by Kevin John Sowyrda
A long time ago I attended a banquet where I was seated next to Paul Levy, now a hospital executive in the Longwood District and at the time the absolute wunder kidd of the fledgling Massachusetts Water Resources Authority, charged with just the tiny task of cleaning up the most filthy harbor this side of Bangladesh. When you fly over Boston today and see those egg-like structures at Deer Island, you should send a mental telepathy thank you to Levy, who made the sewer treatment plant there a reality. Those 'eggs', or digesters as the engineers call them, have miraculously cleaned our waterfront using state of the art technology, bringing Boston Harbor back to life, literally.
As Levy and I broke bread together he made some observations of his recent trip to Washington, as the federal government was a key player in the harbor cleanup project. It was the Eighties and Levy was mesmerized by the parliamentary genius of a guy named Congressman Barney Frank, who he carefully observed while watching the House from the vantage point of a visiting dignitary. He told me the Republicans were scared to death to debate Frank and his second observation was the most compelling. "He'll be Speaker some day," said Levy with conviction; still respected today as one of the best policy wonks Massachusetts has ever employed, and maybe a man who has a crystal ball. Today, Frank is proving his abilities to lead with a proposal which is already making front page news across the country and may become the most significant economic plan to come out of Washington in decades.
Thus far, Levy's prediction is on trajectory for achieving reality. Frank is the chairman-apparent of the ever-powerful House Finance Committee, poised to become one of the most powerful men in the United States, directing legislative oversight of everything from banks to the New York Stock Exchange. I think that will also make him the most powerful Gay man, that I know of, anywhere on the planet.
As we observe a Gay Man transiting to tremendous temporal power it's not only historic but mesmerizing to watch Barney in action. It's ironically occurring in the era of an ADD electorate with thirty second appetites. But Frank won't accommodate on that point. As the Boston Globe first reported on Sunday he's engaging in high level conversations with the nation's business elite on a huge contract between they and government which resembles something which may have been jointly authored by Franklin Roosevelt and William F. Buckley. "I've been talking about this for sometime," Frank told me in an interview this week.
Frank's theory is nothing less than fantastic and revolutionary. He proposes a new deal between corporate America and working America. Frank proposes that business be given measurable breaks in regulatory burdens in exchange for their commitment to seriously improve workers' wages and benefits - this including support for an increase of the minimum wage, which is a key election promise the Democrats must deliver on to hold the House in two years.
What's going on here? The man who was vilified by Vice President Dick Cheney as a Marxist Leninist poised to nationalize everything from GM to McDonald's (yes, I'm embellishing Cheney's bombastic campaign season rhetoric), and further vilified by a now defeated Republican congressman from Indiana as the man who was only interested in the "Homesexual agenda," has turned out to be a little bit Ronald Reagan in crafting a completely Jack Kemp-esque economic agenda that may see American business and labor coexist - actually coexist peacefully - for the first time since before Eugene Debs was pounding the pavement screaming "union forever!".
Frank's plan is honorably quid pro quo. Should business rally behind the minimum wage increase and shelter employees from the negative impact of trade agreements, the new chairman will deliver to business things they covet; such as blessing free trade deals and adopting the business community's plans for alternations to the immigration laws.
Frankenomics proves true what I've always observed from my conversations with the congressman. He's a populist pragmatist; and he would be categorized as a liberal devotee only if one is to be lethargic in their observation techniques.
A more studious view of all things Barney reveals a complexity which is beyond the limited sensibilities of the Dick Cheneys of the world, and a desperate Indiana congressman.
Barney has shown that he's no more 'far left' than he is 'far right'. Populist pragmatist seems to do him better justice, as he tries to bring the working class more justice by using a carrot without much stick approach with business. Frankenomics may be a controversial philosophical crock pot, with ingredients that are both appetizing and unappealing to all who partake; but it's refreshing in its approach because it bears no resemblance to partisanship and every resemblance to bold leadership. "There are somethings about which I'm not prepared to be conciliatory, such as human rights, but bi-partisanship means real compromises," Frank told me. "The time has come to either work together or we can stay deadlocked."
The leadership comes none to soon, as the country is finally noticing the canyon which divides working America from those who seem to control America.
"Essentially, I think Barney Frank is turning to corporate America and is saying you've been making money hand over fist, the gap between you and workers has expanded exponentially during the Bush years, and it's enough already," said Democrat Susan Tracy, president of the Strategy Group in Boston. "But what's of great note is that he's not coming in there with some crazy proposal. It's a thoughtful plan that asks for a fair contribution from a class of people that has seen their wealth grow at record levels where as the 'average Joe' has seen wages dramatically decrease. it really has been the rich getting richer," said Tracy. "Others are raising the issue but Barney has an answer to deal with it."
I predict that Frank will be speaker of the new House of Representatives before this decade ends. I see Nancy Pelosi, Frank's protege, as poised for success but not destined for a destined for a lengthy grip. It's no secret that Pelosi already relies on Frank heavily, for the same reasons that most members of his caucus do. Frank is amazingly focused, highly ethical (a survey of chiefs of staff voted him as such) and quite literally the most brilliant man in Congress. Of even greater note, he says exactly what he thinks and believes - that personal ethos being sufficient reason to consider him a political anomaly in modern America.
When I spoke with Barney Frank this week I heard someone whose enjoying every moment of the new challenges before him. But he's also conscious of the burden of leadership as he told me about the difference between being in the minority and moving to the majority. "Getting people to say no is easy, but you have to put them together to say yes."
My money says Frankenomics will trump Reaganomics in the history books.
Kevin John Sowyrda is a political writer and you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org