What Barney Frank Could Learn from Oedipus
Back in 1989, shortly after I moved to Washington, D.C., news broke that Barney Frank’s housemate (lover, in some accounts) Stephen Gobie was running a prostitution ring out of the Massachusetts Congressman’s Washington, D.C. home. Not just that, Frank used his congressional privilege to fix Gobie’s parking tickets and intervened on his behalf with Virginia probation officials.
What struck me at the time was the Democrat’s rather cavalier attitude toward his wrongdoing. Newsweek ran a cover study which made it seem the challenges of being a closeted gay Congressman (it was this story which forced Barney out) caused him to cover for Gobie.
His sexuality made him do it.
At the time, I penned (then quite literally) an essay mocking the mean-spirited man from Massachusetts. I’ll have to track it down in my files. I know I was a little harsher than I needed to be, but do recall comparing Barney’s attitude to that of a mythological figure who, upon learning of his own wrongdoing, admits his error and steps down from his position of political power. The “unfortunate Mr. Rex,” as I then put it, referring to Oedipus as he was understood before Freud, accepted the consequences for his misdeeds.
It is Barney Frank’s inability to admit wrongdoing which has always bothered me about the man. In that sense, he is emblematic of the arrogance of so many politicians who won’t take responsibility for their actions.
And Barney’s behavior twenty years ago has defined his actions over the course of his career, particularly in the past few months as his repeated defenses of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and efforts to thwart reforms of and regulation over these two government-sponsored enterprises (GSEs) have come to light. Their mismanagement and subsequent failure sparked the current financial crisis.
Instead of taking responsibility, Barney blames Republicans, saying they were in the majority when this mismanagement took place. Only what he doesn’t tell us is that he led the efforts to block Republican reforms of these quasi-public institutions. Kind of like tripping a runner and then mocking him for losing a race.
This unhappy Massachusetts Democrat embodies the worst of American politicians, blaming his adversaries and taking no responsibility for his own errors of judgment.
His self-righteousness is even more disturbing when you realize how bright this guy is. He has the intellectual capacity to be more circumspect, to know better. The wit which he uses so cuttingly against his adversaries, he never turns on himself. He refuses to consider that he too can make mistakes.
He could learn for that unfortunate Mr. Rex. It’s not just one’s political enemies who err and require a reprimand. Sometimes, we ourselves do wrong and need a dressing-down.
It’s too bad that Barney thinks he’s above obloquy, that only others should suffer censure.
B. Daniel Blatt