Sean Bielat Crushes Barney Frank in Debate on WGBH's Greater Boston


Emily Rooney moderated a debate between Barney Frank and Sean Bielat on October 14th. Rooney starts by noting that Bielat has come from outside of politics to be a surprisingly strong challenge to Frank. She calls it the “race everyone is talking about.”

As usual, Frank does most of the talking. Bielat has been learning how to get Frank to hang himself, and at many points during the debate, Frank does just that. Bielat has Frank almost stuttering and blabbering trying to make complex arguments that appear to make no sense.

Rooney had to cut Frank off several times in what seemed like an act of charity. Bielat speaks for maybe one fifth of the time, and wins easily.


Debate Highlights: Frank’s “Kerry Waffling” Moment

If you watch nothing else, you must see the exchange starting at about 6:50, where Bielat gets Frank into a Kerry-like “I was for it before I was against it” argument. Frank is talking about his opposition to a failed 2005 Bill that would have reformed Fannie Mae:

Frank: “The bill passed the house, so I could hardly be blamed [for opposing it].”

Bielat: “Even though you voted against it?”

Frank: “Yes, I can’t be blamed. It passed the House.”

Bielat: “But you voted against it.”

Frank: “Let me explain. I voted for it in committee. [later] I voted against it because it weakened an unrelated provision. But you can’t blame me for stopping something when I was in the minority.”

Bielat: “No. If you voted against it, I think I can.”

Frank: “But I didn’t stop it. This is what you don’t understand. The bill passed the House where I served…”

Bielat: “At the end of the day you still voted against the bill.”

It continues like that for awhile. You can see on his face that Bielat can hardly believe his good fortune at having Barney bury himself like this. Bielat finishes:

“You voted against that bill. In 2004 you co-authored a letter with Nancy Pelosi to the Bush Administration calling for less restrictions on Freddie and Fannie. The record is clear.”

Emily Rooney tries to save Barney at this point by moving the discussion on to other topics, but Barney insists on taking another stab at explaining the inexplicable, making the point that the bill was ultimately blocked, not by him, but by Republicans.

Bielat is incredulous:

“So you’re upset because some Republicans voted the same way you did? Is that the argument that you’re making?”

Frank flounders a little longer before Rooney finally manages to move on to another topic.


Highlight: Frank tries to Claim that Bielat would have “all automobile manufacturing run by foreigners”.

Rooney asked Bielat if he supported the bailout of GM. Bielat answered that he did not support it. Rooney then asks, what if that meant that US owned manufacturers all went out of business. Bielat takes issue with it, saying it is unlikely that this would happen, and even in that case it would not mean the end of auto manufacturing in the US because there would still be auto manufacturing jobs in the US from foreign makers.

At about 11:30, Frank jumps on that to try to claim that Bielat supports having all US auto manufacturing be run by foreigners. They then get into a back and forth where Frank tries to make his “gotcha” stick, while Bielat says he didn’t say that and reminds Frank that it is all on tape.

Frank understands that he is pushing a distortion, going so far as to say:

“I know you wish you didn’t say that. But you said it.”

Frank kept insisting, and Bielat had to repeat that what Frank was saying was “absurd” and not to “put words in my mouth”. Barney kept babbling until Rooney had to cut him off and assert – “we need to move on.”


Highlight: Bielat says Frank is Engaging in “Demagoguery”

At about 22:30 Bielat and Frank get into another entertaining exchange, where Frank tries to make the claim that Bielat wants to raise the retirement age to 72. Frank attributes a whole bunch of opinions to Bielat, while Bielat disavows them.

In this debate, and previous ones, Bielat has had the courage to say that we need to consider making changes to Social Security in order to make sure it is still solvent by the time younger workers are ready to retire.

Frank has consistently tried to get Bielat to say what specific changes he would make. Bielat has refused to make specific recommendations, saying these things should be studied by the Congressional Budget Office. But Bielat will occasionally discuss the issue with hypotheticals, talking about the pros and cons of particular changes.

That happens here, and Frank pretends that Bielat supports the most extreme of any hypothetical Bielat may mention. In this case Bielat mentions that the CBO could consider raising retirement as high as age 70. Frank runs with it saying that Bielat supports raising the retirement age to 72, adding two years for good measure.


Did Barney Frank Advocate for Mortgages for Low Income Housing?

Barney Frank had been a long time advocate of having the government encourage lenders to make mortgage loans to low income buyers. Critics say this was a key part of the housing bubble that lead to the recent financial meltdown.

In the face of this criticism, Frank has been saying in debates that he was never a supporter of these loans, but rather a supporter of subsidies for “rental housing” for the poor. Bielat has been having a field day criticizing Frank for this flip-flop, and promoting a video that seems to show Frank waffling on this and the recent federal bailouts.

Rooney asks Frank, given the evidence that he once supported mortgage loans for the poor, why not just say he has since changed his mind about the issue, instead of insisting he never took a position in support of these loans?

Frank continued to insist that he never supported loans to the poor. He goes into a long and convoluted explanation of a long timeline of bills, and tries to make the claim that he was only against the practice of “redlining” and but not a supporter of loans to people who could not afford them. It sounds waffle-y, defensive and unconvincing.


Rooney Asks Bielat Why He Blames the Entire Financial Meltdown on Frank

Bielat answers succinctly that he has never blamed Frank for the entire problem, but said that among the many people who contributed to the problem, that Frank shares more blame than probably anyone else.

It was a smart rhetorical move in that it got Frank into a long response explaining why he was not to blame, but actually should be given a lot of the credit for helping to solve the problem. Frank is put in the unenviable position of having to give another answer that sounded defensive and self-serving.


Bielat Claims that Frank Supported Mortgages for the Poor

Bielat gives the example that in 2007 Frank introduced a bill called the “American Home Ownership Expansion Act” that included provisions to help people with sub-par credit to get loans and to make “zero down” loans available.

Barney has to go into another long and unconvincing answer explaining why the bill was not about expanding home ownership for the poor, making an odd distinction between regular and “manufactured housing”

Massachusetts voters are largely in favor of measures to improve affordable housing. It is mystifying to me why Frank insists on distancing himself from an issue that most of his supporters would probably support him on.

Doing this gives Bielat the chance to put Barney on the defensive over his record. It is the political gift that keeps on giving.



Barney Frank’s Boyfriend Heckles Bielat After the Debate

YouTube Preview Image

Barney Frank is not famous for having the best judgment in choosing boyfriends. And his boyfriends aren’t known for having the best judgment period. Fleming and Hayes report:

Upon exiting the most recent debate with Barney Frank, located at WGBH studios in Boston, MA,  Republican Congressional candidate, Sean Bielat, gets heckled by a Barney Frank “supporter” while talking to the media.  While watching this video, we realized that we recognized this “supporter”. We received confirmation from two eyewitnesses that the mysterious cameraman was none other than Barney Frank’s pot-growing boyfriend, James Ready.


  • October 18, 2010 - 4:27 am | Permalink

    Something was bothering me about Bielat’s appearance. But I think I figured it out. He looks a little like jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.

  • Gary1911
    October 18, 2010 - 5:03 pm | Permalink

    Go Sean!!! Very nice job!!!!

  • Tfpglobal
    October 18, 2010 - 6:18 pm | Permalink

    Barney is nothing but a fast talking politician who made very poor decisions like deciding to be gay and is not good for our Governments future!

  • David
    October 18, 2010 - 9:05 pm | Permalink

    @MassElection2010, it’s funny you say that, Frank looks like Mr. Potter from It’s a wonderful life LOL :)

  • Jdavis57
    October 18, 2010 - 9:38 pm | Permalink

    The fact that Frank represents Bostonians, doesn’t say much for the people of Boston.

    Do yourselvs a favor, lose the loser!

  • Jlgiddings
    October 18, 2010 - 9:52 pm | Permalink

    Why is it that she allows Frank to babble on and on, but insists on interrupting Bielat every time he tries to speak?

    • Tarona_33
      November 4, 2010 - 2:14 am | Permalink

      Because she’s pro Democrat?

  • Duckberryma
    October 18, 2010 - 10:29 pm | Permalink

    The removed Boston Herald video of Bielat and his exchange with Frank’s cameraman can be seen here:

  • Plainer
    October 19, 2010 - 8:18 am | Permalink

    I don’t know how to say this, but this was probably the best venue for a political debate I’ve ever seen in my life-time between two candidates. WGBH deserves my admiration for this remarkable achievement in informing the public about their candidates. I hope others learn how a debate should be conducted. I’m not a constituent, but I hope the 4th Massachusetts District doesn’t let Sean Bielat go to waste. He’s quite remarkable and our government needs more like him.

    • October 19, 2010 - 12:30 pm | Permalink

      I have to agree. Some people have interpreted my article as saying that Rooney did a bad job or was biased. I think she did a great job. She let Barney talk more – but Bielat didn’t object – and giving Barney extra time just hurt him.

      When Rooney tried to move the conversation on to a new question I said it seemed like an act of Charity. But I don’t think it represented bias. She gave Barney plenty of time to explain himself and only moved on when it looked like he was going around in circles.

  • October 19, 2010 - 9:08 pm | Permalink

    Sean did an excellent job against Barney. I think Barney appeared, and certainly sounded, cartoonish.

  • Janeboha
    October 20, 2010 - 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Frank is a buffoon. How the ‘ell was he ever elected in the first place, let alone again and again? Massachusetts, Boston, is lucky to have Bielat run, not to mention run against Frank.

  • October 21, 2010 - 2:50 am | Permalink

    I’ve tried to learn more about Bielat, did some research on him and find little information on him other than his education. He was active military for 4 years and reserves for 7, yet I can’t find any info on where he served, what he did/does in the military and if he ever served in Iraq or Afghanistan. One of the pictures on his website shows him in Marine uniform. To be fair, I don’t know how old that picture is and I couldn’t see his rank, but I did notice that he was only wearing 2 ribbons. As a veteran myself, who served 4 years active duty back in the 60’s, I had 6 ribbons and was only a Sgt. One would think that if the picture were current, he would have many more ribbons, not only for his active duty, but for his reserve duty and any service in the Iraq or Afghanistan wars. I find it strange that he would use his service in the Marines and his rank as a campaign tool, yet his specific military info is missing. You’d think that had he served in the Mid East, he would also use that as political cash. So the question is—what exactly has he been doing in the military and has he served in Iraq or Afghanistan. If not, why not—with others pulling multiple tours.

    • Anonymous
      October 21, 2010 - 12:27 pm | Permalink

      At ease … Sarge! If you don’t know about his record, don’t speculate based on the number of ribbons in an “old picture” and he is not using his service as a “tool” he is simply illustrating that, unlike Barney, he has experience in the business world and in the military. From Wikipedia: Bielat served as an active duty Marine Corps officer for four years and has served in the Marine Reserves for seven years, achieving the rank of Major.

    • PofthePlains
      October 21, 2010 - 7:49 pm | Permalink

      Oh my gosh Dennis. I’ve witnessed YEARS of Mr. Frank’s misrepresentation and blatant fraud (I hate to say LIES) to his constituents and people of the United States, yet your focus is on POSSIBLE discrepancy with Mr. Bielat’s military status? I don’t understand. You speculate on Bielat yet say nothing about blatant lies from Mr. Frank that can be found ALL over the internet via videos, news publications, my memory, etc.
      I’m not from Massachusetts but I truly hope, with all my heart, that Mr. Frank is not re-elected to the Senate.
      Please, Mass. 4th district, for the sake of yourselves and the country, give someone else (Bielat) a chance. ANYONE would be better…it’s a real great possibility that someone else would be excellent this position!
      I truly can’t stand to listen to Franks incredible “communication game” in this interview!

  • Anonymous
    October 22, 2010 - 3:44 pm | Permalink

    This is Sean Bielat trying to get a rise out of Frank. Frank very consistently defended his vote and points out SEVERAL times that the GOP eventually killed this bill and that Franks vote didn’t affect the FINAL outcome AT ALL…

    BUT Bielat doesn’t quite have a grasp on how “voting” works apparently and made himself look like a complete idiot trying to bully an answer out of someone…

    Nice try Sean BUT YOU FAILED! Just like you will on Nov 2.

    • Los
      October 26, 2010 - 10:24 pm | Permalink

      Wow, what debate did you watch. The one that I watched showed Bernie getting massacred. I even felt bad for him for a split second.

    • Tarona_33
      November 4, 2010 - 2:22 am | Permalink

      Bielat didn’t bully anyone. Frank needed no encouragement to reveal his hypocrisy and stupidity to anyone with half a brain.

  • pclock
    May 16, 2012 - 6:17 am | Permalink

    Sean lost because he couldn’t articulate the future: our budget is over a trillion dollars out of balance, tax revenues are relatively consistent REGARDLESS of tax rates, on the evil “rich” or whomever; and RUNAWAY ENTITLEMENT SPENDING ON SOCIAL SECURITY, MEDICARE AND MEDICAID, FEDERAL PENSIONS AND INTEREST ON THE DEBT IS THE PROBLEM, ALL THESE ARE NOT TODAY COVERED BY REVENUE!! And that’s even BEFORE spending on defense, education, energy and so-called “discretionary” items!!

    In other words, we’re bankrupt!

    The cure: GET ENTITLEMENT SPENDING UNDER CONTROL, or we’ll all soon be on the streets, swinging our fake Gucci bags and brief cases in a gigantic temper tantrum, demanding our hand-outs, just like Greece!

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