GOING OUT FIGHTING: Barney Frank came to Congress as a liberal and will leave as such—not a perfect progressive on every issue but a steady liberal who served a term as president of the Americans for Democratic Action and whose latest rating from the defenders of New Deal/Fair Deal/Great Society programs was a pure 100 percent.
That doesn’t mean that Frank, a former Massachusetts legislator who arrived in 1980 and who will leave the House at the close of his current term, was always on the right (make that the left) side of the fight. But even where he was forced to accept compromises, he did so as a man of government who argued with passion and certainty that legislators should stand up to bankers, bigots and bloated Pentagon budgets.
The Dodd-Frank financial reform bill of 2010, which the Congressman played such a pivotal role in crafting and passing, pulled punches that should have been thrown at the big banks and the Wall Street speculators. But Frank argues—with some credibility—that as the ranking Democrat on the powerful House Financial Services Committee, he had to bend at times to enact realistic reforms. Just as he may have to bend in order to maintain the complex coalitions that will be required to implement the legislation. It is the challenge of defending the legislation that Frank hopes to focus on in his last year on Capitol Hill.
“In 2010, after the bill was signed into law, I had tentatively decided to make this my last term,” he wrote in a November 28 statement announcing his decision. “The end of next year will mark 40 years during which time I have held elected office and a period of 45 years since I first went to work in government full time as an aide to Mayor Kevin White in late 1967.” Frank, who is 71, admitted that he was not looking forward to seeking re-election in a reconfigured Congressional district. “But with the election of a conservative majority in the House, I decided that my commitment to the public policies…required me to run for one more term. I was—and am—concerned about right-wing assaults on the financial reform bill, especially since we are now in a very critical period when the bill is in the process of implementation. In addition, recognizing that there is a need for us to do long-term deficit reduction, I was—and am—determined to do everything possible to make sure that substantial reduction in our excessive overseas military commitments forms a significant part of the savings over the next 10 years. But my concern for these two issues today cuts very much in the opposite direction—namely, in favor of forgoing a year-long full-time election campaign and instead focusing the next year on those two issues in Congress.”
Congress and the country will be well served by another year of Frank fighting. When he is gone, however, the void will not be easily filled. JOHN NICHOLS
FORECLOSURES—THE END IS NOT NEAR: At a recent meeting with the editorial board of the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Republican front-runner Mitt Romney said, “Don’t try and stop the foreclosure process. Let it run its course and hit the bottom.” A new report suggests that even after all the damage wrought by the crisis, the bottom is a long way off.
The report, from the Center for Responsible Lending (CRL), predicts 3.6 million more foreclosures on bubble-era mortgages over the next few years, even more than the 2.7 million that have already occurred. The authors reviewed data on 27 million loans from public and private databases and found a strong connection between foreclosures and high-risk loan products, including option adjustable-rate mortgages (ARMs), hybrid ARMs and prepayment-penalty loans. African-Americans and Latinos, who were disproportionately targeted for such risky products, are overrepresented among the foreclosed. “It was the product, not the people,” that caused the disparity, says CRL spokesperson Kathleen Day.
Whereas in past decades communities of color often lacked access to any kind of loan, the more contemporary challenge, the authors warn, is the “dual mortgage market,” in which loans to low-income and nonwhite borrowers come from lenders “operating largely outside existing consumer protections.” Thus the foreclosure rate of low- and moderate-income African-Americans was 80 percent higher than that of whites with similar incomes. But contrary to the view that minority lending caused the crisis, the majority of foreclosed families are white.
“We’re not even halfway through this,” says Day. “Until we deal with the foreclosure crisis, we’re not going to fix the economy.” The report and an interactive foreclosure map are available at responsiblelending.org. JOSH EIDELSON
REMEMBERING TOM WICKER: The Nation was saddened to hear of the death of journalism giant Tom Wicker on November 25 at age 85. As a reporter, Washington correspondent and political columnist for the New York Times from 1960 until his retirement in 1991, Tom covered the most significant events of his age. His “In the Nation” column spoke truth to power on everything from Vietnam to Iran/Contra, following a journalistic tradition that The Nation strives to maintain. Indeed, his writing appeared in our pages numerous times over the years.
We were most recently in touch with Tom this past summer, in advance of the fortieth anniversary of the Attica uprising, an event that affected him deeply and ultimately helped define his legacy. (His autobiographical account, A Time to Die, was re-released this year.) In an e-mail sent via his wife, Pamela Wicker, he wrote, “Thanks for remembering Attica.” In fact, it is largely thanks to him that so many have not forgotten.