BOSTON — Debbie still remembers the moment more than a year ago when she decided to devote herself to defeating Barney Frank.
“The way he talked to his constituents, it just turned my stomach,” Debbie said, talking about an August 2009 town-hall event in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, attended by some 500 citizens who overwhelmingly opposed the health-care bill that was then working its way through Congress. “I said to my husband, ‘I don’t care who’s running against him, I’ll work for them — and I’ll work my heart out.'”
True to her vow, Debbie was working her heart out Tuesday afternoon at a phone bank in the Norton, Massachusetts office of the Republican challenger who is giving the 14-term incumbent the biggest fight of his career.
Sean Bielat has first-hand knowledge of Barney Frank’s stomach-turning arrogance. Bielat debated Frank three times in the past two days, although “debate” is perhaps not the correct word. Frank does not debate, he lectures, and no matter what outrageous claims he makes, his opponent cannot be permitted to object.
“Mr. Bielat, please stop interrupting me,” Frank said during a Monday debate on Boston’s WRKO radio, after the Republican had objected to one of Frank’s numerous distortions. Before the debate was over, as Jonathan Strong of the Daily Caller noted, Frank complained eight time about being interrupted. It was as if Frank thought he was back at Harvard — where he taught undergraduate course in the 1960s — and his GOP opponent was an impertinent sophomore.
Bielat yesterday summed up Frank’s attitude: “‘Don’t talk. I’m talking. I’m the congressman. You’re here to listen to me.’ That’s the way he’s approached his constituents. That’s the way he’s approaching this race. And that’s the way he was approaching me [Monday].”
For nearly three decades, voters in the 4th District have evidently been happy to re-elect the biggest know-it-all in Congress, but 2010 is not just any mid-term election year. Voters everywhere seem to have lost patience with being lectured by politicians and, like Bielat, they’re in a mood to interrupt.
“This year isn’t about Democrats or Republicans or independents,” Bielat said yesterday in an interview at his campaign headquarters. “It’s about Americans who are tired of the way their government is running, tired of the leadership in Washington and want a change. I have had numerous Democrats come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you know, I voted for Barney Frank a bunch of times. I kind of agree with him, but 30 years is too long for anybody.’ … And then I’ve had people say, ‘He wasn’t that bad when he started, but he’s turned into a grumpy old man and he needs to go.'”
Like many other Republicans, both here in Massachusetts and across the country, Bielat was encouraged by Scott Brown’s victory in the January special election to fill the Senate seat vacated by the death of Ted Kennedy. Brown narrowly won the 4th District, but Bielat says he expects to improve even on that remarkable performance.
“We’re doing very well in the north [part of the 4th District], which should be his stronghold. He’s from Newton. It’s a liberal town. Brookline’s even more liberal. And we’re doing very well up here. We’re doing well along the South Coast — again, not an area of strength for Scott Brown — and we’re going to be able to repeat his performance in the middle of the district. So it’s coming together. I think we’re going to be able to widen his margin of victory. In many ways, Martha Coakley was a better candidate than Barney Frank.”
At least Coakley — the Democratic state attorney general who lost to Brown in January — couldn’t be blamed for wrecking the economy, which is the most damning charge in Bielat’s indictment of Barney Frank. During the housing bubble, Frank repeatedly denied that there was any problem with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the federally sponsored agencies that fell under the oversight of the House Financial Services Committee where he was the ranking Democrat. Bielat points out how Frank scoffed at claims that Fannie and Freddie were engaged in unsound lending practices. Frank dismissed “disaster scenarios” of those who warned that the problems could lead to “serious financial losses,” and said he wanted to “roll the dice a little bit more” with subsidies for low-income home ownership.
During his debates with Bielat, Frank repeatedly claimed that Republicans blocked his own efforts to crack down on “predatory lending.” Yet what led to the mortgage crisis could more accurately be described as predatory borrowing, with taxpayers as the prey.
“Barney Frank doesn’t exactly have clean hands when it comes to this stuff,” Bielat says. “He likes to pretend that he was advocating for rental housing the whole time. I can’t find that in the record.”
Frank is now experiencing his own financial crisis of sorts. As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, in previous election cycles Frank contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars from his own campaign coffers to help elect other Democrats; this year, those contributions have been drastically reduced, as Frank has been forced to defend himself against Bielat’s challenge.
“I feel bad for all those Democratic campaigns that aren’t getting that money,” Bielat joked yesterday, while his own campaign continued to reap thousands of dollars in online contributions from conservatives across the country eager to end Frank’s tenure in Congress.
Such hopes were encouraged late Monday when the Cook Political Report downgraded Frank’s re-election chances from “safe” to “likely.” Of course, that means that a GOP win in the 4th District is still considered unlikely, but it is no longer deemed impossible, and that is certainly a step in the right direction for the Bielat campaign. With less than three weeks to go, there is reason to hope that Barney Frank’s days of lecturing Americans will be rudely interrupted by voters here on Nov. 2.