barney frank

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank spoke to a Howard County for Obama event Wednesday in Columbia. (Photo by Noah Scialom / March 29, 2012)

U.S. Rep. Barney Frank is not running for re-election this year, but he has an idea for a bumper sticker his fellow Democrats can use in their campaigns: "We're not perfect, but they're nuts."

The joke, one of several jabs the Massachusetts Democrat took at Republicans Wednesday before a crowd of roughly 200 at the Other Barn in Columbia, sums up his feelings about the two political parties' accomplishments during President Barack Obama's first term.

Frank, a prominent Washington politician who has served in the House of Representatives since 1981, headlined the April 18 event, which was hosted by the Howard County for Obama 2012 group to recruit campaign volunteers.

"While we know the president can win here (in Howard), we've got to do everything we can to make sure he wins the state and he wins our battleground neighbors," Jason Waskey, Maryland state director for the Obama campaign, told the crowd before Frank spoke.


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County Executive Ken Ulman introduced Frank, calling him one of his "personal heroes" and "one of the smartest people in Washington."

Frank said he was glad to see such a large turnout, as it signaled support for Obama and the other Democrats running in 2012.

"The election is going to be a tough one because of the flood of money that is going to be coming at us," he said. "It's going to be very hard to meet it dollar for dollar, but we don't have to meet it dollar for dollar."

Getting into the meat of his speech, Frank discussed the news this week that Citigroup shareholders rejected a pay package for the Wall Street bank's top executives. He said the move is a sign that the "the serious effort to reduce executive compensation" has begun.

"That was solely because we passed legislation in 2010, the financial reform bill," Frank said, referring to the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act he had a hand in drafting. "That is an example of something that happened because the Democrats had the presidency, the House and the Senate."

The ranking member, and former chairman, of the House Financial Services Committee talked a lot about the economy and what Obama and Congress have done to strengthen the country's financial regulations.

"Barack Obama inherited the worst economy since 1932," Frank said.

He took another hit at Republicans, saying, "They believe the American economy began on Jan. 21, 2009, nothing ever happened before that. ... My husband-to-be Jim said it was a mass disease outbreak — widespread amnesia."

Obama and the Democrats, particularly before the GOP took over the House in the 2010 elections, have made progress, Frank said, noting the country's economic situation, while not perfect, has improved by every measure.

"We were making improvement, we were improving a bad situation, (but) the public doesn't reward you for that," Frank said.

Frank admits he has not been 100 percent supportive of Obama and that many people will not be satisfied with the president "because he has not done everything."

Reminding the crowd that no politician is without flaws, Frank said: "I once voted for a perfect candidate. By the time I ran for re-election, that wasn't true."

After his speech, Frank answered audience-submitted questions, including one asking whether Democrats can take back the House this year.

"Yes, (but) it's going to be a hard fight," Frank said. "You have the money coming in, which is a big factor. ... If it weren't for the money, I would be very confident. As it is right now, I am hopeful."

Another audience member asked how Democrats can more effectively communicate the link between health care and economic progress.

Frank, who had been quoted in the press recently as saying Obama's push for universal health care was a "mistake," explained: "People get very nervous about health care. ... The biggest mistake we made was to do it while we were still fighting the recession. People are least willing to take risks when they're worried about their jobs and everything else."

The good news, Frank said, is that the health-care law will take effect as the economy is improving.

"Guilt by association can hurt you, but innocence by association is a benefit," he said.

Frank concluded by reminding the audience of the role they can play in getting Obama and other Democrats re-elected.

"Collectively we've got to put up enough money so we're not outspent … and we need your effort and your energy," he said.

His words seem to be taken to heart: At the end of the night, Waskey held a basket full of neon-colored volunteer sign-up slips.