The Real Reason to Miss Barney Frank

Barney Frank announced today that he was stepping down.  He gets a lot of criticism from the right, and to be sure, some of his more spectacular personal pecadillos, and some of his policy decisions on the banking industry, are ripe for criticism.

Nonetheless, I confess, I like Barney Frank.  I also think that, whatever his mistakes, he's pretty knowledgeable about finance.  And you need only look at the committee list to see that it could have been so, so much worse.  

Guess which Democrat now becomes the ranking member on the financial services committee?  That's right, none other than our favorite batty aunt, Maxine Waters.  The woman who, during a major hearing with the cameras on her, asked the heads of Goldman Sachs and State Street bizarre questions about how they set the limits on their consumer credit cards*.  She asked Ken Lewis, the head of Bank of America, a question about "offshore loss mitigation caps" (a term of which I--and also, clearly, Ken Lewis--had never heard) that was so bizarre--and garbled--that he was flummoxed into silence; he sat there squirming like a third grader being picked on by the teacher.  

When he finally got the courage to ask what she meant, it became clear that Maxine Waters had no idea what she meant; I assume she'd either taken hasty and incomplete notes when her staffers briefed her about what to ask, or had flubbed reading the question, and couldn't bring herself to admit on C-SPAN that she hadn't really bothered preparing for the hearing to the extent, of, say, familiarizing herself with the institutions whose heads she was grilling, or actually bothering to understand the questions she was going to ask.  It was kind of hilarious, until you realized that this was her job, and that she voted on critical financial regulatory questions.

Nor is this an isolated pattern; every time I see Maxine Waters at a hearing I know that the questions are going to be bizarre, and that Congresswoman Waters will make them even stranger with garbled readings and off-topic follow-ups.

And let's not even start with her dubious personal decisions and the ethics investigations that inevitably followed.  That's serious--but it's nothing compared to the damage she could do as head of the committee.

Now, I understand that seniority is not the only factor in who becomes committee head, and presumably the Democratic leadership will somehow assure that she doesn't take over.  Still, it makes one shudder to think that such a thing is even possible.

*  If I actually have to tell you this, these financial institutions do not really deal with consumers, much less their credit cards.  I'm not picking on you--you have an excuse.  You're not a member of the financial services committee.
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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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