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More Praise For Barney Frank

Josh is right to talk up Republicans' appreciation of Barney Frank. I was recently waiting for an appointment and chatting with a press secretary to a Republican congressman, and to pass the time, I asked him who his favorite Democrat in Congress was. "Barney Frank," he answered instantly. Why? "Barney Frank is single-handedly raising the level of our political discourse here, and also, he respects you," the press secretary said.

We take the effect of communicating respect seriously in a lot of fields of human endeavor -- education (feeling they're respected helps students learn), medicine (doctors are carefully taught to give the impression they're interested in what the patient's saying), etc., but tend to treat it like it's worthless sentimentalism in D.C. But a lot of members of Congress and staffers on both sides of the aisle whine these days that it's impossible to get a damn thing done -- and they're reduced to spending their days passing laws commemorating National Funeral Director Day and so forth -- because the other side never assumes they're doing anything in good faith. That's what I understood as the gist of Obama's conciliator idea: to approach fellow legislators as though, while they might be misled on a huge host of topics, they share some vestigial basic desire to improve the lot of their constituents, and came to Washington, at least originally, to do something other than fatten their own larders.

Obviously, not everybody deserves this kind of respect. But it's not an attitude tweak only worth making because it's nice. It lubricates the gears. As Barney Frank's work shows, it makes people more willing to make concessions.

--Eve Fairbanks