Retired Congressman Frank Talks on Politics

Journalist Bob Kaiser, left, and Barney Frank, center, appear with Chancellor Nicholas Zeppos in Vanderbilt’s Langford Auditorium. Photos by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

NASHVILLE, TN — “Vote for the Democrat who has the best chance to beat Trump because it’s clear what the negative consequences are with Supreme Court appointments, voting rights enforcement and everything else.”

Retired Congressman Barney Frank’s recommendation came after speaking at Vanderbilt

Retired Congressman Barney Frank signs copies of his book, “Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage.”

University, a few days before South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg announced he’s running for President. It’s too early to know who gets Frank’s vote.

Frank was asked about African American voters. At Capers Memorial CME Church in February 2018, the Rev. Jesse Jackson said, “There are four million blacks unregistered; 2.2 million were registered, and didn’t vote.

“That equals Trump,” Jackson said, as quoted in the Feb. 15, 2018 edition of The Tennessee Tribune.

Now, Frank tells the Tribune, “Trump … is very weak.”

“If Trump keeps insulting Porto Ricans, we might pickup Florida,” Frank said at Vanderbilt.

April 10, Chancellor Nick Zeppos hosted Frank, retired Washington Post journalist Bob Kaiser — his book, “An Act of Congress”, is a political science text at Vanderbilt — and Jon Meacham, a distinguished visiting political science professor for discussion largely about the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010.

First elected to public office in 1972, Frank said Massachusetts Senate districts were drawn for Irish, Italians, Jewish, Polish and Portuguese seats.

“No black seat,” Frank said. What “attracted African Americans out of the south … was never welfare. It was a chance to work … and make a decent living.” Because of redistricting, “blacks were the universal donor” to others’ campaigns in Massachusetts.

In 1972, “a significant number of blacks got elected to the state House,” Frank said. “A group of liberal Democrats worked with the Republicans — at that time we had moderate Republicans — … to create a black [Senate district which] was a lot about coalition politics.” Coalitions are “how to differ with your leadership without blowing … your chance of being effective.”

“Bipartisanship was … the norm” in Congress, he said.

Kaiser regrets “the decline of the intellectual quality of congressmen… [It’s] not particularly subtle or nuanced.” Politicos privately say the problem with any particular congressman “is that he’s a dope,” Kaiser said.

As for Buttigieg, Frank is “very pleasantly surprised that his being gay is not only not a handicap, it’s clearly an asset. If he were a straight 37-year-old mayor of a medium-sized city, he would not be getting the favorable attention he is … Because he’s very talented and very good at this business of politics and governance, he makes the most of it.”

Warning against over exuberance, Frank noted, “Beto O’Roark faded in the last few weeks.”

Primaries are “dominated by the voters … you can’t tell how they’re going to vote,” Frank said. And, “there are too damned many” candidates. Frank noted Kamala Harris and Cory Booker as worthy candidates.

There are, at least, 16 more Democrats, an Independent, an incumbent and another Republican.

Frank wants fewer Democratic candidates “fairly soon … It’s clear that most … are not going to go anywhere … It’s too early for me to decide which one … has the best chance of winning in November.”

One of the first things Frank filed in his 1972-74 state House term was legislation to legalize marijuana.

“America has now caught up with me,” Frank told his Langford Auditorium audience. “The next time we have a Democratic President, House and Senate, marijuana will be made legal.”

The Chancellor’s Lecture Series included more on that and other issues. for more, see tntribune.com next week, news.vanderbilt.edu, or the university’s YouTube channel.

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