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In Conversation: Barney Frank

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JZ: Is it receding? You see the Republicans have almost doubled down on it.

BF: On home ownership? No, no.

JZ: No, not on home ownership, but the free market—

BF: Yeah, but it’s blowing up in their face. I think that’s hurting them politically, particularly, by the way, this insistence on more and more military, I think one of the best things Obama’s got going for him is when Romney starts to talk about staying in Afghanistan and going back to Iraq.

JZ: You mentioned earlier about the importance of race, but you supported Hillary, right?

BF: Yes.

JZ: Was that a difficult decision—

BF: No.

JZ: You didn’t see Obama’s candidacy as important in terms of the racial history—

BF: Well, first of all, the Clintons were wonderful on the race issue, and I guess I would say women are not as important as race. I’m very proud of my record for being very supportive on race, I’m going to get the Hubert Humphrey Award this year from the Civil Rights Leadership Conference, it will mean as much to me as anything that’s ever happened.

But I worried about Obama and have been somewhat vindicated by his presidency. I think he underestimated the virulence of the right wing and overestimated his ability to govern in a post-partisan manner. I said that gave me post-partisan depression. But I was never virulently against him and I was an easy convert to him. I was never a bitter ender.

JZ: So partisanship is the problem but post-partisanship is not the solution?

BF: Partisanship is not the problem, excessive partisanship is. You can’t have a democracy without partisanship.

JZ: How do you cut off the excessive partisanship and just get it back to partisanship?

BF: I can’t do that. Only other Republicans can. Well, the electorate can. You defeat the people who gave you, who caused the excessive partisanship. Namely the tea party and the right wing.

JZ: Is that something you foresee happening?

BF: I don’t know. I don’t make predictions.

JZ: You do, though. I read a prediction you made not long after Obama was elected about how 2010 was going to be a good year for the Democrats.

BF: I underestimated the depths of the recession, and Obama made the same mistake Clinton made. When you try to extend health care to people who don’t have it, people who have it and are on the whole satisfied with it get nervous.

JZ: Do you think Obama overinterpreted his mandate with health care?

BF: The problem with health care is this: Health care is enormously important to people. When you tell them that you’re going to extend health care to people who don’t now have it, they don’t see how you can do that without hurting them. So I think he underestimated, as did Clinton, the sensitivity of people to what they see as an effort to make them share the health care with poor people.

I think we paid a terrible price for health care. I would not have pushed it as hard. As a matter of fact, after Scott Brown won I suggested going back. I would have started with financial reform but certainly not health care.

JZ: And do you think that if you’d done it with that sequencing, you could have still gotten health care before 2012?

BF: I’m not sure, but I think you could have gotten some pieces of it. And yeah, if we’d held the House, we could have gotten it.

JZ: So you think health care, in part, was the reason you lost the House.

BF: The depths of the recession, and that the president didn’t want to blame Republicans because he wanted to work together, and health care, those were the factors.

JZ: When you look at the other side now and the rampant partisanship, and you look at someone like Boehner, who seems to be having a hard time controlling his caucus, and then you look at someone like O’Neill, and you were saying earlier that they can’t fire you, but studying the two of them, how one can manage—

BF: Well, first of all, O’Neill wasn’t able to discipline the southerners. He had a dissenting wing that recognized they were the minority, that was the difference. In Boehner’s case, his right wing thinks they’re the majority, so they resent him being leader. The southerners didn’t resent Tip, they just wanted to have an influence on him.

JZ: So it’s just a question of delusions?

BF: Not delusions. It’s not clear who’s the majority in that party.

JZ: You talked earlier about Gobie, during that was there any point where you thought you were going to have to resign?


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