Barney Frank: “Frank” | Films at Google

Updated : Sep 12, 2019 in Articles

Barney Frank: “Frank” | Films at Google


MALE SPEAKER: Good
afternoon and welcome to Talks at Google in
Cambridge, Massachusetts. Today it’s my enormous pleasure
to introduce my former state representative and former
Congressman, Barney Frank. He joins us today to
discuss his memoir, “Frank: A Life in Politics
from the Great Society to Same Sex Marriage.” Confession, I’m
completely starstruck. Barney has been a
hero of mine since I moved to Boston in 1973–
Beacon Hill state rep. And I spent a long time working
on this introduction that would do justice to the man and
the great book he has written, but it was getting
completely out of hand. And Barney will be
the first to tell you he’s not a person with
a whole lot of patience. So we’re just going to cut
through anything else I would have said and let me just
welcome one of Massachusetts’s most astute and effective
politicians, a great fighter for people who can’t always
fight their own fights, former Congressman,
Barney Frank. [APPLAUSE] BARNEY FRANK: Thank you. Thank you. I’m very happy to
have a chance to talk. I will talk some. I don’t know how you open up
these bottles without squeezing them and getting the water out. Any awe is reciprocal
because I am not naturally good with things. I have been in a lifelong
war with inanimate objects and have mostly lost– things
like opening a water bottle. I have had three relationships
with men in my life. The current one is, of course,
the most meaningful by far. And they were all very
different in a lot of ways, but I can hear each of
them in my head saying in exactly the same
tone of voice, Barney, don’t touch that
because I will break it. I will say that when it came
time for 32 years in Congress I had a large
staff, and so I was able to take full advantage
of the improvements in communications without
myself personally doing them. And I now have one
assistant, Courtney, who does the work for
about 30 people very well. But I was not using
computers myself very much, so when I sat down to write
the book I started to do it and I kept hitting combinations
of keys not intended by anybody whoever made one. And, finally, my husband
was in a Walgreens and saw an outsized yellow,
plastic keyboard, which could be plugged into my computer. And that made it possible
for me to write the book, with one exception. There was a key right
next to the spacebar that I kept hitting that
kept shutting me down. And he is very handy, and he
applied a little high tech solution. He pried the head
of the key off. So now I get a sharp pain
in my finger that says, don’t do that. But at any rate, I am very happy
to be here and a great admirer of the company. I’m going to talk some and
then open it up for questions. The frame of the book kind
of suggested itself to me. Jonathan mentioned, he moved
into Beacon Hill in 1973. That was the year after
I had been elected to the state legislature. My first year in the
legislature was the year. One of things that is
sort of serendipitous about my career from the
standpoint of LGBT issues is that it is virtually
coterminous with the movement for LGBT rights. Not because of everything I did,
it’s just given when I was born and when I got involved. I was just starting my
career when Stonewall hit. And there really is
no social movement in the history of this
country, and maybe in any other, which has so
clear a delineation point. I mean, I can tell
you, because I was working for the
major of Boston, I was in charge of, among
other things, liberal causes. And as a closeted
gay man, I was kind of hoping I would meet other
gay men through my advocacy. And I can tell you, there
was no gay political activity going on in Boston in
1968, ’69, and ’70. It just wasn’t there. Actually, the first gay
pride parade was in ’71. I rode in the second one in ’72. But I had just started
and when I started out I got involved in
politics because I had a view of how I would
like to change society in the direction of fairer
treatment for people, less discrimination, more
personal freedom, less economic inequality within
the market framework. And I was worried
that that was not going to work very well because
I was what we then universally called a homosexual. And there was
obviously a conflict between being someone
so unpopular– I realized I was
gay when I was 13 and I was just devastated by it. I thought about that when I read
about this incredibly stupid comment by Ben Carson. And as a point
there, intelligence is segmented in my view. People can be absolutely
brilliant about somethings and be a moron about others. Ben Carson apparently is able
to separate conjoined twins and a miraculous kind
of thing, and then announces that he believes
being gay is a choice. And my response was, yes, at
13 I was a typical teenager who couldn’t wait to be
a member of the most unpopular minority around. Every teenager’s dream is to be
despised by all of your peers. I later learned that
Carson said that that was because people
who go to prison sometimes engage in gay sex. Well, the notion that being
in a maximum security prison is any kind of a choice
in the first place, it should have given a clue
to him that this was not fully voluntary. At any rate, I thought I could
never get very influential and never get a high
position in government. As the years went
on– this is 1967, when I first got a job–
there’s an interesting shift, they’re not related,
but the prejudice based on sexual orientation
and even lately I’m very happy to see
gender identity diminishes substantially,
but respect for government also diminishes substantially. So by the end, I
thought I would never be able to have a
great impact on society because I could never be
influential in government. It reached a point
where I was able to be influential in
government, but government wasn’t influential in society. And as I said,
people have said, did you ever think that you could
be married while you were still in Congress to another man. And wouldn’t that have
been very controversial. And I said, yes, if
you’d asked me even in 2004, which was the year that
we first began to have marriage here, if I could get
married while still a member of Congress, it
would have been very, very controversial. And in the end,
Jim and I did marry in my last year in
Congress and it did generate a lot of controversy. There was space limitations
and a number of my colleagues were very angry that
I didn’t invite them. Although I have to say
there is a partisan aspect, I came back to my
office one day and there was a very attractive
piece of pottery from a member of Congress
as a wedding present who had not been invited. And she was a Republican and
one of the more reasonable ones. But she had voted for the
Defense of Marriage Act. Had voted in fact, even worse,
for a constitutional amendment that would have
invalidated– not only prevented future
marriages, but invalidated marriages that already existed. So I brought the present back. She wasn’t there. I left it there. And she called me
somewhat puzzled. Was there something the matter? And I said, yeah, how
can I accept a present from you celebrating an event
that you tried to wipe out? And I was struck. She said, yeah. I was a coward. And she retired from Congress. I think she was an example of
a disturbing trend, not she, but the reasons behind it
that is the rightward movement of the Republican Party, which
a reasonable conservative like her could not tolerate
so she had to quit. But at any rate, the government
became less and less popular. I’m very happy that we
got increased acceptance. Acceptance actually
is two weak of a word. We got an absence
of the prejudice. I think the reason for the
defeat of the prejudice is very simple. We stopped hiding. The prejudice is
literally ignorance. And there were two
factors as millions of us became honest about who we were. A little about terminology. In the ’70s, ’80s, I think
until fairly recently, when we would be
honest about who we were, there would
be well meaning, non-bigoted people, but still
a little uneasy, and they would say, look, I’m happy that you’re
happy being gay or lesbian, but why do you have
to discuss it so much? Can’t you just be one
without telling everybody? And finally I
pointed out to them that this notion that
we were gay and lesbian discussed our sexuality more
than others was simply wrong. I pointed out that
straight people talk about their sexuality every
bit as much as gay people do. The difference is when we do
it it’s called coming out, when they do it
it’s called talking. You know, nobody
goes through a day without referring to a partner,
girlfriend, husband, et cetera. At any rate, I think
that’s clearly it. First of all, by our being
honest who we were we destroyed the stereotype. We were not any
particular person. I also think there’s something
about a prejudice which is so little based
on reality that you have to be told whom you
are supposed to apply it to. I mean if you have thought
that these are terrible people and then you find out
that a number of people who you previously admired
are those terrible people, that kind of causes
some mental concern. How bad could it be
if I couldn’t tell? It’s also the case
that people found out that a lot of people close
to them were gay and lesbian. So that prejudice
ultimately went away. And it’s an interesting
political thing. As late as 2004, George
Bush used this as a weapon against the Democrats. In fact, John Kerry–
very supportive– had to worry about it. In fact, I accompanied
John Kerry– I talked about
this in the book– to a meeting of gay
people in Washington at a human rights campaign. And he said, well, how do
I explain my opposition to same sex marriage? And I said, my recommendation
is that you don’t explain. You just say you’re against it. He said, well, if I
just say that they’re going to think it’s just
for political reasons. And I said, that’s
what you hope. And, think about
it, if someone has taken a position you dislike,
I mean not judging him morally, but in terms of your
own self interest, wouldn’t it be better if it
was an expedient one rather than one more deeply held? Because if it was deeply
held and sincerely meant you have a hard
time changing it. But if it was expedient
you can work on it. And I said, look, in my
experience– he said, well, how can you not explain it. I told him, I had an
incident once that was a debate about
whether or not to seat a Democrat versus a Republican
at a contested election in Indiana. And I liked the democrat,
but it seemed to me as you looked at it, there was
no way to tell who had won. It was very close. Some of the ballots
were indecipherable. So I voted not to
seat the democratic. Tip O’Neill was
then the speaker. A wonderful man,
but a deep partisan, as he should have
been the speaker. And I voted against
it and somebody said, how did the speaker respond. I said, well, he was
mad at me for not voting to seat the Democrat
until I clearly explained to him my reasons at
which point he became furious. When you have
disagreed with someone you almost always make it
worse by telling them why. You are explaining to
them why they were wrong. So in my experience, if
you’re going to have to do disagree with
people don’t say it. And Kerry said, well OK, but
how would I explain myself then to the people who
are against marriage? What do I say to them? I said, I think in the
history of the world, no one has ever
demanded that anybody explain why he agrees with him. Has anybody ever said,
I agree with you. Well, I need to know
why you agree with me. It doesn’t happen. But at any rate, that was 2004. By the last election,
2014, Republicans were trying desperately
not to argue the case. Best example– federal
courts in Pennsylvania ruled that the Pennsylvania
rules against same sex marriage are unconstitutional. The Republican governor
of Pennsylvania then announces that he will
not appeal the decision because he’s up for reelection
and he doesn’t want to have to defend that position. I mean, it has entirely
flipped as a wedge issue. So that one I’m happy about. We still have to get
legislation passed. And there was a
problem as recently as a few years ago on
the transgender issue and that is now resolved. When I first started introducing
gay rights legislation in 1972, it wasn’t just entirely
a rational objection. There was what I call
the blech factor. A lot of straight men in
particular, the notion of two guys having sex troubled them. For some reason, for a lot
of straight men, as you know, the notion of two women
having sex kind of a turn on, but two guys– no. At any rate, we wore that down. In 2007 when we tried to
get transgender inclusion and anti-discrimination
bill, I realized I was running to
that same factor. That was too new. That was too
troubling to people. And it’s a sign of how
things have gotten better. The transgender community
themselves and others, we’ve been able to kind of
get rid of that ick factor in that situation in
a much shorter period. So we’re now ready to do
this, but here’s the deal– there will be no further
legislative advance for LGBT people
until in an election you get a Democratic House,
Senate, and President. And one of the things about
respectable opinion today is that because of the
excessive partisanship that’s been engaged in by
some people, there’s been an overreaction that
condemns all partisanship. In fact, you cannot have and
never have had a functioning democratic society
without political parties. Absent political parties,
absent some groupings of people based on
general common views then it’s pure personality. I mean, the people who wrote
the Constitution, the Founding Fathers, had two attitudes
towards parties– they hated them and
they formed them. They said they were
terrible ideas. Factioned, they called it. And they were busy
forming parties. And they took it seriously
enough so Alexander Hamilton was shot by Aaron Burr. That was an example
of how seriously they took party differences. Parties are irrelevant. And the fact is that while
the Republicans are not any longer actively
going after LGBT people, because they understand
that that’s not a good thing with
the general public, particularly with
younger people, they are also committed to
never doing anything positive. So when we get to
questions, the question is what’s the future
for LGBT rights? It depends entirely
on the party in power. And if the Democrats, again,
get the Presidency, House, and the Senate,
problems with that with the House
redistricting, you’ll see a national bill adopted. The tougher part for me,
because that’s the good news, is what do you do
about government? In my view, a healthy
society consists of a very active
private sector, which is a way you create wealth. And I believe in
the market system. And a public sector
which has three purposes. One, it’s to set down rules
for the private sector. It’s to contain
private sector activity within certain kind of bounds. Absent that, competition
has a negative effect. This is one example. During the financial crisis,
people asked some of the people in the financial community,
why are you doing this? And the answer was, I got to. My competition is doing it. I asked the head of Citicorp,
Chuck Prince, at one point why he was doing a certain
maneuver with his balance sheet and why he wouldn’t be
more honest about the debts of the company. He said, because if I put all
these on my balance sheet, Goldman Sachs will beat the
hell out of me in the market. So you need some rules to
constrain abuses and check people from taking
undue advantage. There are some things
you need government for that no private sector
is going to do because of the externalities of it. The benefits are for everybody. That’s particularly true
in environmental areas. And then finally unless
you believe in the extreme, I think, of the Ayn
Rand philosophy, you want to provide some
minimum level of decent comfort for people who aren’t going
to make it on their own. Obviously you need inequality
or a capitalist system doesn’t work. And people who work hard deserve
more than people who don’t. People who are talented are
going to get more than people who don’t. But I think we’re not prepared
to let people totally just starve to death. And so that’s part of what you
do through the public sector. Throughout our history and
in most other democracies– stable, capitalist
democracies– there’s a tendency to have two parties. Sometimes they’re in
three or four groupings. But there’s a kind of
a more liberal side and a more conservative side. Both sides understand
that you need both. You need a good private sector
and a good public sector. And the competition is
where you draw the line. In America, the
Republicans would be pushing the public sector
back some, giving more freedom to the private sector. Democrats, the opposite. But in each case,
until recently, people have recognized
the importance of both. The unusual thing
about American politics today is that the Republican
Party to a great extent through the Tea Party
is heavily influenced by– and in the House it has
been controlled by– people who disagree with that. They do not see any great
value in the public sector. And that is the cause
of the breakdown. People say, what ever
happened to bipartisanship? Well, what happened
to it is factual. It’s Barack Obama got elected
and the Republicans said no. When the Bush administration
in the fall of 2008 came to the Democrats and said,
the economy is falling apart, we need you to do some
things to help us, we did. We voted for the TARP, which
will clearly go down in history as the most highly successful,
wildly unpopular thing the government ever did. And we knew it was
going to be unpopular. When AIG comes in–
By the way, AIG came into the Bush
administration and said, we need $85 billion to
cover the commitments we made for something called
credit default swaps– insurance against
securities– because we don’t have the money. It turns out they not only
didn’t have the money, they had no idea
how much they owed. Because a few days later when
the Bush administration told us that they were going
to need $700 billion to lend to cover debt,
and they were showing at how they arrived
at the figure, and they said and $85 billion
for AIG, somebody said, no, no, you already
told us that. We were paying attention. And their answer
was, no, no, this is an additional $85 billion. AIG not only couldn’t
cover its debts, it had no idea how much it owed. A side, by the way,
is that the founder of AIG, Maurice
Greenberg– known as Hank after the
baseball player– is now suing the federal
government on the grounds that he was not treated fairly
when the federal government came up with the $180
billion it ultimately was to cover the debts that
his company had incurred. I have characterized
that as the arsonist suing the fire department for
water damage to his property. But that’s the
dilemma we have now. My frustration is this–
we have this generally acknowledged fact right
now, whether or not you think it’s a problem
varies ideologically– as the country’s getting
richer, the distribution is very unequal. And an overwhelming percentage
of the additional wealth is going to a very
small number of people. And the great bulk of the
population is kind of just held even. I believe that’s the explanation
and I’ll wrap up with this and throw it open. The dilemma the
Democrats have faced– the question is, from
our standpoint, we are doing things that are in
the interest of working people. Why is it that white, working
class and middle class men don’t vote for us? As I note in the
book, the only group of white men who vote in the
majority democratic these days are gays and Jews. Any other demographic
group votes no. Now, there are enough women,
and African Americans, and Hispanics, Asians. Asians, interestingly, had
originally many of them voted Republican, but
the anti-immigrant sense, ever since Bill Clinton, they’ve
been in the majority Democrat with the exception
of the Vietnamese for historical reasons. But the question is, why do
people who earlier would have voted for Franklin Roosevelt,
Harry Truman, Johnson, Kennedy, why do they now vote
for union busters or for people who are
against the kind of things that would be good for them? There was an
initial view that it was because they were angry
over the social issues. It was God, guns, and gays. Guns are a part of it
but I think that analysis is basically wrong. I wasn’t sure of it
at the time but I’ve become convinced that it is. For people who think
that the reason we don’t get these white
working class votes is their opposition
to social issues, how do you explain the fact
that same sex marriage is now overwhelmingly popular,
including with many of them? I think it’s the economy. It’s what James Carville said
in ’92 during the Clinton campaign, it’s the
economy, stupid. Here’s what’s happened–
from 1945 to 1975, America ruled the
world economically as a result of World War II. Actually it even began in 1940. Every developed
economy in the world was devastated by
World War II except us. Ours grew because
we were the place. We were physically
undamaged and we had this enormous production. And until the mid ’70s, if you
were a white man not subject to racism or gender
prejudice and you were willing to
work, you didn’t have to have a high degree
of specialized skill, you didn’t have to have a
college education or even high school education, you
could go into a factory and make a very
good living as long as you were willing to work. And that was in
fact the exception, but people took it as the norm. Beginning in the ’70s,
the rest of the world was catching up to America. And now increasingly it
wasn’t possible for America to make everything. And Americans working in basic
commodities and manufacturing were losing out
to other countries where people could
work more cheaply. The result is, and
frankly what’s happened is we’re in a place
where it’s the case, increasingly America’s
comparative edge over the rest of the
world was in the high end area in high technology
and intellectual property. And we’ve done very well there. So we have a situation
where working class men are angry that their
relative economic position has eroded. And that’s led them
to be anti-government. I do not believe that these are
people who are philosophically anti-government. I think the paradox
is that they’re too pro-government in some ways. That is that they are convinced
that if the people running the government, particularly
the Democrats who are the party of government,
really cared about them, we would have done
more to respond to their economic
situation, which leads us into a vicious
cycle because they get angry at the Democrats who
they say, oh, you’re too busy. And here’s where the
other issues come in. Their view is that we only care
about women and blacks and gays and we’re neglecting them. It’s not that they’re
objectively against them in the first place, but
they’re like jealous siblings. And so their frustration
is that the government hasn’t done enough to respond
to their economic plight. And so then they
vote for people who will make it less likely
the government will do that. And then they make
it even less likely. And you get this
anti-government vicious cycle. I believe if we had the
resources to improve government’s performance–
put more people to work in the
construction area fixing our infrastructure,
good economically as well as in terms of serving
the [INAUDIBLE] economy– to return to the point
where a kid could graduate from high school from
a lower working class family and go to the State University
without going deeply in hock. Return to the
situation where states subsidize higher education. Pick up some of the healthcare
cost that they need. There are a lot of things we can
do but most of them cost money. And the vicious cycle is
we don’t have the money to do these things. So my solution is two things–
people say, how do you have a strong faith in government? Well, it’s beyond faith. It’s reality. The only way for
us to do this is to do what I would like to
anyway– promulgate programs within the market structure. No way interfering with our
ability and our capacity to run a very effective
capitalist system. But provide programs that
reduce this inequality. And then the question
is, OK, but where are you going to get the money? We can’t even raise
gasoline taxes now to fix the roads because the
current Republican Party thinks Dwight Eisenhower was a
dangerous radical when he promulgated this
interstate highway program. So I have two
proposals in the books. First of all, I think
it is time substantially to reduce America’s
military budget. We are the strongest
nation in the world. But we are the strongest
nation in the world by an excessive margin. I think it is a good
thing that the largest Air Force in the world
is the US Air Force. I do not think it
has to be the case that the second largest
Air Force in the world is the US Navy,
which is the case. Now, since it seems
to be unlikely that the Navy and the
Air Force will go to war, we could probably
reduce their total. And I know there are
bad guys out there. I don’t like the terrorists. I cheer when they’re killed. But nuclear submarines
don’t stop terrorism. If they did, it would be over. They don’t have any. I mean, here’s what I
think happened to us. Briefly. Before 1940, America had
a very small military because we had the best defense
in the world, two of them– the Atlantic Ocean
and the Pacific Ocean. And given the technology
then, that was pretty safe. Pearl Harbor made
us sort of nervous. But even that was
way out in the ocean. And then we built
up because Hitler was an existential
threat to our society. And when Hitler was
through, Joseph Stalin– a terrible, vicious gangster–
has the Soviet Union. And for many years they are
a threat to our existence. Although I think
that began to wane. When the Soviet Union
collapses in 1990, for the first time
since Hitler, there is no threat to America’s
existence as a free society. There are bad guy’s that
are going to harass us, but literally our
existence is not in doubt. And so George H.W. Bush
and then Bill Clinton began substantially
reducing the military. And that’s where 2001 comes in. We are then attacked
by the terrorists. Americans murdered. A terrible thing, but not a
threat to our existence as a society. What you get are people
in the Bush administration who philosophically believe
that it is Americas role to be the world’s leader. They believe that it is
America’s moral obligation to enforce order in the world. They have been frustrated
by their inability to sell that to the
American people who don’t feel threatened. So there was a successful effort
to build the terrorists up to the level of
threat represented by the communists and the Nazis. They are morally no better than
Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler, but fortunately they
don’t have one hundredth of the devastation power. The fact is that, yeah, we
need to fight terrorists, but it is a different order
of magnitude of fight compared to what we had to do before. And we have been persuaded
that’s not the case. Instead what we have is
massive American intervention. I mentioned the Air Force. Here’s what we’re up against. In the Wednesday Wall
Street Journal the day after the election in 2012, two
guys in the Bush administration wrote an article saying,
we’re very worried now that Obama’s
won because he’s not going to expand the Air
Force the way we need to. And they say, now, it is
true that no American has been killed by enemy
air power since 1953. This is 2012. And it is also true
that American air power has dominated every battlefield
entirely since then. And they go on to say but
because of this, some people don’t realize that we need
to expand the Air Force. And they say we need
to be able to respond anywhere, anytime, anyplace. There were two
objections to that. One, it’s enormously expensive. Two, it’s not workable
because they want to do it through the military. I wish we could make people
in Iraq get along better. I wish we could get shiite
and sunni to cooperate. I wish we could diminish
corruption in Afghanistan. I wish we could bring about
a coherent society in Yemen or Lybia. We can’t. And we certainly can’t
do it with the military. We have the best military
in the history of the world. They can do very well
what a military can do. They can stop bad
things from happening. But militaries can’t
make good things happen. So I believe we
could substantially reduce the military by $100
billion a year, in no way endanger our safety, nor
diminish our capacity to intervene when it
will do some good. The other area, and I’ll
make this one quick, how do you get money for the
states and cities to do things? Very simple. You stop putting people
in prison because of the use of recreational
drugs that they don’t otherwise hurt people. The War on Drugs has been
a much bigger failure than anything else. And it can’t be done
more efficiently. People say, well, we just
got to run this better. I mean, why should it
cost more to send someone to prison than to send them
to the State University? Very simple answer. Very few people try to escape
from the State University. I mean, that costs them money. So and I think the American
people are ready for both. I think the American
people, they don’t want to send troops back
into Iraq and Afghanistan. They don’t want to lock
people up for marijuana. I mean, you know one of the
great hypocrisies in America today? Cocaine. Many people know that there
are a lot of high functioning people in various places in this
society who are cocaine users. But if they come in the wrong
social class they go to jail. It’s part of the racial problem. There was a statistic
in New York City, 86% of the arrests for marijuana
use were black and Hispanic. And you people have
been in Manhattan. Do you really think that
86% of the marijuana users are black and Hispanic? It must mean that
your white friends are an unusually high
percentage of users, because you know they do. So that’s my solution. I am pretty satisfied with
our progress in LGBT rights. I want to reverse this
anti-government trend. I think it’s bad for us. It’s bad for dealing
with climate change. It’s bad for enhancing
the quality of life. I think the private
sector is very important, but there are some
things important to our quality of life
that the private sector isn’t supposed to do. And we have to
pool our resources. And there’s this obstacle. So my mission for
the next few years that I have a chance
to do anything is to argue for reduced
military spending– and you can’t reduce
military spending unless you reduce the objectives. You can’t just make
it more efficient. That’s wishful thinking. And to take criminal penalties–
the principle I would have is this– it should not be
illegal to ingest any substance unless that substance is
going to clearly cause you the kind of long term
harm that the rest of us are going to have to
pay for medically, or if it makes you
likelier hurt other people. Taking heroin doesn’t make
you a violent criminal, trying to get the money
to take heroin does. And so we can deal with that. And so that’s the principle. You outlaw only those
substances which make people more likely
to be a social menace. You can’t apply that
principle entirely because it’s too late
to ban alcohol again, which is clearly the
substance that makes people the most dangerous to others. But there’s no reason
to ban these others. I believe if we could free
up that money we could do a lot of things that would
improve the quality of life in this society,
diminish inequality without in any way hurting
our productive capacity, and we’d all live less
unhappily ever after. I’ll take questions
at this point. [APPLAUSE] AUDIENCE: How do
you guys balance, or how did you
balance– it seems like, so small businesses are
the engine of our economy. They’re the biggest employers
of people in this country. But as you guys
balanced that need to regulate– so
one thing that’s kind of popping into
mind, for example, would be Sarbanes-Oxley. We did it because of
Enron and all those guys. But the burden for
that regulation really fell on the
smaller companies who just kind of couldn’t afford
to do that in a meaningful way. So how did you guys go– BARNEY FRANK: Well, in my
area, we used a $10 billion asset figure for banks. And, for example, the
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau [INAUDIBLE] bank job,
which I’m very proud of, they send out bank examiners
to see if the banks are doing the right thing. But we exempted banks that have
less than $10 billion in assets from being examined by them
because that takes up time. And I know some of
the community banks object to the regulations. I tell you, part of the
problem is the lawyers. And I’ve said to some
community banks, well, what’s your problem? Well, we have to spend
a lot of money complying with the Volcker Rule. The Volcker Rule applies to
JP Morgan, Chase, and Bank of America. It has to do with very complex,
derivative transactions, which these smaller banks don’t do. Oh, but my lawyer said
I got to make sure that I demonstrate this. So I complained to some
lawyers, and they said, well, we’re worried about malpractice. I do favor writing into
the financial formula some explicit exemptions. There are things
that we never thought were going to effect
the small banks, but lawyers make them nervous. So I think we could do
more in that regard. And with Sarbanes-Oxley,
over the last few years– that’s the bill that deals
with accounting practices– and it cam because of Enron
and other great scandals. And it didn’t come
out of the air. The level at which you have
to kick in now in terms of your capitalization is up
to, I don’t know, $500 million or something like that. And so that is one where
experientially people did decide to exempt
smaller businesses. Yeah? AUDIENCE: It’s great
to have you here. I wanted to ask about Dodd-Frank
and the Affordable Care Act. One thing they seem
to have in common is people are trying
to dismantle them. And I wonder how Dodd-Frank is
doing from your perspective, first of all. And second of all, whether this
attempt to dismantle things that were pretty big
initiatives that were voted for is something that’s always
happened in our world, or it’s something
new and different? BARNEY FRANK: Let me take
the last question first. No, this is not
typical for things to be contested this far, a
whole presidential election after. And it is in the manifestation
of the Tea Party. The reason is this. You know this is true. In the Supreme Court there’s a
decision in Latin called stare decisis, “let the
decision stand.” You’re dealing with a case if
you’re on the Supreme Court, even if you think it should
be decided one way, if it had previously been decided for
many years the other way, it should take a
lot to unsettle it. And the reason is you need
some stability in society. If every time a new party
comes in, they undo everything the old party did,
you have an awful lot of irregularity in this system. And ordinarily after stuff
gets passed in 2009 and ’10, by 2016 people would not
be trying to repeal it. It is a mark of, I think, of
the extremism of the Tea Party people that they are
still doing that. As to what’s happening,
by now, neither one is going to be legislatively
tampered with because the president doesn’t want to. And many of the
Republicans don’t like, for instance, financial reform. They know the public does. And people say, well, the
public doesn’t understand it. No, they don’t
understand the specifics. They do think it is better
to have those rules than not. But in both cases,
well, particularly in financial reform,
these are going to be issues now in the
2016 presidential election. People sometimes say, oh,
the parties are the same. The 2016 presidential
election will have clearly defined issues. If the Republicans
win, that will be the end of financial reform. They will go back
to where we are. I think that will be a mistake. There was some effort
to kind of chip away at the financial reform. The president actually signed
a bill that began that. The outcry against
that persuaded him not to do that again. Nancy Pelosi took the lead. Elizabeth Warren did. I get more calls from
the press about an issue than I had since I’d retired. So at this point
both of them are going to stay where they
are unless the Supreme Court decides that a sloppy
drafting on the healthcare bill means that people in states
that don’t have an exchange, which is most of them
with Republican governors, will lose their healthcare. God knows what will
happen with that. But both of them will
be on the table in 2016. And, as I said, that’s unusual. Ordinarily if something
has survived for two years, it’s gone through a
presidential election, it’s not back into
the mix because it’s very hard for
society to run things if it’s always going
back and forth. Yeah? Oh, I’m sorry. AUDIENCE: So hyper
partisanship and gridlock sort of characterize
the government now. Why do you suppose that’s
happening now over the past 5, 10 years? BARNEY FRANK: Good question. And it’s the past six
years– very precisely. The reason it’s
happening is this. The Republican Party, which
has traditionally in America been the conservative
party which recognizes the
importance of government and the importance
of the private sector but feels the private sector
should be given more room, has transmogrified
into a party consists of a lot of people
who don’t think we need much of a
government at all and who are very angry about it
and who do not regard politics as disagreements between people
of good will– Newt Gingrich started this– but of a
need to defend basic values against immoral people. In 2008 in January, George Bush
went to Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid, the leaders of
the Congress– two pretty partisan
Democrats– and said, we are in an economic slump. The Democrats had
taken over in 2007. We need a stimulus to
keep the economy going. They said, yeah, you’re right. But how can we do this? And here’s the deal, when
a Republican is president, the Democrats have
conflicting incentives. One, to harass him because
he’s the other party. But two, to help him because
we believe in government. And if the government
is dysfunctional that’s bad for us. We want things to work. That used to be the case
with the Republicans. Yeah, they don’t
like Bill Clinton, but they don’t want to see
the government collapse. You have now,
particularly in the House and some in the Senate, but not
a majority of the Republicans, they have no incentive
to be cooperative. First of all, they want to
embarrass and harass Obama. And two, they want the
government to look bad, too. So in 2008 when Bush
asked for a stimulus, Reid and Pelosi gave him one. By the way, if they
were being partisan, they would have said, hey,
2008, presidential election this year. Bush says the economy
is going to look bad. Oh, isn’t that terrible because
that would help the Democrats presidents get blamed. Instead they gave
him a stimulus. Just about a year
later, Obama comes to office after the
recession that he inherits– a terrible
recession– and says, I need a stimulus. Aside– he didn’t say
he needed a stimulus. He was seeing the signs and
they say the American Recovery Program. Here’s the reason. For some reason, Nancy
Pelosi– a wonderful woman and very able– but she
believes in focus groups. Focus groups you get people
that don’t have strong opinions and you give them these
issues and you ask them what they think. Well, the problem is there is a
correlation between not having a strong opinion on an important
issue and being an airhead. They have focus groups
in September, October of the presidential
election year. Who is undecided about Bush
versus Kerry, or McCain versus Obama. If you have any views at
all you almost certainly have one over the other. Well, the focus groups told them
that the economic stimulus was a bad word, so they
decided to call our plan, the Democratic plan,
the Economic Recovery Act. I was not in that. That wasn’t in my committee,
so I wasn’t in on it. But I did say, you
know, that’s counter intuitive because
in my experience you don’t want to call it
stimulus, you want to recovery. Everybody I know would rather
be stimulated than recover. So I don’t understand why
you think that’s better. But the Republicans
almost unanimously voted against the stimulus
under Obama. When Bush came to us in
September of 2008, two months before the presidential
election and said, geez, you’ve got to do
these things that lend money to the banks, we gave him more
support than the Republicans because we believed that
we had to save government. What happened has been that
people like Bob Dole or George W. Bush are seen as too soft. For a variety of reasons,
including the reaction to the interventions we
needed to help the banks, the Republican Party
has been taken over now by very angry people,
particularly in the House. And that’s the cause of
the hyper partisanship. Gridlock started–
in 2009 and 2010 we had a democratic House,
Senate and President, we got a lot done. By the way, when George Bush
became president in 2001, he had a Republican Congress,
but his biggest issue that year was called No Child Left Behind. You know who was his biggest
collaborator in passing No Child Left Behind? Ted Kennedy. I mean, George Bush had a lot
of Democratic cooperation. And just as historical
fact, that bipartisanship ended when Obama won,
senator McConnell said his number one goal
was to defeat Obama. And he has never gotten
from the Republicans the cooperation
we got from Bush. Now that leads me
to the last point. The most interesting
political struggle going on in America
today, the one that’s going to have those
most long term impact is the struggle
within the Republican Party between
mainstream conservatives and the more radical elements. And that’s going to determine I
think a lot about what happens. AUDIENCE: Thank you for
coming and your speech and for all the work that you’ve
done over the years for good in the world. And thank you for Dodd-Frank. I have my 401k and my IRAs
and all that sort of thing, and I put my money into
these things feeling like the game is rigged but
it’s the only game in town. How certain can I
be that Fidelity is more honest than Bernie Madoff? BARNEY FRANK: Very certain
because the mistake was people didn’t– Well, one, they
are different entities. Fidelity as a mutual fund is
much more highly regulated. Bernie Madoff was an individual
sort of fly-by-night operation. Part of it is Sarbanes-Oxley,
which has some value. And they’re just
regularly audited. Also Madoff played
on friends, Fidelity has a much more anonymous
base of people who check it much more carefully. So there are some
problems of self dealing. Madoff was obviously
the exception. And part of it was the Security
and Exchange Commission was clearly culpable. And we have beefed
them up much more. Yeah? AUDIENCE: Thank you again for
your talk and all of your work. It seems to me that a lot of
the issues that you’ve discussed come down to widespread
perceptual issues in the public. I mean, it certainly
was the case for a lot of the
LGBT issues, but now it’s the case that
a lot of the public seems convinced that these
angry, incoherent Tea Partiers are the way to
go and that government should be dismantled. And there are threats
of that going back to smearing sort of
the unions in the ’80s and going forward and
decreasing their power by sort of selling this story in
the public consciousness that they’re this force
for evil and so on. And now the story is that the
government as a force for evil, and so on. And with the floods of money
into advertising and politics, that sort of allows certain
people to sell that story. So I wonder what
your thoughts are on how to shape that
public opinion better and how to work
against those forces? BARNEY FRANK: Well, it’s hard. We try. I do think that reality matters. That’s why I do believe
there are people who vote against their own
economic self interests, but I don’t think I can
talk them out of it. They have a real problem. There relative economic
position has eroded. They can’t send that kid to
the University of Massachusetts the way the previous
generation could because the state has
stopped putting the money in. And that’s why I seriously
believe the only way we’re going to break
this vicious cycle– by the way, part of
the thing, and it has to do with the question
about when things went off the rails. The public anger over the
events of 2008 and 2009 clearly had a big impact. And it’s a paradox to me. We Democrats were responsible
and responded to George Bush telling us we had
to do these things and we get blamed for them. And it’s partly because we’re
the party of government, so when the government
does bad things, even when the Republicans
do unpopular things, we get blamed. You’ll hear people denouncing
the bailouts of the Democrats that we’re always
doing bailouts. There were five bailouts
in American recent history. Bear Stearns merging
with JPMorgan Chase, AIG, the automobile,
TARP– I just named four, so I’ll get back to the fifth–
oh, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Every one of those bailouts was
initiated by George W. Bush. Every one of them. Democrats participated in three,
he did two all by himself. But people still
identify them with us. Given that, I don’t think we
can argue our way out of this. Part of it is this, and this is
one thing the Democrats can do. There’s something we
can do by not doing. I don’t know,
there’s an old joke. A guy goes to the doctor,
he says, doctor, it really hurts when I go like this. The doctor said, good,
don’t go like this. That was his answer. We denounce government too much. There are too many
people on the left who don’t like the specific acts
that government is taking and instead generalize it
to, oh, they’re all no good. The government is no good. Why would anybody vote
if they believe that? Well, part of it is
Bill Clinton made this mistake of saying
the era of big government is over and then trying to
expand particular government programs. Some liberals have decided
to accommodate themselves in the anti-government feeling. Oh, yeah, I don’t like
government either, but let’s do more here. Let’s do more there. The whole cannot be smaller
than the sum of the parts politically anymore
than physically. Well, I say that. For all I know, I don’t keep
up, maybe physically you guys have figured out a
way there can be, but I can tell you that
it’s not true politically. And what we need to do first
of all is to connect the dots. Tell people, the Department
of Veterans Affairs, that’s not only government,
that’s socialized medicine. If you go into a
VA hospital, you drive into a
government parking lot, and you go into a
government building and a government doctor
tells a government nurse to stick a government
needle in your ass. It could not be more government. Oh, I love the VA. We don’t like the government. All kinds of things
are government. Medicare, cleaning up the
streets, snow removal. We need to make that clear. But beyond that, we’ve got to
increase government’s capacity to expand to deliver. We cannot change this as long as
there is a serious gap between people’s expectations of what
government should be doing in their lives and
what it actually does. And that’s why I believe instead
of stationing troops forever in Western Europe where I have
no idea what they’re doing, it’s time to take that
money and spend it at home. And instead of locking people
up for smoking marijuana or sniffing cocaine and
sending the cops after them and trying them and
putting them in prison, then it’s time again– If we had that money
and government could perform better and live up
to people’s expectations then it would solve itself. Yes, ma’am. AUDIENCE: Hi. Again, all this to say thank
you so much for coming. I grew up in a
generation that kind of had this weird flip
where I was taught all through elementary
school and high school that activism was the way to go. I helped collect petitions for
the 2004 Marriage Equality Act, so, yay, thank you for that. But then suddenly
around the age where I could vote and
actually participate, the government kind of went [EXPLOSION SOUND] And suddenly things just
kind of stopped working. And I think that
I’m concerned that, especially in my generation
and the generations coming up, there’s a lack of trust that
the government is actually going to be able to do
anything to help us especially when it comes to stuff
like student loans, paying for college,
military spending, education for our future
children, social security. Do you have any
recommendations for how the government can go up– BARNEY FRANK: Yes! Just what I said. Cut military spending and stop
locking up people for drugs. And to you arguing
about the people are mad at the government. You know what the problem is? The people picked
the government. Why has the Tea Party
been so dominant? Because they win Republican
primaries and then people vote for them. Congress is not in
some bubble down there. Nobody serves in the
House of Representatives who didn’t get more
votes than anybody else in the last
election for that job. And I understand
the vicious cycle. People get angry. Well, here’s the
problem we have though. People on the right, when
they get angry at government, they vote. People on the left get angry
with government and they march. You know what? Voting beats marching if you’re
trying to influence government. I mean Occupy and the Tea Party. Now, I didn’t agree with
a lot of what Occupy did. I certainly was more in sympathy
with them than the Tea Party, but Occupy was a lot
of wasted effort. The Tea Party was a disciplined
get our people registered and vote. Now, I understand that people
get angry and they don’t vote and it becomes worse. But the answer is clear with
the things you said– improve college education,
accessibility, et cetera– cut military
spending at the federal level. In every state the most serious
problem in the last 10 years has been the increase
in prison budgets. Look, you hit somebody
over the head, I would like there to be
a wall between you and me. I don’t want violent
people hanging out. But people who are using drugs,
no reason to lock them up. And so those are the answers. Now, I understand
people are frustrated, but they need to go vote for
candidates that will do that. How much time do we got? I don’t want to go over. What’s our time here? Because I’m going
to sign some books, we got a few more minutes. Go ahead. AUDIENCE: The other thing that
happened around 2010, 2012 is the Republican redistricting
that you alluded to earlier. We’re coming up on 2020
and the census there and the redistricting there. Do you see a path forward
to not just continue fighting about who
gets to draw the lines to their own partisan advantage,
but to get to some system that is less volatile, less– BARNEY FRANK: Theoretically,
I thought there was. And there’s a very disturbing
case now being argued before the Supreme Court. People in Arizona got a
petition to create a commission to take redistricting out of
the hands of the legislature where it almost inevitably
that kind of partisan fight and give it to a
nonpartisan commission. They did that in California and
they avoided gerrymandering. Unfortunately, the Constitution
says in far more specific terms than I wish it did– and
this is for Congress– that the method of choosing
the members of Congress shall be decided by the
legislature in each state. And the legislators in Arizona
have gone to court and said, these people can’t
have this referendum. We’re the only
ones who can do it. And it sounded like
at the oral argument the court was going to do that. So that’s the problem. There is a way and
there was this movement to do more of these
redistricting commissions in foreign and
elsewhere and I don’t know what we can do about
that if the Supreme Court decides that because
there is an alternative and we may not get to it. OK. I think I’m going to sign books
now for anybody who wants them. Thank you for listening to me. [APPLAUSE]

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