Bayonne Barney

The title of Stuart E. Weisberg's biography of Barney Frank says it all.

Book Cover These days bookstore shelves are littered with biographies of defrocked, repentant (and repulsive), scandal-laden politicians, not to mention the sorry batch of whatcha-ma-call-its by their current and former wives, courtesans, and sycophants. Now I find it understandable that many people are fascinated by train wrecks, car accidents, and fires, but I really find it difficult to see what draws readers to the apologies, so-called exposés, and self-serving blather of this group of ambitious moral pygmies.

To satisfy a perverse suspicion I cursorily investigated the matter noting that The Politician (Thomas Dunne Books) currently ranks #51 on Amazon’s sales rankings, and Staying True (Ballantine) by Jenny Sandford, the soon to be ex-wife of the disgraced South Carolina Christian windbag, is #454. And can you guess where Stuart E. Weisberg’s Barney Frank: The Story of America’s Only Left-Handed, Gay, Jewish Congressman (University of Massachusetts Press) ranks? I won’t keep you in suspense—#193,581.

On the other hand, perhaps we are in good luck that a serious and well-researched biography of Barney Frank exists at all. Having lived in his home district, the Massachusetts 4th Congressional district, for many years, I am proud to be represented by Frank, and other than his stance on the Nicaraguan imbroglio in Reagan years I believe he represents progressive values as well as anyone can in the jukebox known as the U.S. Congress.

Former congressional staffer Weissberg diligently conducted over 150 interviews, logging more than 30 hours of face time with the inimitable congressman. Frank’s life story takes us from a working-class childhood in Bayonne, N.J., to the ivy-shrouded halls of Harvard, to politics in the leafy suburbs of Boston, through a near career-ending sex scandal, and to his current prominence as the chair of the House of Representatives’ Financial Services Committee. Weissberg explains:
Barney attended college, graduate school and later law school at Harvard. Yet he is as much Bayonne, as he is Harvard. The clash between Bayonne and Harvard maybe the essence of Barney Frank and this contrast punctuates his public life. “The Harvard in him is able to conceive of programs. The Bayonne in him is utterly unafraid of what it takes to move a bill,” his friend [Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist] Tom Oliphant observed.
NPR’s Cokie Roberts, commending the Weissberg profile, offers, “Not many Congressmen are worthy of a book…” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi proffers her own review of the book and the man:
Barney Frank is a masterful legislator and one of the great political minds of our generation. His style—principled but pragmatic, tenacious yet fair, and always brilliant and funny—has won him the respect of his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. Stuart Weisberg’s lively biography of Barney Frank documents all of these extraordinary qualities, and the many ways in which he enriches our democracy.
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