by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Mark Calabria of the Cato Institute reviews former Massachusetts congressman Barney Frank’s new memoir for Barron’s.
Frank endeavors to explain two trends in American life: the rise in social acceptance of gays and lesbians, and the increase in public skepticism toward government. The author sees these two trends as incompatible, never considering that both might be driven by experience. Greater exposure to gays and lesbians has probably reduced discrimination, while skepticism toward government might have increased with greater knowledge of what government does.
The author, who served 16 terms in the House as a representative from Massachusetts, views the case for big government as a “no brainer.” His main evidence is the federal ban on lead under President Richard Nixon, which he claims resulted in fewer brain-damaged children. No mention is made of the evidence that government made the problem worse rather than better. For decades before the ban, government promoted the use of lead paint; the prevalence of lead paint is far greater in government-run public housing than in comparable private housing. And by the time the ban was imposed, the use of lead paint in new residential construction had largely ended.
Where the book succeeds is in reminding us that Frank had a long career reversing government harms. Highlights include his leadership in redressing the harm done to Japanese-Americans in President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment camps; his work on eliminating the homophobic and racist elements of our immigration laws; his advocacy for ending our failed, costly drug war; and his efforts at achieving marriage equality.
The book is less successful in white-washing the author’s role in the 2008 financial crisis. My own time on Capitol Hill began just as Frank was ascending to the role of lead Democrat on the Financial Services Committee. He tries to rebut the arguments that “liberals pushed lenders into making loans that were highly unlikely to be paid” and that “Democrats blocked Republican efforts to rein in Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.” While his counterarguments score points, they are unpersuasive.