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Barney Frank: A Life in Politics

Former Congressman Barney Frank on his time in politics and his advice for the nation’s current elected officials.
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/ Source: NBC News

Barney Frank initially hid his sexual orientation when he was elected to Congress in 1981.

“I started thinking about politics when I was fourteen,” Frank said in a PRESS Pass interview with Chuck Todd. “Thinking, ‘you know, I’m gay, so I’ll probably never get that influential in politics.’”

But Frank, who came out in 1987, eventually learned that “being gay was not an obstacle” in his decades-long political career.

In the interview, Frank said Americans – particularly white, working class men – are disillusioned with government because they think leaders in Washington aren’t helping the middle class. He argued the solution to that apathy is to offer more effective federal programs and save money elsewhere.

“You cut the military very substantially and you legalize drugs,” Frank said. “You stop locking people up because we don’t like what they put in their mouth and save tens of billions of dollars at the state and local level. And a hundred billion dollars a year at the federal level.”

The U.S.’ military-industrial complex is excessive, he said – and current levels of military spending are over the top.

“Look, when the Soviet Union collapsed, that was the last existential threat to our existence as a society,” he said. “The great success of Dick Cheney and some of the neoconservatives was to inflate terrorism into a threat equal to the Nazis and the Communists. The terrorists are terrible people. I'd like to kill them all. But they don't threaten our existence the way Stalin did or Hitler did.”

Frank is one of the nation’s first openly gay politicians, and was the first to be married to a same-sex partner while serving in Congress. Before his retirement, he earned a reputation as a staunch economic populist and is hailed by liberals for the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the 2010 financial regulation bill that bears his name.

The former congressman, who is promoting his new memoir, “Frank: A Life in Politics from the Great Society to Same-Sex Marriage,” also took on former President Ronald Reagan in the interview with Todd.

“Reagan's rhetoric, it was very powerful,” he said. “But Reagan, they say, was a great salesman. He told people: ‘You know what, I can cut your taxes and you won't feel any loss of programs.’ That was an easy sell politically – not so much intellectually.”

-Justin Peligri