City Desk

The Barney Frank Tirade: He’s Mean, But He’s Not Wrong

frankAs someone who has herself borne the brunt of a verbal tirade by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and who has never been a fan of the way he feels entitled to speak to people as if they are pond scum, I come forth, nevertheless, in the congressman's defense after his takedown of a woman at a health-care forum in his home district Tuesday night.

She had brought a picture of Barack Obama defaced with a Hitler-like mustache, an utterly absurd, if not uncommon, prop for the opponents of the president's reform plan. She asked Frank: "Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy?"

The congressman, for an uncharacteristic moment, stood saying nothing. And then: "When you ask me that question, I am going to revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?"

And then: "It is a tribute to the First Amendment that this vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated."

And then: "Ma'am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like arguing with a dining room table, I have no interest in doing it."

Frank may be mean, but he's not wrong there.

Watch the exchange.

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  • Jason Cherkis

    How is he mean? His response was appropriate considering that the woman compared Obama to Hitler. It's about time someone called out the loonies on their racist bullshit.

    What would have been the polite, less mean response?

  • KCinDC

    There's nothing wrong with speaking to people as if they are pond scum if they are actually pond scum.

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Barney Frank is a rare politician - he says what's on his mind. He is 100% correct on this one. The "birthers" & the "deathers" [or death-panel people] & the rest of the lunatic right wing fringe are beyond the pale, beyond rationale discourse, beyond any help except radical frontal lobotomies. Even a decade in a re-education camp would not help these unreconstructed inbred ignorant peasants who serve as tools of the capitalist ruling class.

    Paul Krugman slapped Niall Ferguson with a good insult yesterday - Paul called Niall a poseur. It all started when Niall wrote that Obama is like Felix the Cat b/c "he's black & very, very lucky." Paul criticized that, Niall responded, & now Paul slapped Niall good & proper.

    & you can tweet a question to Barak for the meeting today at 2:30:

    If you'd like to ask a question about Organizing for America's ongoing health reform campaign, please enter it beneath your contact information. You can also submit your questions on Twitter by tweeting at @BarackObama, using the #hc09 hashtag.

  • DC Native

    Barney Frank is the man. Unlike a lot of other Democrats during these townhall meetings, Frank, more than held his own. It's about time that the Democrats start standing up against these idiotic bullies. It was masterful.

  • Erika Niedowski

    @jason: I stand by my original: Barney Frank is mean. I don't just mean in this case, I mean in general. Have you ever talked to the man? In this case, as I said, I'm on his side. But sometimes being a politician also requires social skills, and he missed those classes.

  • Dave

    There was no need for Frank to revert to name calling, especially not when he is in a position of power such as he was. Of course this woman is wrong, offensive and maybe more than a little crazy. But why does Frank need to have a laugh at her expense? It just seems... oh, what's the word I'm looking for... mean?

  • Angry Al Gonzales

    Does this go back to the time someone asked Mr. Frank where he shops for bargains?

  • Jason Cherkis

    Sorry I never interviewed the man. Don't care to. Not my beat. But when confronted by a crazy racist loon, Frank had the appropriate response---smart, funny, jokes.

  • Reid

    I couldn't disagree more KC.

    Pond scum serves a very important role in our ecosystem. How dare you equate it to these wastes of bio-matter.

  • Dave

    I guess I just disagree here with JC. I think Frank's response was similar to someone pointing at an insane person and saying "Hey let's all look at you and laugh and stare!" But I see the other side of this argument, that Democrats need to get tough against these crazies rather than pretending they don't exist. I just think you have to do it in a mature, level-headed fashion, not with schoolyard bullying.

  • Erika Niedowski

    @Angry Al: Yes, he yelled at me for the bargains thing, but that was not the only time, I assure you.

  • Downtown Rez

    The context in which the smackdown happened is key, IMO. Rep Frank likely could have been more discrete if their conversation was solely one-on-one, but her nonsense required a strong and unequivocal response since it was broadcast to a large audience.

  • Downtown Rez

    In other words, though he was speaking to her, his response was undoubtedly directed to all viewers, and health care reform opponents.

  • Dave

    I think you have it the wrong way, DRez. If Frank had been speaking to this woman one on one, then he could say whatever he pleases to her. But by upbraiding her in front of a packed room, as well as several dozen cameras, he was humiliating her on the grandest scale. Even though her views are abhorrent, I don't think she deserved that.

  • Pingback: The “Top 5 Barney Frank Takedowns” - City Desk - Washington City Paper

  • Downtown Rez

    Dave- She didn't whisper her outrageous Nazi accusation while alone in a darkened closet. She chose to utter it to him during a forum that insured it was broadcast to the world.
    To be politically effective, Frank's rebuttal needed both be delivered in the same context and carry the same weight.
    To not do that would be to invite future crazy talk and jeopardize the physical health and well being of all America's uninsured citizens- all for the sake of sparing the emotions of one person.

  • cminus

    I think the key element is the number of people who share her delusions. If she was just one woman in the grip of insanity, the decent thing to do would be to treat her with gentle kindness, whether in public or in private. But she's spouting a particular brand of folie a plusieurs that's shared by a substantial minority of Americans, and they're scared and armed. They need to know that their fears are groundless, and Frank's very public rebuke was necessary.

  • Downtown Rez

    Yes. he was speaking to those who share her delusion, and to those who must resist those who share her delusion. Sweeping it under the rug would not work.

  • Mike DeBonis

    I'm pretty sure she was a LaRouchie. "Deluded" doesn't even begin...

  • Dave

    If Frank was addressing all the nutbags who have been showing up at these meetings, and not just this poor, pathetic nutbag who was at this particular meeting, then why didn't he say that?

    Why didn't he preface his comments with "This goes out to all the people across the country who have been yelling at the town hall meetings..." or "I don't mean to single you out, lady, but..."?

    Of course, I'm not trying to defend this woman or her actions in any way. I just don't think Frank was fighting fair when he took her down a peg.

  • Truth Hurts

    DREZ, You're right. If Frank had time to craft a press release responding to the hater/name-caller, perhaps he would've drafted it in a more politic way -- sort of what Dave suggests. But under the circumstances, he did the right thing.

    And Erika, stick to the point. Assuming Frank was mean to you in the past, save it for another day. Don't integrate your beef with Frank into a serious blog on a different topic.