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MATTHEWS: Welcome back to HARDBALL. I have had a lot of thought about doing this for a while and I`m glad we could do it tonight.
Barney Frank has been one of the great congressmen for years in the United
States Congress. He`s been representing Massachusetts ever since he was
elected back in the early `80s. I want to talk to Congressman Frank tonight.
Thank you for joining us, Barney Frank, for joining us tonight.
REP. BARNEY FRANK (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Thanks for the chance, Chris.
MATTHEWS: You know, I think you have probably been thinking big about what
you have been doing these incredible numbers of years, since the `80s, since the Reagan era.
Can you feel in you or do you sense progress in this country or perhaps decline from the Reagan era to the Obama era? When you put them all in your head?
FRANK: Certainly. Look, I`ll take one very close to me. The question of legal equality for people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender, that fight is about over. It`s sort of odd to hear Mitt Romney complaining that President Obama got an advantage because he was for same-sex marriage.
Not very long ago, that was a wedge issue Bob Dole was using against Bill Clinton.
I think we`ve made progress in some other areas -- clearly, environmentally. There`s a lot to be done and we have the deniers of global warming, but we`re reducing the amount of oil that we import and use. And there is progress in that regard.
On the other hand, there`s been, I think, some retrogression in the recognition of two of the great accomplishments of America in the 20th century, with Social Security and Medicare. Before those two, we did not have the possibility for the average older person who wasn`t wealthy to have a decent existence in retirement. We now have that. And I`m sorry to see that pulled back.
There`s also an international event, for the first time, and I think we have to recognize this. From 1940 to 1990 we had very heavily armed, very bad people threatening our very existence as a society. Even though we may have exaggerated that a little bit at the end.
We don`t have that anymore. We have murderous thugs and terrorists but
they`re not the communists. They`re not the Nazis. They don`t threaten our very existence.
We have an ability now, I believe, to reduce some of the resources we put into self-protection and do more things at home, although there`s an ideological barrier to doing it.
MATTHEWS: Let me know the way the Congress -- I know you you`ve the Congress, and I was thinking -- I hope you still do.
MATTHEWS: What about -- I mean, Tip O`Neill, your old friend and my old boss, once said something like the people are better now. They`re better educated than in the old days but the -- what`s he say, the process isn`t as good. The process isn`t as good.
FRANK: I think that`s right, a couple of factors there. It`s interesting, by the way. The Congress is less autonomous.
Now, in terms of democratic theory that`s a good thing. If you remember back in the `80s members felt they had more freedom to make public policy decisions on their own. What happens today is that the voters are much more in control. And I know people say, that isn`t the case. But, in fact, that`s part of the problem.
It`s not all the voters. It is those voters who choose to be active. And the problem we have is that those voters who choose to be active on the liberal side and conservative side, live in two parallel self-reinforcing universe. The right and the left get different information, they get different media, they talk to each other, they talk to themselves and that -- you`re seeing that now on the side of the Republican Party, where there is this terrible struggle.
Look, I think most sensible Republicans understand they`ve got to make some
accommodations, but there is this terrible fear that if they act sensibly, they`ll lose primaries.
MATTHEWS: It would seem to me -- I`ve never been elected to anything --
but it seems to me the joy in the real rich fun of being an elected official is to be an Edmund Burke, to use your judgment, to have -- to sit around with people you respect and make a decision.
You`re saying now it`s more like the British parliament where you basically vote party line and you have to think constituency all the time.
FRANK: And even more -- at least in the British parliament there`s still some sense -- well, there`s an autonomy. If you remember the British parliament, and you vote with your government, even if your own constituency doesn`t like it, you probably survive that. They accept that. We`ve got, people will tell me, why is there this gridlock? Let`s be clear. It`s a combination of the American people and the American Constitution.
In England, if you win the election for House of Commons on Wednesday, you`re the prime minister on Friday. But in America, at any given time, we`re governed by the result of free elections. Senators from six years ago, the president, and his -- the main reason we`re in a deadlock now is this, the American people drastically change their minds, at least those who vote, between 2008 and 2010. They like Barack Obama and a heavily Democratic Congress in 2008. They repudiate their own decision in 2010. You have two groups of people, each with a mandate and deep convictions. Now, I do believe and this is what I think and will ultimately prove to be the case, the election of 2012 is the tiebreaker. I just saw John Boehner in a kind of pathetic effort to scramble out of it saying it was a status quo election.
Well, let me tell you, if Republicans won the presidency and gained seats in the Senate and gained seats in the House, they wouldn`t be calling it a status quo election. They`d be calling it a mandate. I`m particularly amused in kind of --
MATTHEWS: I agree.
FRANK: -- a frustrated way when they say, well, Obama doesn`t have a mandate to raise taxes. George Bush cut taxes and started two wars with a minus half a million margin in the polls. Barack Obama has got 3.5 million plus. So if 3.5 million plus isn`t enough of a mandate to do something about taxes, what the hell was a half million loss?
MATTHEWS: We`re going to miss you, Congressman Frank -- Barney Frank of
Massachusetts, ending an incredible career up in Massachusetts. Thank you so much. We`ll have you back again, I think, if we can.
FRANK: I`ll be around, Chris.
MATTHEWS: I want to ask you what you`re going to miss, positively and negatively, from the Congress. We`ll be -- thanks for coming on tonight, Congressman.
FRANK: You`re welcome.
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