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Barney Frank Is Not Impressed by Bernie Sanders

For over 30 years until he retired in 2013, Barney Frank was one of the most liberal members of Congress. He was also the first openly gay Congressman. Given the great strides the LGBTQ movement has achieved in the last decade, he has seen what works and what doesn’t.

Barney is the “Frank” in Dodd-Frank, the biggest financial reform and consumer protection bill since the Great Depression. Like most successful bills it was attacked from both sides; by conservatives for introducing too much regulation and by liberals by not going far enough to prevent another financial crisis. But the bill is working. According to Nobel-prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, “like Obamacare, [Dodd-Frank] financial reform is working a lot better than anyone listening to the news media would imagine.”

So it surprised me when Frank recently gave an interview expressing how unimpressed he is by his former Congressional colleague Bernie Sanders. I assumed that the two of them had much in common and would be allies.

Of course, Sanders supporters immediately dismissed Frank as just another Clinton partisan. But that ignores the important points made by Frank. The first one is something I’ve complained about before – liberals put all their energy into getting Obama elected and then lost interest. Or as Frank says in the interview:

I am disappointed by the voters who say, “OK I’m just going to show you how angry I am!” And I’m particularly unimpressed with people who sat out the Congressional elections of 2010 and 2014 and then are angry at Democrats because we haven’t been able to produce public policies they like. They contributed to the public policy problems and now they are blaming other people for their own failure to vote, and then it’s like, “Oh look at this terrible system,” but it was their voting behavior that brought it about.

The only thing I would add is that it isn’t just their voting behavior, they pretty much lost interest in politics at all levels until the current presidential election. And now they aim their anger at Obama and Clinton, the wrong targets.

For example, one of the main attacks against Clinton by Sanders supporters is that she has taken money from Wall Street, as payment for speeches and as campaign contributions. This is a tempest in a teapot because Sanders has also taken money from Wall Street. As Frank put it:

There was this complaint, “Oh she had contributions from Wall Street.” So did Barack Obama. So does almost every Democrat because you can’t unilaterally disarm.

Sanders has also attacked Clinton for expensive fundraising dinners, like the one with George Clooney that cost up to $353,400 per plate. But most of the money from dinners like this doesn’t go to Clinton (candidates are limited to $2,700 in donations from each individual), they go to the Democratic party to help down-ballot Democrats get elected. Sanders has raised nothing for other Dems. How would President Sanders get any of his programs implemented without more Democrats in Congress?

Electoral-Vote expands on this point:

Though Frank is widely—and correctly—regarded as a progressive, his progressivism is tempered by a certain fundamental pragmatism, as his words make very clear. The same is true of, for example, Sherrod Brown, or Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and certainly helps us to understand why the Vermont Senator has struggled to get endorsements from even those members of Congress with whom he is 95% in agreement.

The main success of Sanders has been tapping into the (perhaps misplaced) anger of Democrats, the same way that Trump is tapping into the (definitely misplaced) anger of Republicans. But it takes more than anger to get things done, it takes work.

Frank says that Sanders has been an ineffective Senator:

Bernie Sanders has been in Congress for 25 years with little to show for it in terms of his accomplishments and that’s because of the role he stakes out. It is harder to get things done in the American political system than a lot of people realize, and what happens is they blame the people in office for the system.

I think this might be Frank’s weakest argument against Sanders. While Sanders does not have big-name bills (like Dodd-Frank) to his credit, he has been good at using the amendment process to influence other people’s bills.

A stronger argument against Sanders ironically comes from his superdelegate count. Sanders has often complained against the undemocratic nature of superdelegates, but is now trying to woo them to his side. Calling them undemocratic ignores the fact that many of the superdelegates are elected Democratic governors, senators, and representatives. It is telling that Sanders has received the endorsement of only one Senate superdelegate while Clinton has received 39 (Sanders has not been endorsed by any governor superdelegates, while Clinton has received 16). In fact, 23 of Sanders’ 32 superdelegates are DNC members, arguably the least democratic of the superdelegates.

Speaking of undemocratic, Frank does make a good point:

It’s ironic that we complain about voter suppression and shortened voting times and then we have so many caucuses. The caucuses are the least democratic political operation in America. They cater to the people who have a lot of time on their hands, and what’s interesting is Sanders is the nominee of the caucuses and Hillary is the nominee of the primaries.

Indeed, even though Sanders lost the Nevada caucuses by 5.3%, Sanders supporters weren’t above taking advantage of complicated rules at the county convention in Clark County (where Las Vegas is located) this weekend to muscle two delegates (at least) from Clinton to Sanders. Is that more democratic than superdelegates?

Gays didn’t just vote for non-homophobic politicians. And they didn’t get angry, they got to work. They worked hard to make sure that gays were given good roles in movies and TV shows to convince Americans that gays were no different than everyone else, with the same dreams and aspirations. And most importantly, they convinced even many conservatives that there was no threat from the “gay lifestyle”. They didn’t blame the system, they changed it. They changed the opinions of the American people, and that reverberated all the way up to the Supreme Court. It wasn’t a revolution, it was evolution. And it worked.



  1. ThatGuy wrote:

    For a counterpoint on superdelegates with a side of concurrence on caucuses, check out Charles Blow’s great column yesterday:

    For my money, both caucuses and superdelegates are awful means of picking a candidate. I can understand having party elders come in and break a tie or close call at the end of primary season, but to have nearly a third of overall delegates able to choose whomever they like even before a single vote is cast is inexcusable. We also have to note that most of them (nearly 2/3)are not elected officials.

    Caucuses are also a horribly ineffective and inequitable way to choose a candidate. As Blow says, they are extremely unfriendly to the disabled, seniors, families without child care, and low-wage earners; people Democrats claim to want to protect. On top of that, it certainly takes away any sort of privacy one should expect when trying to exercise their vote and leaves the door wide open for electioneering shenanigans.

    Unless, of course, we consider this primary as evidence of balance between two terrible systems. Clinton cleans up on superdelegates given the party’s clear preference for her while Sanders’ candidacy is boosted by the loudest and worst format for polling.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 6:35 am | Permalink
  2. Sqeaky Wheel wrote:

    God forbid we try something besides what our betters deem is good for us. And gods forbid the Democratic Party be, uh, well, democratic, but democracy is and always has been an anathema to the power elite.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 8:33 am | Permalink
  3. Iron Knee wrote:

    ThatGuy, I agree with Blow’s article, but you misinterpreted something he said. The superdelegates are 30% of the number of delegates needed to reach a majority, which is 15% of the total number of delegates.

    What worries me is that he phrased this so it would be easily misinterpreted (see the note at end of his article).

    I also take issue with some of Blow’s explanation of why superdelegates were created. Jimmy Carter was not an “insurgent candidate” when he lost to Reagan. He was a sitting president. Superdelegates were put in place because the primary process tends to pick people who are too extreme to win the general election. The problem they were solving was not just George McGovern on the left but Barry Goldwater on the right (for the Republicans). It was a reaction against an earlier rule change in the 70s that required all delegates to be picked by voters (full primaries) instead of by party leaders (caucuses). It was also a way to avoid problems like that caused by the Thomas Eagleton crisis.

    It is ironic that in the current election, the caucuses are being hijacked by the insurgent candidate! Funny that the rise of cable news and the internet has changed caucuses from the stronghold of party insiders to the main force pushing political parties to their extremes.

    One last note. To me, the big problem is political parties. Superdelegates and caucuses are symptoms, not the root causes. George Washington was right!

    Squeeky Wheel — the founders were also not all that excited about democracy. That’s why the president was not elected by the people and why we still have the electoral college.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 8:56 am | Permalink
  4. Michael wrote:

    “While Sanders does not have big-name bills (like Dodd-Frank) to his credit, he has been good at using the amendment process to influence other people’s bills.” …which is what makes him a good supporting cast member and not lead actor.

    “We also have to note that most of them (nearly 2/3) are not elected officials.” (I assume the 2/3 refers to the 434 that are DNC members.) Not to be a gadfly, but is that really such a problem? The superdelegates only make up 15% (714 / 4765) of the total number of delegates at the convention. So that means about 10% of the delegates voting at the convention will be “unelected” DNC members. (But even that number is too high because many of those DNC members got into their positions through party elections.)

    But let’s run with it. So 10% of the delegates are not determined through caucus or primary, and can vote as they wish. I think this is a *good* thing, because it provides a means for underrepresented, unpopular, or minority viewpoints to gain visibility. They provide a voice for the marginalized. Isn’t that one of the core values of the Democratic party and progressivism?

    One can also make the observation that the superdelegates don’t really matter because they’ve never been used to sway the convention away from the candidate who received the most votes. If that ever happened, the party would crumble and there would be bigger problems to deal with.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 9:01 am | Permalink
  5. Patricia wrote:

    This is very interesting, but in my caucus experience, we had a different experience. Attendees broke evenly for both Clinton and Sanders. There were only three uncommitted delegates. I heard gushing from the Sanders leader and experience from the Clinton side. What I didn’t hear anything about from either side was anything about Clinton’s ties to the banking industry. When I asked about it, the caucus chair (a Clinton supporter) closed down questions and ended the meeting without answering my question. Conclusion? Yes, caucuses have the potential to be very undemocratic, but for any candidate — not just the ones you don’t want to have on the ballot.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 9:18 am | Permalink
  6. Iron Knee wrote:

    Patricia, I agree. I think the caucuses are bad for all candidates and there is abuse happening on both sides. But let me repeat that we are arguing about the wrong problem. The Democrats tried eliminating caucuses and the cure ended up being worse than the disease. To me, the problem is political parties, made worse by our system that strongly favors two parties. That is the problem we need to solve. California’s solution of having a single primary with no party affiliation is a step in the right direction.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 9:37 am | Permalink
  7. ThatGuy wrote:

    Michael, do they really give a voice to the voiceless? How do the delegates know where those folks stand, when many of those who have committed one way or the other did so before Iowa even caucused? Certainly you can see the potential impact of hundreds of superdelegates committing to candidates before anyone votes.

    IK good catch on the percentages, I definitely missed that (in my defense, I originally read it yesterday, but against me: math). On parties, I agree, but I don’t know if it’s really possible to be party-less or to even get there from where we are at now without massive structural changes.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 10:06 am | Permalink
  8. Patricia wrote:

    @IronKnee: I completely agree with you. We had such in WA State, and ended up with caucus instead. Outlier candidates are the result of more and more party strangulation on both sides.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 10:42 am | Permalink
  9. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thatguy, you may have a point that having the superdelegates committed before the primaries even start sends out the wrong message. On the other hand, they are not actually *committed*, they can change their mind at any time and for any reason. In some ways, that was the whole point — they are the people that the party can trust to do the right thing in case of an unforeseen problem.

    Unfortunately, asking the superdelegates to not endorse anyone until after the primaries would not work.

    So, now that you know that it is *only* 15% (instead of “nearly a third”), is it more excusable? 🙂

    I think that there may be a good compromise to keep the good things about political parties while eliminating the big problem — that parties are dominated by activists and so will always push the candidates to the extremes during primaries (this is especially true for the Republicans). I mentioned one way to solve this problem, but there are others.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 10:46 am | Permalink
  10. Carter Shmeckle wrote:

    Methinks the blogger is worried about Bernie’s ascendancy and doth protest too much.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 12:18 pm | Permalink
  11. jonah wrote:

    Bernie needs to polish up on what he’s going to do to the banks once he’s president:)

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 1:28 pm | Permalink
  12. ThatGuy wrote:

    IK, 15% is certainly easier to stomach, but I’d still say far from ideal. If they’re going to exist, they ought at least to wait until their state (wherever they were elected or came to prominence, I guess) votes. Ideally, they’d be tie breakers and more extraneous to the average primary season. I suppose it’s good that they can change their minds and endorse different candidates if they like, but at that point I’d still prefer that they wait for the convention to put the icing on the cake or cast the tie breakers. The party apparatus can do just fine by itself steering for the candidate that it deems best/safest; by setting silly debate schedules, for example.

    The interview Jonah is referring to is worth a read. I’d suggest the full transcript (linked within his link), though, as I’m finding some of the editorializing to be a bit dire. More specifics would be great, sure, but being the only candidate to seriously take issue with too big to fail and the lack of real accountability after the collapse still seem like selling points to me.

    Still, though… come on, Bernie. Is it that hard to advocate robust separation of commercial and investment banking? How about diving a little more into how the spirit of Dodd-Frank was ending Too Big To Fail? Yikes… reminds me of a Kerry interview in ’04 asking whether he thought the Iraq War was a mistake and he just couldn’t work out a coherent answer.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 2:20 pm | Permalink
  13. Iron Knee wrote:

    Thanks for suggesting that I read the full transcript. I did (it was somewhat of a slog) and yes I think most of the media response was to focus on the places where Sanders was being rather vague and incoherent. For example, I wish he had been able to be stronger and more specific when he was talking about the banks and the economy.

    On the other hand, I thought he was strong when he was talking about how he effected change when he was mayor of Burlington, and had less evasive answers when he talked about Israel and the Middle East and about gun control. Overall, I don’t think the interview was the disaster it has been portrayed to be, but it wasn’t particularly inspiring. I would love for Sanders to be more presidential.

    UPDATE: But this article is worth a read. The biggest problem is that Sanders was asked point blank questions to which he should have known the answers by a newspaper that is anti-Clinton, and Sanders didn’t know the answers.

    Tuesday, April 5, 2016 at 8:24 pm | Permalink
  14. Sqeaky Wheel wrote:

    Iron Knee wrote, “Squeeky Wheel — the founders were also not all that excited about democracy. That’s why the president was not elected by the people and why we still have the electoral college.” That is what I said. The power elites do not like, or trust, democracy. Are you of the oinion that Jefferson, Adams, Madison et al were not the “power elite” of their day?

    Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 7:35 am | Permalink
  15. Iron Knee wrote:

    Of course they weren’t! They were revolutionaries fighting against the English power elites. Democracy was a new thing. Power elites don’t try new things.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 9:24 am | Permalink
  16. ThatGuy wrote:

    I think the really shocking thing about the NY Daily News piece (RE: your update to comment 13) is that we so rarely see a paper even attempt to hold feet to the fire. The WaPo has made a lot of hay over the article, and by its own admission one of the 9 things he should know is fluff.

    On the banking issues, I suggest checking this article out (from a pro-Clinton paper, for balance?).

    Essentially Sanders knows that too big to fail ought to be too big to exist (the spirit of Dodd-Frank), and he understands that legislation explicitly banning too big to fail and/or enabling the Fed to determine that status is needed. His notion that companies don’t pay $5b out of kindness, but rather out of at least tacit admission of wrongdoing, is also dead on. That he can’t name a statute incriminating personnel at a bank seems extraneous. I think this would be a bit like expecting Obama to know the ins and outs of the ACA before he was elected, and to understand the fallout from it. I suspect he would have been similarly general and had similar shortfalls (“if you like your plan, keep it” comes to mind as a broken promise, even if it was a positive one). Bottom line, Sanders knows some banks are too big. I don’t think it’s damning if he doesn’t know what parts need to be separated (do we go separation of commercial and investment, or just cap how big they can get without determining what range of services they can offer?) or where Janet from accounting ends up.

    I also can’t find much to argue with in his Israel/Palestine piece. He knows Israel has to concede something to get to the table, he knows they won’t come to the table if the US supports the Palestinians going to the ICC to charge Israel with war crimes. That he doesn’t want to do the IDF’s planning seems commonsense enough to me, and the bolded part of that section and the out-of-context use of his words in the summation is very, very telling. It’d be like me getting beaten up for saying “I don’t want to pay taxes” when the full quote is “I don’t want to pay taxes for my friend’s daughter.”

    Point 7 is again misleading outside the context of the overall conversation. Sanders is saying he doesn’t know (and how could he) if Obama’s handover of drone control from the CIA to DoD has caused problems. Sanders then links it back to the previous point where he though Israel ought to have the technology to minimize civilian casualties. Implying that killing civilians exacerbates our problems with terrorism, which is absolutely true for Israel and the US. The summation paragraph takes his “I don’t know about that” on drone control and extends it to the ENTIRETY of Obama’s anti-ISIS policy. That’s ridiculous at best and journalistic hackery at worst.

    8 is just silly. First, Sanders either has no idea or can’t legally reveal where SF operators are staging out of. Ditto any sort of black site at which to render (in the unlikely event he’d choose this route) or hold ISIS commanders. Sanders still arrives at the very sensible conclusion that the mainland US is a perfectly suitable place to hold captured enemy combatants (again ignored in this hack’s column) while saying without much thought that a secure location close to the initial capture is a good place to interrogate captured leaders. This makes perfect sense for time-sensitive operations while still eventually leading to the conclusion that these criminals should be held in the US rather than Gitmo or black sites.

    In short, the WaPo piece is weak at best and almost certainly deliberately misleading. Would I like if Sanders could be more specific re: banking? Certainly. Does the lack of specificity make him some sort of nude emperor? Hardly.

    Also worth a note that Capehart (WaPo columnist) isn’t new to misleadingly smearing Sanders. Last year, he tried to dispute Sanders’ presence at Civil Rights event, and kept pushing even after he was proven wrong with photo evidence. To say the least, his coverage of Sanders is hardly becoming of a Pulitzer Prize winner.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Permalink
  17. ThatGuy wrote:

    Sorry, late edit: I remember now that in the full transcript, Sanders praises Obama’s anti-ISIS effort, saying: “In fact, that strategy is, under very difficult circumstances, actually beginning to prove to be a success.” So Capehart’s point 7, implying that Sanders doesn’t know if he agrees with Obama’s whole anti-ISIS strategy, is completely and purposefully misleading.

    Also I hope you don’t pay for this blog by inches, or I’m running up a horrible tab.

    Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 1:56 pm | Permalink