Frank: One of a kind, but not in a good way

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Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank’s retirement announcement prompted this from President Obama.

“This country has never had a congressman like Barney Frank, and the House of Representatives will not be the same without him.”

I’m no fan of the president, but in this case, I think he nailed it. It is the kind of “compliment” that could just as easily be an insult. It calls to mind the famous scene from “Amadeus,” after Mozart has just suffered through a lumbering, turgid opera composed by his rival, Salieri.

“I never knew music like that was possible.” Mozart tells him, followed by, “One hears such sounds and what can one say but … ‘Salieri.’”

Indeed, Obama could say what he said about Barney about every other member of Congress – past, present and future. We could say the same about Obama and every other U.S. president: There has never been one like him, and the White House won’t be the same after he leaves. Obvious, and utterly meaningless.

But I like the indirect Salieri connection. Frank has been the Salieri of the House – in love with himself but racked with insecurity, displaying it by bullying anyone less powerful. When confronted by equals or superiors, using whatever was most convenient and effective – in his case the gay card – to claim victimhood that would then excuse his nastiness.

And since Barney is so proud of being blunt, let’s be blunt. He wasn’t “acerbic,” as his admirers liked to say. He was simply mean, and mean-spirited. He couldn’t accept that his political opponents might be motivated by anything good, like love of country. They were pure evil, and had to be treated as such. He was smart, but not intelligent. He had plenty of knowledge, but lacked wisdom, not to mention civility.

He couldn’t even be gracious in victory – check out his 10 minutes of bitter whining after he won his last election by “only” 10 points.

He even exits bitterly whining – complaining that he wasn’t “protected” in the redistricting plan the way fellow Massachusetts congressman Stephen Lynch and Edward Markey were, and that it was unfair to expect him to expend any energy getting to know some new constituents in the Blackstone Valley.

The only truly funny thing he said during his announcement was that he would no longer have to be nice to those he didn’t like. When was he ever nice to those he didn’t like?

Yes, the House won’t be the same without him – it could be worse, it could be better. The point is that Frank being one of a kind is irrelevant. What matters is whether he made the House a better place. He didn’t.

Nor did he make the country a better place. His role in the housing meltdown, as much as he tries to deny it by insulting anyone who reads back to him what he said back in 2003, was catastrophic.

What also ought to matter is being treated as a “side issue” – the casual endorsement of incumbency protection in redistricting. Markey, responding to Frank’s charge that he (Markey) tried to influence the committee to draw district lines in favor of Markey and Lynch, said, ‘‘My influence was to ask that all nine districts be Democratic districts, and independent analysts are concluding that all nine are safe Democratic seats.”

Great – so that’s the “ethical” position to take? Protect your party at the expense of voters, constituents and communities and regions with common interests, but as long as you didn’t specifically try to shaft Barney, it’s OK?

It’s hard to believe that these people claim with a straight face to be “public servants.”