MSNBC "The Rachel Maddow Show" - Transcript

Interview

By:  Barney Frank
Date: Aug. 2, 2012
Location: Unknown

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Congressman Frank, thank you very much for being with us. It`s nice
to see you.

REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Great to see you, and on this topic which you have done such important work.

MADDOW: Thank you. Since the presidency -- maybe not the presidency, but the rise of Ronald Reagan, the common political wisdom is Democrats can`t go after Republicans for being profligate on defense spending, but that`s exactly what the Obama campaign is now doing.

I guess assuming times have changed enough to make this less risky.

Do you think times have changed enough?

FRANK: I do, and you`re exactly right. It is historic, and frankly, the timeline is beyond that. Remember, John Kennedy, whom I generally admired, ran against Richard Nixon on the grounds that the Republicans hadn`t spent enough on defense, there had been a missile gap.

And for years, I know this, I have been involved in this, Democratic candidates for president were told, your one vulnerability is if you`re weak on defense. That`s why a really superb public servant, Michael Dukakis, with great record, made the mistake of being in the tank, he was a veteran, had a right to do it, but it didn`t look good. And he was told, gee, you better show you`re tough.

I think what`s happened is this, Rachel. For 60 years, the American public was focused on -- 50 years, from 1940 to 1990, there were very bad people who were heavily armed, first Hitler and then Stalin and his successors, and they meant (INAUDIBLE). Now, I believe we did not see an evolution in the Soviet Union early enough and we over-prepared for it, but there was this fear that we were going to be attacked by somebody powerful.

That led to military spending that I think in some cases was excessive.

The Soviet Union collapses in 1990, and first, George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton begin to reduce the military because there was no longer this existential threat to our citizens. And then what happens is 2001, the mass murders of mericans, and Dick Cheney and the other neocons persuade George Bush that they can use the threat of terrorism as the functional political equivalent of communism. Now, in fact, the terrorists are terrible people and I am very pleased against them.

But they`re not Hitler and they`re not Stalin. They don`t threaten our existence as a country. They are threatening our lives. We have to fight them back. But that threat was blown up beyond the reality.

So we got back into excessive military spending, including the two wars.

I think what has happened is the American people understand there is no power in the world that comes remotely close to threatening our existence. They see how the Iraq war backfired. And accomplished almost none of what it was supposed to except it did get rid of Saddam Hussein, but the destabilization in the country we have created in Iraq, Iran`s closest ally. They see the frustration in Afghanistan.

See, the American people -- and then, finally we have the concern about the deficit, and people I believe now in the majority understand, yes, we must reduce the deficit. Yes, we have to include the military, otherwise we devastate all of the programs that affect the quality of life at home, and given the nature of the world, we can afford to do it. We are significantly overspending.

And let just say one last thing, I know this is a little too long, but one of the things that gave me hope, too, this is the first ad by a Democratic president saying you`re spending too much on the military.

Two weeks ago, I teamed up with a Tea Party Republican, Mick Mulvaney from South Carolina, and we offered an amendment in which the House voted by a large majority to reduce the amount of money the appropriations committee was going to give the military. That was only $1.3 billion. In Pentagon, it wasn`t much, but it was still important.

And so I think, yes, the president sees this right. The people are tired of this excess. They`re tired of getting sent into all parts of the world where we do no good as much as we may be trying. They understand the importance of trying to have a balanced approach. So, I`m glad he`s doing that. It will be helpful politically and it`s accurate substantively.

MADDOW: You know, that point about working with Congressman Mulvaney
on the Republican side I think is really important and interesting. I was thinking about it last night watching the Texas primary results. Watching Texas Republicans pick someone to replace Ron Paul -- he`s leaving Congress, he`s stepping down from Congress.

And I was thinking about whether or not this thing, this dynamic you and I have talked about a lot is ever going to materialize, this idea of fiscal resistance on the Republican side to such increased military spending.

Mitt Romney is still campaigning on spending more.

FRANK: And Romney I think is the outlier on this. A year ago, I offered an amendment to cut the military and so did Mulvaney. What we noticed was we both lost, but a lot of Democrats voted for my amendment against his, he`s a Tea Party Republican, a lot of Republicans voted for his and against mine.

So, we talked about it. I talked to him, and said, look, let`s get together. So, we offered it jointly. The Democrats voted overwhelmingly, better than 80 percent for the $1.3 billion cut. The interesting thing with John McCain and Romney saying you`ve cut too much, you`ve got to spend more, 89 of the 240 Republicans voted with us. That`s a very big chunk, more than a third.

And the answer, yes, the American republic understands that. First, they recognize that we are not threatened in our existence as a country. Let me say three things. Secondly, they recognize that a lot of these international adventures, even if they`re well-intentioned, don`t work well.

You know, the best trained and best armed young Americans can`t get people in Iraq to like each other when they have been hating each other for a long time. They can`t end corruption in Afghanistan.

Our military is wonderful at doing what a military can do, stopping bad things from happening. But they can`t make good things happen, particularly in a culture that`s foreign to us.

And then they finally understand it`s a choice. If you expand the military the way Mitt Romney wants to, then Medicare is going to take big cuts. And then you can forget about local police officers.

And I think most of the people I represent are more worried about fire and police and local threats than they are about some very far off ones. And I would be morally conflicted if I thought we could accomplish some of what we do when we intervene, generally, it ends badly for us because you can`t send military force into these complex cultures and remake them.

MADDOW: The dynamic you`re talking about and that you have consistently identified is one that really still doesn`t get much attention. I almost feel like we should only have these conversations in private because if we don`t point out they`re happening, maybe this dynamic will actually spread further before people get too alarmed by it.

Congressman Barney Frank of Massachusetts talking about the nonpartisanship of critical thinking on this issue -- thank you so much. It`s really good to see you.

FRANK: Thanks, Rachel.

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