Barney Frank, liberal lion, gay pioneer and respected legislator, is also one mean and ornery S.O.B.It is fun to watch all those video clips of Frank shouting down hecklers and tossing one-liners at Republicans, but that was not just his public personality. He was equally rude to just about everyone, from senators to waitresses.
The media tributes to Frank have been generally glowing, praising his “authenticity and intelligence” and “his ability to cut the opposition in half without breaking an intellectual sweat.”
No question, Frank is one of the smartest on Capitol Hill and probably the most colorful. But he is also one of the most notorious bullies, known for berating staff, alienating allies and causing aides to cower in fear of his gratuitous and frequent browbeatings.
Karl Rove, who knows as much about nastiness as anybody, recognized a kindred spirit in Frank:
Brilliant, but acid tongued and generally unpleasant, Mr. Frank ruled with an iron gavel, ran over critics with delight and treated committee members and especially Republican colleagues as lesser forms of life.I mention this because of my ongoing effort to understand that people are complex and that good always comes mixed with bad. Frank was able to thrive as our first openly gay Congressman partly because he so much enjoyed shouting matches; if somebody called him a faggot, he shot back that the heckler's mother was a neanderthal. In an era when so many people have thin skins and are always getting offended by trivial slights, Barney Frank had a rhino's hide and an adder's tongue. This is partly why he seems so fresh and funny. Going for humor means taking a risk, and the funniest jokes are often the meanest or most disgusting. An expert in cutting humor, like Frank, will often cross the line and hurt people. When his victims are prominent politicians or obnoxious hecklers, we laugh, but imagine what it must be like to be one of his junior staffers. And if we really want Congressmen from the two parties to work together to get things done, Frank's absence will probably help.
I will miss Frank; I have a pretty thick skin myself and enjoy his cutting humor. But I'm glad I never had to work for him.