‘Political columnist Barney Frank’ is as amazing as it sounds

This week, grumpy former Washington resident Barney Frank returned to Capitol Hill to defend the financial regulation legislation he sponsored in 2010, the Dodd-Frank Act.


Former House Financial Services Committee chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) testifies before the House Financial Services Committee on Wednesday. Frank testified during the committee's hearing on "Assessing the Impact of the Dodd-Frank Act Four Years Later." (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

According to the Boston Globe, Rep. Michael Capuano (D-Mass.), asked the retired representative, “Barney, do you miss us?” 

Frank, who was also a Democratic congressman from Massachusetts, replied "No."

It turns out, he's had other ways to keep busy during the past year -- like becoming a political columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram! And the residents of Maine have feasted on the returns.

Behold, a few of the gems from his columns. Here is an excerpt from a column on October 20, 2013:

The story is about a mother who approaches a wise rabbi, lamenting that her young son, to use an expression that she probably did not, “freaks out” when he see kreplach. “Bring him to me,” the rabbi intones – rabbis in these stories almost always intone.

The mother obediently does so, and the rabbi takes the boy into his kitchen. Step by step, he prepares the scary food. First he rolls out the dough and asks the boy if this troubles him. “No” is the answer. Then the rabbi forms the dough into a square with a place for an insertion. “Is this a problem?” he asks. “No” comes the answer. Next the rabbi takes a bowl of chopped meat, spoons out a portion, and a third time asks if this is disturbing. “No” comes the answer for the third time.

“Ah-ha,” the rabbi says. Rabbis in this book also say “ah-ha” a lot. He puts the meat into the dough square and folds it over. Triumphantly, he holds it out to the boy, confident he has assuaged his fears.

“Ugh,” the boy shouts, “I hate it.”

Substitute Republicans for the boy and the government for kreplach and you have the government shutdown.

On Sept. 1, 2013, Frank, like all political columnists who have come before him, said it was time for the president to have a "Sister Souljah" moment.

In another column, he admits that "dramatic criticism is neither my interest nor my forte," which is preceded by a lengthy rebuttal of "House of Cards." He says you should probably just watch the "West Wing" instead.

I admit that I only watched three episodes of this cartoon version of congressional reality. Not having to sit through presentations that neither instruct nor entertain me is one of the nicest things about never being a candidate again.

Frank often inspires letters to the editors, as nearly every person who has ever written for a local newspaper has. The best was perhaps from Rob Butler of Cape Elizabeth.

For years I have reviled Barney Frank. As a congressman he was, in my humble opinion, a shallow, partisan fool, unable to see the truth of 2 plus 2 equaling 4, let alone to see through and beyond his partisan lens to find any merit in the arguments of those on the other side of the congressional/philosophical aisle. He was a joke, a disgrace, the “court jester.”

But now, suddenly (and I do mean suddenly), everything he says (writes) makes sense. He is thoughtful, insightful, reasonable, balanced and articulate. He now shows intelligence, vision, humor and (dare I say it) wisdom. How can this be?

Could it be that having retired from Congress, he now finds himself free of the judgment and possible wrath of his constituents, and can now speak his mind untrammeled by the need to be re-elected? Perhaps the reincarnation of Barney Frank is the best argument for term limits.

Or perhaps the reincarnation of Barney Frank is the best argument for all retired politicians becoming local newspaper columnists.

Frank also devotes a lot of time to being very thankful for all the stuff he no longer has to deal with in politics.

  • "While in elected office, I had to deal with the things I was doing that annoyed other people. Now, I get to talk about things that others do that annoy me."
  • "One requirement of the job I held for years as a member of the U.S. House was the need to answer questions that people had every right to put to me, but which in some cases I would very much have liked to ignore. Now that I no longer hold that position, not only can I dodge the difficult questions, I get to ask them without worrying about whether or not I am offending anybody by doing so."
  • "The closest parallel to giving a commencement address is singing the “Star-Spangled Banner” at a ball game. No one came to hear you; they can’t have the event without you; and no one will remember your performance unless you screw it up. But this does not mean that people with decades of experience should never pass on our wisdom to those starting out. So I will use this column to share what I have learned in my 40 years of elected office to future candidates and office help."

How did the Massachusetts politicians end up in Maine? He and his husband have a house in Ogunquit, and they split their time between there and Newton, Mass. Frank isn't the first columnist of some renown based in Ogunquit, although the man who preceded him in the job was not only fictional, but also a composite. Around 1889,  New York Times reporter Robert W. Welch moved to Ogunquit and started writing columns about national affairs, sifting his views through the voice of Silas Larrabee, a "fictitious cracker-barrel philosopher" who spoke in a "caricaturized Maine vernacular," as Sharon Cummins wrote in her "Old News" column, published in another Maine newspaper, the York County Coast Star. (Buried lede: All Maine columnists are apparently wonderful.)

When you look at Welch's old columns, it's clear that Frank has a some work to do before he can have the crown of "Best Political Pundit in Maine." On May 25, 1902, Silas Larrabee explained why he thought old men like himself were doing a pretty good job running things in Washington, D.C., contrary to popular opinion.

"Now I want to tell you, my friend, that the world is full of gray-headed, stiff-j'inted, wobbly-legged, half-busted old chaps -- sixty, seventy, and eighty years old--that's doin' terrible good work: doin' work they couldn't have done twenty, thirty, and forty year ago; doin' work that them that turns up their noses at old men couldn't come within forty row of apple trees of doin'. It does an old fellow like me good to come to Washington and take a look at the ancients an' honor'bles in office here. Folks that thinks old men ain't fir for nothin' but to wait for their funerals oughter come here and stroll 'round a mile or so. They'd l'arn a thing or two that would rayther surprise 'em; some of their idees abour us old  timers would git pooty well shook up.

In other columns, Larrabee pontificated on "the wust case of Congress that ever afflicted the American people," feminism, voter ignorance, beards and zoos.

We hope Frank will weigh in on all this topics in short order.

Jaime Fuller reports on national politics for "The Fix" and Post Politics. She worked previously as an associate editor at the American Prospect, a political magazine based in Washington, D.C.
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Jaime Fuller · July 25