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Barney Frank: An Example For Obama?

The New York Times takes a look today at the surprising record of success Barney Frank has amassed in working with the Bush administration and Republicans in Congress. The piece is full of typical Barneyisms ("[Frank] said that asking the White House to support more government intervention was 'like asking me to judge the Miss America contest--if your heart's not in it, you don't do a very good job.' ") The most interesting graf, though, might be this:

"Barney has been very fair," said Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California and one of the most conservative members of the House. "I think that I have been treated more fairly, and a number of my Republican colleagues have been treated more fairly, since the Democrats have become the majority than I was treated by my own leadership."

Now, there's clearly a limit to how far things like civility and procedural fairness can go in papering over ideological conflicts (though the fact that Barney Frank and Dana Rohrabacher can come together on anything is noteworthy). Frank probably benefits from chairing a committee that deals with issues on which technocratic negotiation can be somewhat productive--it's hard to imagine he'd be able to be as bipartisan if he chaired, say, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

I think what Frank's record demonstrates is that there are at least some respects in which Barack Obama's pledges to seek understanding and "disagree without being disagreeable" aren't entirely, as some contend, meaningless platitudes. Sometimes compromise is possible and sometimes it isn't, but DeLay-style politics ensures that pretty much every question winds up falling into the latter category, even if bipartisanship might prove fruitful. When you start talking about things like health-care or entitlement reform, absent one party holding 60-plus Senate seats, you need some minimal level of trust and dialogue if anything's going to get done.

--Josh Patashnik