Even Barney Frank Thinks Congress Is Too Partisan These Days

In announcing his retirement, the 30-year lawmaker offered a few lessons on how politics has changed -- and how we got where we are today

Barney Frank old photo - AP Photo:Elise Amendola - banner.jpg

Barney Frank is pugnacious, irascible, and an extremely sharp-tongued partisan warrior who has served as touchstone and poster boy for conservatives to illustrate everything they think is wrong with liberals.

On the floor of the House he could parry with the best of them and was always quick with an acerbic quip.

Those of us who interviewed him know he was not exactly a warm and fuzzy kind of guy and did not suffer fools -- "get to the point" or "what is your question" is something we heard pretty frequently from him.

He told a constituent during the health-care debate that arguing with her would be like trying to have a conversation "with a dining-room table."

Recently he called Newt Gingrich, a longtime nemesis, a "lobbyist and liar."

But in his announcement Monday that he will be leaving Congress at the end of 2012 after 32 years, Frank said he thinks our politics is getting too adversarial.

Even for Barney Frank, politics has become too partisan.

"People object to cooperation in principle because they do not see the need for it ... You have the most active people on both sides of the spectrum convinced that their view is the majority view."

In a 30-minute news conference held at the city hall in his hometown of Newton, Mass., Frank not only announced his decision not to seek reelection but also bemoaned the loss of civility in our politics and the extremism that has captured it, blaming the right, the left, and the voters.

"The activists in both primaries, people on the left and people on the right, live in parallel universes," Frank said during the news conference. "The left is on MSNBC and on the blogs, the right is on Fox and on talk radio. What happens is that people know different facts ... These are echo chambers. People hear agreement with themselves."

But, as one might expect with Frank, there was a bit more scorn heaped on Republicans. "The Republican Party today in the House is dominated ... it consists half of people who think like Michelle Bachmann and half of people who are afraid of losing a primary to people who think like Michelle Bachmann."

Bachmann serves on the House Financial Services Committee, which Frank chaired from 2007-2010, during a time of tremendous financial upheaval in this country. He helped oversee the bailout of financial institutions during the George W. Bush administration and had a significant hand in crafting the legislation to tighten regulation of the financial services industry known as the Dodd-Frank bill, also named for former Democratic senator Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), who chaired the Senate Finance Committee.

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Linda Killian is a Washington journalist and a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Her book The Swing Vote: The Untapped Power of Independents was published in January 2012 by St. Martin's Press.

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