealth, you need a public sector to create rules by which wealth is created. Sensible people understand that. The tension between left and right has been where you draw that line, but it’s been a contest between people who see maybe a 20 percent overlap. Let me read this to you. [Picks up copy of Friedrich von Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom.] “In no system that could be rationally defended would the state just do nothing.” ­[Closes book.]

Do you read Hayek a lot?
For these purposes. For the first time in American history, we have people in power now who reject that idea. If they knew it was Hayek, they might think, Well, maybe. But they reject the public sector. That’s why we can’t work together.

But that’s what I mean about the irrationality of voters. Just how—
The voters voted in general, not specifically. The voters were mad at the Democrats in 2010, so they voted for the tea party. They didn’t vote to cut Medicare. They voted to denounce the Democrats.

Do you get frustrated with voters acting with such pique: They throw out the Democrats just because they’re mad?
Politicians make mistakes, journalists make mistakes, and the public is no bargain either. Yeah, I get frustrated.

But some people in the media act like Washington is some autonomous entity that’s operating with no connection to the public. I had a woman stop me the other day, she said, “I’m very angry about Congress. What are you guys doing?” I said, “Who’s your congressman?” “Oh, I don’t know,” she said. “Well, see, I vote for me,” I said. “I’m happy with me. Why are you blaming me for the people you vote for?”


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