National Commentary

The Magnificent Barney Frank

It is sad to learn that apparently Christiane Amanpour is simply too intelligent, truth-seeking and even-handed to survive any longer as the anchor of ABC-TV’s prime Sunday morning political talk show, This Week.

Amanpour will leave the show, replaced by well-indoctrinated political hack George Stephanopoulos, next month. She and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria are the two brightest lights on Sunday morning TV, offering intelligent commentary on global and domestic affairs and enlightening program content.

Zakaria, for example, drew fire for interviewing Tayyip Erdogan, the current president of Turkey, on his “Global Public Square” program when Erdogan had negative things to say about Israel’s West Bank policy. This columnist caught some flak for that too, simply for reporting what Erdogan said.

Amanpour set a new high standard for Sunday TV this last weekend when she conducted a “Great American Debate” for a full hour, involving two conservative and two liberal experts.

What transpired was vastly more substantive than all the cookie-cutter presidential debates that have occurred in recent years, especially more substantive than the recent spate of Republican presidential debates that have been routinely filled with nothing more than pre-rehearsed sound bite responses.

On the conservative side last Sunday were George Will and Tea Party darling Rep. Rand Paul, and on the liberal side were former Treasury Secretary Robert Reich and Rep. Barney Frank. It was a real, red blooded debate.

It was stunning how dominant and effective Frank was in the debate. He was the most articulate, the most fact-based and the most effective in head-to-head combat.

Checking a spate of right wing blogs and commentaries after the show, it was telling how the criticism came against Reich, and in favor of some of the one-liners from Will and Paul. Almost no mention was made of Frank, and that’s because he ate his conservative counterparts alive.

Frank brought to the debate a quick-witted resort to important facts, repeatedly correcting misrepresentations by Will and Paul. Whereas Will resorted mostly to his patented one-line, sweeping dismissive rhetorical phrases, he was surprisingly silent through most of the program.

He and Paul had little to offer other than the usual, worn-out sloganeering against “big government.”

Frank, on the other hand, was far more eloquent and nuanced.

“Yes, we have too much government,” he said, “And yes, we have too little government. There is this mistaken view that says, you know, we have a fight between the people’s money and the government’s money. It’s all the people’s money.

“The question is, as people, intelligently, we have two sets of needs. We have needs that we best pursue individually, with money for ourselves and for our families. And we can make personal choices. But then there are things that we have to do together.

“I understand the appeal of tax cuts, but in all my years of government, I have never seen a tax cut put out a fire. I have never seen a tax cut build a bridge or clean up toxic atmosphere.

“The point is that there are some things where we are inevitably together. We are interlocked in the economy. We’re all subject to the same environment, we all have the same public safety needs. And there, I think, we have sometimes too little government.”

When Will and Paul attacked Obama’s stimulus program and ill-advised investment in the Solyndra solar power company, Frank again shot back:

“In fact one of the most successful things we have done recently is to keep the American automobile industry alive. Yes, Solyndra was a mistake, but there was a major liberal/conservative fight about whether or not we should inject funding into the American automobile industry. And as a result of the injection of funding, we have a thriving industry today that would have been in collapse.”

He added, “As to the stimulus, yes, they (the Obama administration) over-argued. But the fact is quite clear: things are better than they would have been.”

And so it went. The nation will suffer from Frank’s decision not to seek re-election next year. This writer, for one, hopes he will remain deeply involved in our political process.