What Fresh Hell Is This?

November 5, 2007

A Lesson in Politics from Congressman Barney Frank

As we posted here, the Steel-City Stonewall Democrats and Congressman Mike Doyle hosted a meet-and-greet this past Saturday with Congressman Barney Frank (D-MA). I was free that afternoon, so I went. The place was crowded and I bumped into some of the usual suspects; Dan Onorato, Doug Shields, Valerie McDonald Roberts, and so on.

The meet-and-greet was, as I understand it, for Congressman Frank to gave a brief talk on the status of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) that's working its way through Congress. It became apparent that some of the lessons learned could easily be moved beyond that particular Act.

As is the protocol in these sorts of meetings, the introductions telescoped upwards to the guest of honor - Bruce Kraus introduced Congressman Doyle who introduced Congressman Frank. Kraus described Doyle was a great friend to the LGBT community and Doyle described Frank as "part-political theorist, part pittbull," who was so intimidating as a debater that no member of the House, while discussing an issue, ever wanted to hear Congressman Frank's voice interrupting "Will the gentleman yield?"

The issue at hand was a provision to add transgender people to those who are protected by ENDA. He released a statement a few weeks ago on this, by the way. The Act, he said, will "loose by 100 votes" with with the transgender provision included. From his released statement:
The question facing us – the LGBT community and the tens of millions of others who are active supporters of our fight against prejudice – is whether we should pass up the chance to adopt a very good bill because it has one major gap.
On Saturday, he put it more simply:
We are in danger of losing a victory we could win.
The outlines of the story, though, could easily cover the nationwide frustrations over the Congress' inability to, say, stop the war in Iraq or begin impeachment. Frank offered a target - the person to be angry at - James Madison. As we all know, the Constitution, while providing for a full election of the House of Representatives every two years, only allows for an election every two years for 1/3 of the Senate. The other 2/3 of the Senate, Frank said, were elected in 2002 and 2004, when the Republicans were still riding high, assing that it takes two elections to control the Senate.

Frank said he wanted to avoid the self-fulfilling prophecy of voters, frustrated that the 2006 Congress hasn't done more, will just stay away from the polls in 2008. On the other hand, he described a frustrating setting where the left was threatening allied Democrats in the House for NOT supporting the transgender provisions all the while NOT lobbying those moderates who hadn't yet decided. He said that on the left side of the internet (and I think he meant the liberal blogs) there wasn't much discussion about the danger of including the provision in the act. The Democrats control The House, so why can't they just add it on? Frank corrected that false impression by pointing out that the Constituion allows for two legislative bodies; The House and The Senate, NOT The House, The Senate and The Internet.

Add to that the danger faced by the new members of Congress who'd defeated incumbent Republicans in districts carried by Bush 2004.

Push too hard, too fast and some Democrats could loose their seats - and Frank wants nothing more than a Democratic Congress - with a larger majority. And he said that if you don't want politics to enter into a dicsussion of an issue, then don't ask 535 politicians how to deal with it.

While wishing the transgender provisions could be included, he said he believed the Act would go ahead without them. Doyle announced that Congressman Jason Altmire would be voting with Doyle and Frank on ENDA.

There were a few questions along the lines of "What should the transgendered community do now that the act is moving forward without it?" Frank replied that the community should be lobbying moderates who are undecided and supporting (not hurting) those allies who support the community.


Maria said...

I really admire Frank (He's one of my favorite members of Congress) but I think he's wrong wrong wrong on this.

It's simply not right to throw the transgendered under the train on ENDA.

Those doing the hating and the discriminating certainly do it against the transgendered, perhaps even more so than against your average gay male.

The Bag of Health and Politics said...

Unfortunately, this is what we see about power. Once people are in it, they are loathe to take risks, and loathe to actually stand up for what brought them to power. We saw it with the war. We're seeing it with SCHIP. And we're seeing it with this.

Congressman Frank, the reason your caucus has an 11% approval rating is that you haven't stood up to an arrogant, foolish, and childish President. Everyone on the hill assumes that if the Democrats shut the government down that it'd be a repeat of 1995. But that assumes that George W. Bush has the same rhetorical skills as Bill Clinton. To assume that is, simply put, idiotic. And besides, where exactly can you go from an 11% approval rating? What's the harm in taking a few risks...

As for this issue, it's the classic fast versus not so fast argument. Frank, being a powerful and cautious person, says go slow. And so he throws a very small minority under the donkey, and moves on.

Granted Frank isn't as bad as Senator Ferlo, who now that he's found power is arm and arm with an anti-civil unions/domestic partner benefits/contraception "rising" politician. Ferlo truly sold out once, which is disappointing. Frank is partially selling out.

But maybe, just maybe, Frank would improve the pathetic approval rating of his Congress if he went to the floor and actually stood up for what is right. If he got to the floor and said, "Madam Speaker, these are people too," which is the core principal that very few people--other than the radical fringes of both the left and right--would disagree with.

It shouldn't be too much to ask our politicians to stand up for what they believe in. That is the point of representative government. But, perhaps, our system doesn't work in the 21st Century with 24 Hour cable networks, talk radio, and the internet. Maybe we need to adopt a parliamentary--i.e. more responsive--system. The complete failures of the Democratic Congress and the Republican President are fair arguments for adopting a parliamentary democracy...perhaps Madison's system is outdated...

Anonymous said...

John K. says: There are more troops in Iraq now than when Rusmfield was in charge. NSA spying has been strenghtened. No S-Chip. And of course the Limbaugh letter LOL LOL LMAO and the Gen Petreaus ad. Yep, the Democrats really know what they are doing. Blame it all on elections.

Sue said...

Passing ENDA without including protections for transgender women and men is despicable. It taps into the internalized homophobia of the LGBT community ... well, the LGB community.

That's a pretty big gap and shame on him for exploiting it for larger purposes. Just b/c he's Barney doesn't make him the be all, end all on LGBT issues. He's wrong on this one and I'm disappointed.

Pittsburgh's LGBT community in engaged in a similar struggle to address transphobia. I can only hope the outcome is more positive.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
The Bag of Health and Politics said...

Thumbs down on the homophobic comment above.

Maria said...

It's been removed by me.

Schmuck Shitrock said...

I strongly protest the removal of the ugly homophobic comment. If we liberals are willing to restrict the free exchange of opinions (even opinions whose only content is hate), how can we criticize the Administration for doing the same?

The cure for hate speech is more speech, not censorship.