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 onÂ taking another stab at explaining the inexplicable, making the point that the bill wasÂ ultimatelyÂ 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 dayÂ criticizingÂ 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 whoÂ contributedÂ to the problem, that Frank shares more blame than probably anyone else.
It was a smartÂ rhetoricalÂ 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
Upon exiting the most recent debate with Barney Frank, located at WGBH studios in Boston, MA, Â Republican Congressional candidate, Sean Bielat, gets heckled by a Barney Frank “supporter” while talking to the media. Â 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’sÂ pot-growing boyfriend, James Ready.