When Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts announced last year he would not seek re-election in 2012, everyone from Mass. Gov. Deval Patrick to President Obama expressed shock and sadness. "This country has never had a Congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him," Obama said in a press statement. Fellow Democratic Congressman Ed Markey tweeted that Frank "is an historic figure, a legislative giant, a voice for the voiceless." Even his opponents expressed fondness for the liberal politician: "I'll miss Barney Frank," tweeted Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary under George W. Bush. "I disagree with him about everything, but the guy is funny, and fast with a quip."
Frank joined Hardball Tuesday night to talk about the changing Congress, and how the problems of the last few years have spilled over into the productivity of the House.
"The American people very drastically changed their minds, at least those who vote, between 2008 and 2010," Frank told Chris Matthews. "They liked Barack Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress in 2008, then they repudiated their own decision in 2010."
He said he thought 2012 was a "tie breaker" of sorts, despite the fact that there is still a visible gridlock in Congress. "If you remember back in the '80s, [House] members felt they had more freedom to make public policy decisions on their own," Frank said. "What happens today is that voters are much more in control. I know some people say that isn't the case, but that's part of the problem. It's not all the voters. It is those voters who choose to be active on the liberal side and the conservative side live in two separate parallel self-reinforcing universes."
He added, "Most sensible Republicans understand they have to make some accommodations, but there's this terrible fear that if they act sensibly, they'll lose primaries."
Frank, who is the country's first openly gay member of Congress, is best known for being a trailblazer for LGBT rights. In an interview with The Advocate, Frank discussed his role as an LGBT advocate and the steps taken by the government to promote equality over the course of his 22-year career:
I do think the absence of an economic recession is important. But it’s not as important as freeing vulnerable people from the terrible oppression that was homophobia. It’s not gone away. But we’re beating it.Now, I don’t claim that this was my accomplishment. My career and the gay rights movement are the same age. Stonewall was in 1969. I first ran for [state legislative] office in 1972. As a candidate I rode in the second [Boston] Gay Pride Parade in 1972. I’ve been helped by the movement, and I’ve helped the movement. So yes, I’m proud of what I’ve done.
In July, Frank married his long-time partner James Ready, and became the first member of Congress to marry someone of the same sex while in office.