Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage
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How did a disheveled, intellectually combative gay Jew with a thick accent become one of the most effective (and funniest) politicians of our time?
Growing up in Bayonne, New Jersey, the fourteen-year-old Barney Frank made two vital discoveries about himself: he was attracted to government, and to men. He resolved to make a career out of the first attraction and to keep the second a secret. Now, sixty years later, his sexual orientation is widely accepted, while his belief in government is embattled.
Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage is one man's account of the country's transformation--and the tale of a truly momentous career. Many Americans recall Frank's lacerating wit, whether it was directed at the Clinton impeachment ("What did the president touch, and when did he touch it?") or the pro-life movement (some people believe "life begins at conception and ends at birth"). But the contours of his private and public lives are less well-known. For more than four decades, he was at the center of the struggle for personal freedom and economic fairness. From the battle over AIDS funding in the 1980s to the debates over "big government" during the Clinton years to the 2008 financial crisis, the congressman from Massachusetts played a key role. In 2010, he coauthored the most far-reaching and controversial Wall Street reform bill since the era of the Great Depression, and helped bring about the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.
In this feisty and often moving memoir, Frank candidly discusses the satisfactions, fears, and grudges that come with elected office. He recalls the emotional toll of living in the closet and how his public crusade against homophobia conflicted with his private accommodation of it. He discusses his painful quarrels with allies; his friendships with public figures, from Tip O'Neill to Sonny Bono; and how he found love with his husband, Jim Ready, becoming the first sitting member of Congress to enter a same-sex marriage. He also demonstrates how he used his rhetorical skills to expose his opponents' hypocrisies and delusions. Through it all, he expertly analyzes the gifts a successful politician must bring to the job, and how even Congress can be made to work.
Frank is the story of an extraordinary political life, an original argument for how to rebuild trust in government, and a guide to how political change really happens--composed by a master of the art.
slumping, we did not have enough revenue to support the current level of public expenditure. I publicly and privately insisted that Dukakis seek a tax increase, not to avoid any cutbacks but at least to minimize them. But he had campaigned on what he called “a lead pipe guarantee” not to raise taxes. Instead, he proposed significant reductions in various state-funded welfare payments. He also proposed cuts that I supported, involving government waste and patronage. But in the absence of increased
harsher penalty for the committee’s recommendation of reprimand. (I voted in the minority for the reprimand.) Studds ran for reelection the following year, 1984, and drew serious opponents in both the Democratic primary and the final election. He won both races, though not by overwhelming margins, and his victories made two things clear for me. One, I no longer had any electoral excuse for not being publicly honest about my sexuality. If Studds could win despite the unhappy circumstances
for the rest of my career and aggressively proselytize to my fellow liberals, often to their irritation. I resolved to always support the most electable liberal candidates, with an edge in close cases going to electability. And in those elections where that candidate was successful, I would do what I could to push, cajole, pressure, or otherwise persuade him to move further toward my preferred policy positions, without jeopardizing his political viability. There was a corollary to this approach.
anything over the brass’s objections. We had lost. At President Clinton’s urging, the military did then grudgingly agree to the face-saving proposal that came to be known as Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It differed sharply from the provision I had advocated. Under the new proposal, LGBT service members would face dismissal if they were discovered in any activity that exposed their sexual orientation or gender identity, even if it had no connection to their military duties. Any expression of their true
thousand miles from Portugal. When I first arrived in Fall River in 1982, I knew of the territory only from a line in a famous poem about Columbus—“behind him lay the gray Azores.” Given the choice of traveling one thousand miles east to their home country, or two thousand miles west to America, hundreds of thousands over the years chose us. Like most immigrants, they were entrepreneurially minded, leaving home to better their economic position. Portuguese Americans did not have a large number