Barney Frank

July 1, 1999      

A candid conversation with the outspoken congressman about angry republicans, gay marriage, his personal scandal and the price of impeachment


It's a typical, though unglamorous, day at the Newton, Massachusetts office

of Congressman  Barney Frank.  In the outer office it's standing room only for

the eclectic collection of Frank's constituents and representatives of special

interest groups awaiting an audience. One man is here to ask for Frank's help in

convincing the Congressional Black Caucus to support his project, the American

Antislavery Group. A distraught woman says she wants federal protection because

of a domestic problem involving a child.

    One by one, they are escorted into a conference room where Frank holds

casual court. The meetings are brief-five to ten minutes-after which the

visitors are led out, apparently satisfied. The distraught woman is one

exception. She is sobbing as she is guided from the congressman's office. "He'll

do what he can do," her friend consoles. The crying woman isn't convinced and

utters a homophobic remark.

    Following the meetings, Frank throws on his suit jacket and overcoat and

heads out of the office, trailed by a documentary filmmaker with a camera. As

the congressman passes her desk, one of his assistants chuckles. "It's nice to

see Barney with an entourage," she says. "He never gets to have one."

    Soon Frank is behind the wheel of a rented sedan, driving through Boston on

his way to meet with a group of hospital administrators concerned about recent                                     

Medicare cuts. Changing from one freeway to another, the car hits a bottleneck

and is forced to inch along slowly. Frank swears under his breath. "I can't

believe this traffic," he says. He doesn't laugh when one of his passengers

suggests he write his congressman.

    It's a far cry frm the picture of him that is familiar to many Americans:

Frank in congressional hearings railing eloquently against the Republican

accusers of President Clinton, an image televised throughout last year's

impeachment hearings. Indeed, although Frank has been a congressman since 1981

and is considered a prominent and effective legislator on domestic and

international issues, he gained immense visibility outside his home state of

Massachusetts during the hearings. As the second-ranking Democrat on Chairman

Henry Hyde's House Judiciary Committee, Frank was one of the most visible

congressmen-loved or loathed, depending on the viewer's opinion about the


    Though Frank was a harsh critic of the partisanship that characterized the

debate leading to Clinton's impeachment, he was in his element in the

contentious hearings, trading witty barbs with his adversaries across the aisle.

(Early on he described the hearings as "an impeachment in search of a high

crime.") He was a thorn in the Republicans' sides, arguing about everything from

procedure (for example, he wanted deliberations to be open to the public) to

whether the president could be censured instead of impeached. Outside the

hearing rooms, Frank was an architect of the Democrats' strategies. When some of

his colleagues pushed for expanded hearings that would have includ-ed witnesses to support President Clinton, Frank's view prevailed: "When

your opponent is busy committing suicide, get out of his way," he said. Though it put him at the center of the year's biggest story, the impeachment

was by no means Frank's first time in the middle of controversy. As America's

first openly gay congressman (he came out in 1987), Frank is often in one storm

or another, many of them connected to gay issues. When he compromised on

gay-related legislation, he was condemned by gay-rights groups; when he pushed

gay rights, he was attacked by conservatives. While all politicians are attacked

for the stands they take, some of the vindictive attention Frank received was

directed at him because he is gay. In 1995 Dick Armey called Frank "Barney

Fag," claiming later that it was easy to confuse "Frank" and "Fag." But Frank is hardly a one-issue legislator.

Since arriving in the House in 1981 after eight years in the Massachusetts

state legislature, he has taken strong, mostly liberal stands on issues that

include gun control, the North American Free Trade Agreement, affirmative

action, the death penalty, workers' rights and the International Monetary Fund.

He is fiercely pro-choice and pro-welfare. (He once said of his adversaries on

the first of those issues: "Sure they're pro-life. They believe life begins at

conception and ends at birth.") His current causes include a reduction in

military spending, a universal health care system in America and what he calls

an "international New Deal" that would strengthen America's position in the

emerging global economy.

    Frank also suffered a personal scandal that preceded Clinton's by a decade.

It stemmed from his 1985 relationship with a male prostitute named Stephen

Gobie, whom Frank befriended and employed as a housekeeper and driver. Gobie

later betrayed Frank, claiming he had operated a prostitution ring out of

Frank's home with the congressman's knowledge. There were calls for Frank's

resignation. Frank, by then living with an economist named Herb Moses, had

thrown Gobie out when he was alerted to the illegal activities by his landlady.

He contested the allegations in the House Ethics Committee and asked for an

investigation, which found no evidence that Frank knew about the prostitution

ring. He was nonetheless officially reprimanded by Congress. (At the time,

Congressman Newt Gingrich pushed for the more serious punishment, censure.)


    Despite the scandal, Frank ran again and was handily reelected. Since then,

he has become one of the most powerful, highest ranking members of the House,                                    

serving on the most important committees, including banking and judiciary. His

congressional seat is so firmly sealed that he ran unopposed in two of his last

three elections.


    Frank, who was born in Bayonne, New Jersey in 1940, was interested in

politics at an early age. He is one of four children (his sister Ann Lewis is

Clinton's communications director), and when he wasn't in school, he worked

part-time at his father's truck stop. But he also read voraciously-news as well

as literature-and was always sensitive to social injustice. It was his early

glimpses of racism and bigotry that led him into politics.


    He studied political theory at Harvard and planned to pursue a Ph.D. but

left academe for politics in 1967, when he went to work for a Boston mayoral

candidate. In 1972 he ran for office for the first time and won a seat in the

Massachusetts House of Representatives that he kept for eight years. He ran for

the U.S. House in 1980.


    Frank was an enormously effective legislator, popular with his constituents

and many of his peers in the House. He earned a reputation for his skills as an

orator and is often referred to as the smartest man in Congress. He made history

when, in 1987, he told a Boston Globe reporter that he was gay, explaining, "I

don't think my sex life is relevant to my job, but . . . I don't want to leave

the impression that I'm embarrassed by it." In the election that followed, his

opponent attempted to make Frank's personal life an issue (at the time he was

living with Moses, though the couple has since separated and Frank is now

single). The incumbent won 70 percent of the vote.

    In the aftermath of the impeachment, immediately after the Senate voted to

acquit Clinton, we sent Contributing Editor David Sheff to meet with Frank. Here

is Sheff's report:

    "Frank is famous for his frumpiness. In 1976, running for reelection to the

Massachusetts House, one of his campaign posters read Neatness isn't everything.

So I was surprised by his tailored dark suit, recently pressed. But nothing else

about Frank was polished. In fact, his casual style and unpretentiousness-even

the fact that he drove himself around town-made him seem like an oddity in

Congress. For a politician he is also unique in that he seems unswayed by

opinion polls.


    "The most instructive forum in which to watch Frank is not in televised

hearings but in his meetings with constituents and numerous special interest

groups. When he met with the group of hospital administrators, he was clearly

knowledgeable about such issues as HMOs, prescription medicine and Medicare.

Frank listened but was also quick to point out contradictions and hypocrisies                                                      

in the arguments of others. Immediately after that meeting, he had scheduled yet

another face-off with voters. 'Now that we don't have to waste our time on the

Lewinsky-Clinton scandal, the American people expect us to get on to some real

issues,' Frank said at one point. 'I, for one, think they deserve that.'"


    PLAYBOY: After the impeachment ordeal, are you feeling discouraged?


    FRANK: I was discouraged in August-the whole thing was sort of messy and

unpleasant. But now I'm less pessimistic. In fact, it was heartening to watch

the American public through all this. They behaved enormously well. It was a

delight to watch them.


    PLAYBOY: Are you referring to the public's consistent support of Bill

Clinton throughout the impeachment process?


    FRANK: It was that the public refused to be told what to think. They ignored

the experts, including the media. Ordinarily the public is instructed on their

politics, because they feel they lack expertise in many issues, whether science,

economic or environmental issues or complex foreign policy. But they knew what

this was about. A married man had sex with someone he shouldn't have had sex

with. She worked in his operation, it was consensual. There was nothing about

the Clinton-Lewinsky affair that required experts. And the public quickly made


up its mind. That drove the press and most of the Republicans wild.


    PLAYBOY: As a result of this scandal, are politicians' personal lives fair

game or verboten?


    FRANK: The public was clear on this. There is a sphere of privacy that they

respect. Throughout the scandal, they weren't simply reacting against the

Republicans and for Bill Clinton. They reacted against the voyeurism. Ken Starr

became the first wildly unpopular prosecutor I can think of. Prosecutors tend to

be the good guys, heroes. But Starr was one of the most unpopular political

figures in American history, and not because people wanted to let Clinton off

the hook. People felt that Clinton looked kind of cheesy in all this, but they

correctly understood that the force behind the anti-Clinton effort was far more

insidious. That force represents the people in this country who want to tell the

rest of us how to live-how to make the most intimate and personal choices in our

lives: how to worship, whom to love and when and where and how we may do it. The

public said no. Americans viewed Starr-correctly, I think-as the agent of this,

and Americans saw that it was both ridiculous and dangerous.


    PLAYBOY: But Republicans maintained the impeachment wasn't about sex.


    FRANK: Though they said it wasn't about sex, the Republicans spent an awful

lot of time talking about the philandering S.O.B. They were mortally offended.

It was all about sex.


    PLAYBOY: They claimed it was about lies.


    FRANK: The American people didn't even care about the lies. A lot of them

said, "We expect you to lie about sex." In matters that aren't their business,

they don't want to be told the truth. They don't want to know every detail of a

person's life. We all know someone who has done something like what Clinton did.

In everyone's circle, among all of our family and friends, there has been a

betrayal, a failure to live up to the moral code. Most of us have learned that

life goes on. People thought, If I have to throw Bill Clinton out as president

for this and apply the same standard to my life, I can never speak to my

brother-in-law again. My nephew can never come to Thanksgiving dinner. This is

about families who don't speak to one another. This is about intolerance and

lack of forgiveness-if someone screws up, saying, "Don't ever come to my house

again." It's the stern father who, when his daughter shows up after having had a

child out of wedlock, turns her away in his self-righteousness. That's not the

way most people want to live. We may criticize, but we don't judge so harshly

that which is completely human. The public understands human complexity.


    PLAYBOY: Were the Republicans simply out of touch?


    FRANK: They were so out of touch that it was astonishing. They acted

stupidly throughout the impeachment and afterward. There's nothing more

frustrating than winning a contest with a good loser. On the other hand, it's

wonderful to win when there is a bad loser. And the Republicans were the worst

losers imaginable, snarling and unhappy.


    PLAYBOY: If private lives are no longer fair game, at least according to the

public, why did Bob Livingston have to resign his seat in the Congress when his

affair was revealed?


    FRANK: The fact is, three Republicans were shown to have committed adultery,

and they acknowledged it and paid no political price whatsoever. Livingston was

a separate case because he was running for Speaker. The electorate didn't

care-he wouldn't have been hurt in his home district-but some of the right- wing

Republican members of Congress would have stopped him from becoming Speaker.


    PLAYBOY: Are you suggesting that he was pressured to resign-that he didn't

resign on his own in an attempt to take the high ground?                                             

    FRANK: He was pressured, pure and simple. Livingston was told he wouldn't

get elected as speaker. He was told there were enough Republicans against him-it

would have taken only six-to make it a fait accompli. Despite their saying that

the impeachment wasn't about sex, there were enough Republicans who had

condemned the cheating, adulterous Bill Clinton that they couldn't then go ahead

and vote for Livingston. But the other Republicans who admitted having

adulterous affairs paid no price. Hyde, Chenoweth and Burton have had their

elections and paid no price-even when there was hypocrisy. When the report about

Hyde's affair broke, it engendered more sympathy for him than criticism. It's

another example that negative politics no longer works.


    PLAYBOY: Yet some Republicans-Dan Quayle, for one-are volunteering, even

bragging, that they have been faithful to their wives.


    FRANK: Yes, and that will hurt them. It is demeaning and injects an issue

that people think shouldn't be injected.


    PLAYBOY: Livingston was a victim of Larry Flynt's campaign of fighting fire

with fire. Do you support it?


    FRANK: I think there is something to be said for using people's hypocrisy

against them. In Livingston's case, I don't see that there was that much. He


wasn't one of the people who exploited the Clinton affair. But I understand the

instinct to fight fire with fire. On the other hand, I'll be happy when

revelations about personal lives are dead and buried.


    PLAYBOY: Throughout the impeachment, the Republicans maintained that they

were following their consciences, which is why they didn't bend to public

pressure. Were they?


    FRANK: Nonsense. That was an after-the-fact rationalization. For years the

Republicans argued exactly the opposite-that the left was out of touch and that

Republicans represented the public. They said the Democrats, especially the

liberals, arrogantly ignored public opinion about issues like the death penalty,

affirmative action and welfare. They made a big point of saying how much they

represented the public and chastised the Democrats for being uncaring about

public opinion. Suddenly they're arguing that it's a good thing not to care

about public opinion.


    PLAYBOY: Were they surprised by the public's reaction?


    FRANK: Completely. They thought impeaching Bill Clinton would be very

popular. They were planning national TV ads about it. They thought this scandal

was going to be the end of Clinton and great for them. Throughout the


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impeachment, even when it wasn't working, their strategy was to try to turn

public opinion against Clinton. If they didn't care what the public thought, why

did they release grand jury testimony on television? Why did they want Monica

Lewinsky on the floor of the Senate? They kept hoping that something they did

would turn around public opinion.


    PLAYBOY: At some point wasn't it obvious that the strategy wasn't working?


    FRANK: That's when they tried to hide what they were doing as much as

possible. They said, "We're going to vote to impeach Bill Clinton, but it

doesn't really mean he'll be impeached." They said, "The public doesn't have the

right to watch our debates and to know exactly where we stand." They were afraid

by then of having to pay the price of their so-called moral convictions. To

allow the membership to hide from the public is a violation of democracy-which

is exactly what they did. But in the end, the public spoke. They knew the

impeachment was being used as a political tool, not as the founders had meant

for it to be used. The truth is, they knew that the main sanction for the kind

of flaw Bill Clinton showed was not impeachment but the election process. In a

democracy, the main way you penalize elected officials is not to vote for them.


    PLAYBOY: But Clinton can't run again.


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    FRANK: That's right, and the problem with a second-term president is that

there is no way to punish him in an election. If there were, I don't believe he

would be reelected. It's one thing to keep the guy in office; it's another to

reward him with another term. But since they couldn't vote him out of office,

the Republicans were frustrated. So they tried to circumvent the political

process. In that, Americans saw who really controls the Republican Party. They

saw that the right wing controls the party and they saw that the right wing is

nuts. It's not just that Jerry Falwell is nutty, with his compulsion to be a

public moron, attacking Teletubbies one week and the Antichrist the week before.

But Americans now understand just how obsessive and mean this right wing is.

They also understand that the right controls the Republicans. There had been a

misconception that the Republican Party was generally free of that

ultraconservative influence. The mask was stripped off.


    PLAYBOY: Did you know that the right-wingers controlled the Republicans so

thoroughly that the party would allow them to destroy it?


    FRANK: I actually thought that self-preservation would keep them from

impeaching the president as late as early September. I really thought they would

stop it when they saw how unpopular it was. So I underestimated not just the

self-destructive tendency of the right wing but also the inability of the rest

of the Republican Party to do anything about it. I guarantee that there were


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    Republicans who wanted the process to stop a long time before impeachment,

but they were powerless. They watched it unravel and were helpless.


    PLAYBOY: Do you think more-moderate Republicans would have voted with you,

against impeachment, but that they were blackmailed? Would the party have

withheld money for reelection campaigns?


    FRANK: They were blackmailed with votes, not money. Liberals always think

it's about money, that they are going to be unfairly outspent. Money is a

factor, but a much smaller factor than the right wing's organization. They get

out the vote. Mainstream Republicans have more money than right-wing

Republicans. The mainstream are the rich people, but they don't get out the

vote. So moderate Republicans were in a quandary. They felt they couldn't break

from the party because they would have been targeted by the right wing.


    PLAYBOY: Was it subtle or overt pressure?


    FRANK: It was overt pressure. Some of it was public. Bob Livingston, when he

was running for Speaker, said that anyone who voted against them on the

procedural issue involving censure would be defying the leadership. What that

means is that you might have trouble getting a subcommittee chairmanship, or

that you wouldn't have leadership support in getting projects approved for


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                              


your district. It was not subtle pressure.


    PLAYBOY: Some Republicans maintain they wanted to vote for censure but were

not given that choice.


    FRANK: Yes. They're saying, "They wouldn't let me vote for censure." You

wouldn't let you vote for censure. These people helped the Republican leadership

prevent censure and then used the fact that they couldn't vote for censure as an

excuse to vote for impeachment.


    PLAYBOY: Some of the Republicans felt that censure was too mild-a slap on

the wrist. In one memorable speech, you argued that your reprimand by the House

was indeed a big deal. Was that an emotional speech for you?


    FRANK: It was very emotional. I thought censure was a way to break the

country out of this miasma. I thought censure was appropriate. The anticensure

arguments were totally inconsistent. They maintained that censure would cripple

future presidents because it can be used so easily. At the same time they said

that it doesn't mean anything. But how can something that doesn't mean anything

cripple future presidents? So I made an argument against the suggestion that a

reprimand like censure was meaningless. I also wanted to point out the hypocrisy

surrounding Gingrich. If they cared so much about lying, why did they vote him


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a new term after his investigation? Under House rules, I couldn't mention

Gingrich's reprimand on the floor, believe it or not. I knew that if I pointed

out the hypocrisy, I could be ruled out of order. It occurred to me, however,

that if I mentioned not only Newt Gingrich but also myself, it would be hard for

them to rule me out of order.


    PLAYBOY: Why couldn't you mention Gingrich's reprimand?


    FRANK: We have rules that protect us. I can get up on the floor of the House

and say outrageous things about anybody in the world except another member of

the House and Senate. We can lie with impunity about anybody else, but we can't

tell the truth about one another. So I spoke about my own experience in order to

address the hypocrisy around Gingrich and to show that reprimand is meaningful.

They always knew that censure was meaningful, by the way. They, like me, care

about this place-the United States Congress. To be reprimanded by this body is

no small thing.


    PLAYBOY: When your scandal broke, did you lie about it?


    FRANK: Not under oath, but I did lie in a letter I sent to a friend. I lied

about how I met Gobie [the central figure in the scandal]. I didn't lie in any

judicial proceedings like Gingrich had, but I nonetheless regret what I did.


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It was irresponsible. I was terribly afraid that it would damage gay causes.

Ultimately it wasn't as bad as I'd feared, but it hurt some. So I had political

motivations in bringing up my past transgressions, but also personal ones: It

was another way of expiating my mistake.


    PLAYBOY: In retrospect, did you handle your scandal any better than Clinton

handled his?


    FRANK: Given that it happened, I reacted about as well as I could have.


    PLAYBOY: There were calls for your resignation. Even The Boston Globe, which

had supported you, wanted you to step down.


    FRANK: Yes. The Globe had a brief Puritan period.


    PLAYBOY: Was there ever a chance you would resign?


    FRANK: No. There was a good chance


    I wouldn't run again, but I never considered resigning. The reason is that

it would have ended the House ethics proceedings. I knew I had done something

stupid-and wrong-in engaging Gobie and keeping him around and getting involved


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with him to the extent I did. But I also knew that most of what he accused me

of-letting him run prostitution in my apartment, among other things-were lies.

The only forum in which I could prove that was the House Ethics Committee. If I

had resigned, it would have ended the proceedings and I never would have been

able to prove my innocence on those charges. But I did decide I didn't want to

run again. By this time


    I was living with my lover, Herb Moses, who told me I should run. He said,

"You're going to be a mess if you don't run again." But I was afraid I'd lose

the seat for the Democrats, and that I would be doing more harm than good.

Finally I agreed to poll my district to determine whether or not I should run.

The results were that I should: People thought I had behaved stupidly, but they

wanted me to run.


    PLAYBOY: Was the public served in any way by knowing about that scandal?


    FRANK: No, though it's important that people know I'm gay.


    PLAYBOY: Why is your sexuality an issue?


    FRANK: Because there is prejudice toward gay and lesbian people based on

misunderstandings about us. You don't go from a prejudiced situation to an


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unprejudiced situation without knowledge. So it's important for me to speak

openly about my sexuality to help educate people. Forty years ago, when there

was a lot of anti-Semitism, it would have been important for them to know that

I'm Jewish. Today it is not a big deal that I'm Jewish. Where there is

prejudice, it is important to be open. Then people can see for themselves that

their prejudices are unfounded. It is important for gay people to let the rest

of society know the fact of discrimination and the pain of discrimination. Even

the Gobie stuff helped in a sense. When I came out, people said, "Why did you

come out? We didn't want to know. Why did you have to tell us?" My answer was, I

can't live a life in which you don't know, because that would require me to do

all kinds of dumb things-it's what led me to Gobie.


    PLAYBOY: And how did it lead to the relationship with him?


    FRANK: The fact that I had used the services of a prostitute and then

befriended him are examples of how crazy I felt living in the closet and why

coming out was a prerequisite to a healthy life.


    PLAYBOY: But you had come out by then.


    FRANK: I had come out by the time he made the accusations, but I wasn't out

when I met him. The order was: I met him, I was with him, I broke off with


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him, I came out, I met my lover Herb. I was living a normal, healthy life by the

time he made the accusations. The accusations went back to events that began

prior to my coming out.


    PLAYBOY: What led to your decision to come out?


    FRANK: Primarily, I couldn't live anymore in this frustrating, closeted way.

I was not having a healthy emotional life. I thought it would hurt me

politically, but not mentally. And I thought it would be politically

advantageous for gay causes. Still, I can't claim that as a primary motive. It

was a secondary motive. The primary motive was that I could no longer live like



    PLAYBOY: At the time, you said that the troubles involving Gobie were due to

your low self-esteem. What did you mean by that?


    FRANK: It all came down to the same thing: being in the closet. I had a hard

time meeting people. I hired men for sex, then tried to make a friend out of

them. Being a prominent person in the closet meant it was hard not only meeting

people but also developing emotional relationships. I thought there was

something the matter with me, some flaw: "Why can't I relate to people better?"

I finally realized it was because I was keeping this secret. I couldn't be


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myself, and I was afraid. I had to be careful who knew. I couldn't be seen in

many places. I had to be careful who I called. Relationships are difficult

anyway, but I was multiplying the difficulty.


    PLAYBOY: Back to the president's scandal: Did he thank you for your support?


    FRANK: Yes, the president thanked me. Several times.


    PLAYBOY: Did it bother you that he lied to you personally? Did he apologize?


    FRANK: He never lied to me. I never asked him what happened. By the way, I

never said I believed him. There were all these people fretting that he lied not

only to the public-as if that were excusable-but also to his friends and cabinet

members. That's crazy. In fact, if a public figure were telling a lie to the

public and the truth to his staff, he would be putting his staff in a worse

position. He would then be asking them to lie.


    PLAYBOY: But do you acknowledge that he lied to the American people?


    FRANK: Sure, and that was wrong. He lied in the deposition when he said he

didn't remember being alone with Monica Lewinsky. It wasn't perjury, since it

wasn't material to the case, but it was a lie. But the lie that bothered me


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the most was when he lied to the American people. He thought that he was

technically telling the truth, but he was wrong and he shouldn't have done it.

He had the right not to say anything, but he should not have lied. That's why I

was for censure early on.


    PLAYBOY: Was the vote to impeach the low point for you?


    FRANK: The low point was when the House voted in September to release the

Starr material. Three hundred and sixty members of the House, including the

great majority of the Democrats, voted with all the Republicans. Everybody

thought it would kill Clinton. Everyone expected nasty, salacious stuff. That

was the low point, because I thought that he might be thrown out of office-a

terrible victory for the right wing. It wasn't that I didn't think we could

survive Bill Clinton not being president, but I didn't want to see that set of

values win. Also, I thought it would do tremendous damage to the Democrats.

People like Dick Morris, whose desire for vengeance on Bill Clinton has driven

him around the bend, were writing stories about how the Democrats were going to

get wiped out. So was Bob Novak. They've all forgotten that now. So that was

worse for me than the vote to impeach, because the impeachment vote was clearly

partisan and everyone knew it.



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    PLAYBOY: When the impeachment was handed to the Senate, did that body behave

better than the House?


    FRANK: The moderate Republicans in the


    Senate showed more spine, though only slightly more.


    PLAYBOY: Were they acting out of political expediency?


    FRANK: They were being politically expedient when they voted in the

beginning to keep the trial going. They could have ended it-there were numerous

calls to dismiss. If they had really voted their consciences, they would have



    it. No one other than the rabid right-wingers believed this was the kind of

thing you throw out a president over. Every Republican on the House Judiciary

Committee, even after Newt Gingrich was found to have lied 13 times to the House

Ethics Committee, voted to give him a new term as Speaker. How in the hell do

you make a man Speaker for a new term if he has lied 13 times to the House

Ethics Committee over campaign financing, and then go after Clinton? These are

people who praised George Bush's pardoning Caspar Weinberger when he was

indicted for perjury. So, no, I don't believe that most of them seriously


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cared about the charges. It was miscalculated political expediency.


    PLAYBOY: When you look back at Clinton's part in the scandal, do you blame

his arrogance, or did the president simply use bad judgment?


    FRANK: There was a lapse in judgment when he engaged in sex with Monica

Lewinsky in the first place. Beyond that, saying "I didn't have sexual relations

with her" reflects one of his weaknesses. He thinks he can talk his way out of

anything. He's a good talker, but he's not as good as he thinks he is.


    PLAYBOY: What did you make of the charges that came out after the

impeachment that he raped Juanita Broaddrick?


    FRANK: I'm glad he can't run for reelection. If he were able to run again,

we would all be obligated to come to judgment about whether that is true or not.

If it's true, he shouldn't be impeached-he should be imprisoned. On the other

hand, that's why we have a statute of limitations. There's no way anyone can

tell whether this charge is true. The statute of limitations doesn't exist to

protect people who did bad things a long time ago. It exists because it's

impossible to come to a judgment about whether something happened or not many

years after the fact. Witnesses' memories just aren't that reliable. I feel that

this accusation isn't consistent with other accusations against the president,


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


so I'm less inclined to believe it. It doesn't make sense in terms of a pattern,

but there's no way to know about something that happened 20 years ago.


    PLAYBOY: What's your reaction to George Stephanopoulos' account of the

scandal and the Clinton presidency in his book?


    FRANK: Mixed. He has a right to write a book about Bill Clinton that's

critical of the president's policies. I worked for Kevin White, then the mayor

of Boston, and was very high on him-thought he did a great job. But then I came

to disagree with things he did and opposed him when he ran for his last term.

People said I was being disloyal. But the idea is not to work for a person but

for your ideals. You are working for the public interest. So I don't fault

Stephanopoulos for disloyalty. I do, however, criticize him for quoting private

conversations. That's wrong.


    PLAYBOY: After the books and news accounts and yearlong attention to the

Clinton scandal, what is your prediction for the 2000 elections?


    FRANK: The Republicans hope new issues will come along and the public won't

care about the impeachment. But the public now judges everything the Republicans

do through a screen of dislike. If they fight with Clinton, they are not going

to get a fair shake. I would be surprised if the Democrats don't do much


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


better than usual in 2000. We'll take the House and will make serious gains in

the Senate-perhaps take it back.


    PLAYBOY: Yet early polls suggest that a Republican, specifically George

Bush, could beat Al Gore for president.


    FRANK: Personality can transcend other factors when it comes to the

presidency. Those poll results aren't a foregone conclusion by any means. George

Bush has a long way to go before an election. So far, he has taken a pass on the

Republican right's issues, but they aren't going to allow him to continue to

take a pass. We'll see how he comes out of it all.


    PLAYBOY: How about the next race in New York for the U.S. Senate? Would you

support a bid by Hillary Clinton?


    FRANK: I think it will be great if she runs. She would be very good.


    PLAYBOY: What will happen to the Republicans? Will the moderates in the

party break with the right?


    FRANK: At some point they are going to have to. But part of the reason the

right has so much strength is that its members vote. There's a catch-22. The


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


more the right dominates the party, the less other people will vote. Though they

are a minority in this country, considerably less than 20 percent, the right is

well organized. They are a powerful force. They register to vote and show up at

the polls. I wish gay and lesbian people and African Americans and others would

follow their example and organize. So I don't know how the Republicans will

break out of that. I assume at some point they will throw out the ultraright if

they lose badly enough. But it may take a truly disastrous defeat for that to

happen-more disastrous than the 1998 elections.


    PLAYBOY: One casualty of those elections was another former adversary of

yours, Newt Gingrich. Were you happy to see him go?


    FRANK: Thrilled. Gingrich represented the worst trends in American politics.

He more than anyone else brought in the negativism. He made a conscious decision

in the Eighties to attempt to elevate his party by delegitimizing the

opposition. He said to the others in his party, "Don't act as if these are

reasonable people with whom you disagree. These are bad people, corrupt

people." He was creative in his vicious and negative campaign, and he was

successful. But it ultimately consumed him, which was extremely satisfying.


    PLAYBOY: Besides the possibility of gaining seats in the House and the

Senate, how does the Democratic Party stand after the impeachment?


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: We are on the verge of doing well. Bill Clinton has done a good job

of purging our excesses.


    PLAYBOY: Do you mean that he brought the party into the center?


    FRANK: Yes, though in some cases he went too far.


    PLAYBOY: On which issues do you think he went too far?


    FRANK: Welfare, for example. I'm still worried about the repercussions of

welfare reform-the part that says you are cut off after five years. There are

people who just won't make it. What about the people who have kids? I don't

understand punishing kids because they have lousy parents. And I don't think

it's necessary. I am all in favor of getting people working, but it isn't the

only issue. The economy has been good, so we have been able to get a lot of

these people jobs. But what happens when we reach people on welfare who no one

would hire? They aren't quite disabled, but you wouldn't hire them. The bill

doesn't consider them. Cutting them off assumes they are all just lazy. Some

aren't. Some are dysfunctional.


    PLAYBOY: How would you help them?


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: We are a rich country. If we were a poor country, maybe we'd have to

worry that somebody might get a nickel they don't deserve. But we are rich

enough to err on the side of not starving or abusing children. I believe in the

safety net. It's essential and humane. Sadly, there may be casualties before

people see the need to fix it.


    PLAYBOY: Other than welfare, what issues have you and President Clinton

disagreed on?


    FRANK: The biggest policy split between us was when he bought into the

global trickle-down theory. A lot of us on the Democratic side support a global

free market, too, but only if we can address labor rights and general human

rights as well as environmental protection. We also have to take care of the

people at home. The president is now moving in that direction. The defeat of

fast track [which increases the president's power over trade issues] was very

important. The passing of the International Monetary Fund bill was important

because it included a lot of stuff about human rights and environmental

concerns. There will be more of those.


    PLAYBOY: But you opposed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which

Clinton supported.


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: That is the best example of why trickle-down doesn't work. What we

need is an international New Deal. Essentially what is happening is that

technology has transformed capitalism. What FDR did was deal with fully mature

capitalism on a national level. He found a system that produced a lot of wealth

but also assured stability and equality. The free market system worked as the

main generator of wealth, but there were controls to protect people from

unrestrained capitalism. Now technology has come along and transformed

everything. Borders don't mean much anymore. But as we take our place in the new

world economy, we need to protect our workers. We need to protect the

environment. We need to protect the poor in other countries from being exploited

and at the same time protect American companies from unfair foreign competition.

So what we now need is an international New Deal.


    PLAYBOY: How do you protect American interests beyond our borders?


    FRANK: We can't tell other countries what to do, but we can use the fact

that other countries want two things from us: American capital, encouraged and

to some extent protected by the American government, and the ability to sell in

the best market in the world. We have the right to condition access to our

capital and our market. Clinton is coming around. In his State of the Union

address he said, "We have got to put a human face on the global economy." We can

do that by saying that if you want money from the World Bank, you have to


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                              


agree to let your workers join unions. Our companies shouldn't have to compete

against companies that pay their workers ten cents an hour. Other countries need

environmental rules that are enforced. If they use child labor, they shouldn't

be able to sell goods in America. We want to protect people and we want

competition to be fair.


    PLAYBOY: But Nafta addressed issues such as child labor, the minimum wage

and environmental protections.


    FRANK: Nafta paid lip service to them. I say let's redo Nafta with teeth. I

think Clinton sees that that's what we need. We're stronger now as a party and

we can go forward with tougher stands on issues like this. We're more united on

a plausible agenda than we have been in my memory. Clinton did a lot of this: He

purged a lot of the negatives associated with Democrats.


    PLAYBOY: Is liberalism still a bad word?


    FRANK: It is, but it shouldn't be. I want to make it a better word.


    PLAYBOY: Democrats are traditionally seen as weaker on defense. Are we

underdefended now?


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: No, we are not underdefended.


    PLAYBOY: Some of your colleagues argue that we need to be-and aren't-ready

to fight two wars at the same time.


    FRANK: Against whom? It's ridiculous. South Korea is already well armed. We

have to help South Korea against North Korea and we have to fight Iraq, but Iraq

is in pretty weak shape. We could help South Korea against North Korea and

defeat Iraq with much less than we now have. We have way too many nuclear

weapons. We haven't really scaled down since the end of the cold war. There has

been a qualitative change. For 50 years, from the late Thirties until 1990, we

faced heavily armed totalitarians who opposed freedom and were ready to attack

us and had the capacity to damage us. The Nazis and the Communists had the

capacity to do real damage to America. Since then, there have been countries

that are irresponsible, dangerous to their neighbors, but none are a danger to

us. It is a qualitative difference. There is no combination of forces in the

world today that threatens our existence as a free society.


    PLAYBOY: If the new threat is terrorism, what more would you have us do?


    FRANK: We've done a fairly effective job so far. There has been virtually no

successful foreign terrorism inside the U.S. But we need to continue to fight


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


it through intelligence and other means.


    PLAYBOY: What would you do with the freed money if you were successful in

trimming the military budget?


    FRANK: We need money in many domestic areas. My single greatest priority is

universal health care. Then I would improve education, the environment, housing

and law enforcement. There are a lot of things that involve the quality of life

in a complicated urban society that you can't pay for as an individual. We must

again look at all the people in our society-the ones falling through the cracks.


    PLAYBOY: Another contentious domestic issue is affirmative action. Do you

think it is doomed?


    FRANK: Because of the courts, we may have to use economics instead of race

as a marker. It is not a perfect marker, but it's better than nothing. There is

no constitutional argument against economic discrimination. Politically, the

enemies of affirmative action will have a hard time arguing against economic-

based affirmative action. They say they aren't against helping poor people, they

just don't think it should be based on race. I disagree, of course. It should be

about race because America has a long racist past and we can't get from

prejudice to no prejudice without corrections, taking our history into


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                              


account. It would be better than nothing to have it be income based, though,

because race and income are related.


    PLAYBOY: After the divisive impeachment ordeal, will you be able to work

with the Republicans on this or other issues?


    FRANK: I will. I can't work with Barr or Burton, but I couldn't work with

them before. I'll work with the others. When you're a professional, you do that.

This is not the sharpest dispute I've had with those people. I was pretty angry

at the demagoguery on the Defense of Marriage act. I have been angry at their

homophobia and racism. But you learn to work with them because you have to.


    PLAYBOY: But how deep does this sort of rancor go?


    FRANK: With most people, not that deep. I think they way overdid it, but

Bill Clinton was not some innocent person walking down the street. They didn't

mug a charity case. He brought a little of this on himself, which mitigates the



    PLAYBOY: But do you like these guys? Do you argue with them in front of the

camera and then go out for cocktails?


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: No, we don't do that. We don't socialize much across party lines. But

we can work together.


    PLAYBOY: Were you surprised if not horrified when you heard that Dick Armey

referred to you as  Barney  Fag?


     FRANK:  Yeah, I was. I usually shoot from the hip and comment. But I took

this one very seriously. I checked the tape to make sure he'd said it. Then I

sat and thought about it for a while before I decided on a response. It seemed

to me very grave. This was early 1995. The Republicans had just taken over as

kings of the hill. So it felt pretty serious to have one of the major figures in

the Republican Party-one of the top five Republicans in the country-say

something like that. He's fallen pretty far since then in terms of people's

opinion of him, but it was serious. I thought hard about how to respond. I

wanted to show my anger, but I didn't want to look like a victim. People don't

respect victims. I never want to project weakness. I don't want to say, "Oh,

poor me." I want to say, "Poor son of a bitch who crosses me." I want to be

aggressive in defense of my rights.


    PLAYBOY: Were you surprised that he said it or surprised that he said it out



                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: That he said it out loud, mostly. I was talking to Steve Gunderson,

who is a gay Republican who does very good work but is far too prone to

apologize for his gay-bashing colleagues. Gunderson said, "I know Dick Armey and

he doesn't have a prejudiced bone in his body." I said, "I don't know about

prejudiced bones in his body, but I know he has a prejudiced thought in his



    PLAYBOY: How did you decide to respond to him?


    FRANK: I held a press conference. I explained that I wanted to respond on

behalf of all gay people who feel prejudice such as that expressed by Armey. I

said, "This is an outrageous example of bigotry. Armey said he didn't mean to

say it. I accept that, but he was thinking it. His argument was that it was

simply a physical mispronunciation-he had simply mangled the syllable." I said

that that was preposterous. I said, "I don't think he intended to say it. But it

wasn't a physical mispronunciation. He blurted out something he had been

thinking, and I'm sure he wishes he hadn't said it." I also wanted to point out

that this whole thing may have shown some progress. Fifteen years ago, he

wouldn't have had to pretend he hadn't meant it. I love my mother's reaction.

Armey said it was just a mispronunciation of Frank. When she heard about it, my

mother said, "In the 59 years since I married your father, no one has ever

called me Elsie Fag."


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    PLAYBOY: Is that an indication of how Armey and his colleagues talk about

you in private?


    FRANK: I don't think so. Maybe I'm kidding myself. I think Armey is

unusually boorish. But I really don't think there is much of that. I would hear

about it-there are gay staff people in their offices who are in the closet, and

I would hear it from them. Part of the reason it came out then was the

Republicans were particularly mad at me during that period. They had taken over

and were running the House. A lot of Democrats were discouraged to find

themselves in the minority. A lot of my colleagues had never been in the

minority before. But I've been a minority all my life. I'm gay, Jewish and

left-handed. I'm used to it. So I was more visible as one of their opponents,

and they found me particularly obnoxious.


    PLAYBOY: As the first openly gay congressperson, you drew a lot of attention

to gay issues. One was gays in the military. Do you feel Clinton sold out the

gay community in his compromise?


    FRANK: No, because he got through as much as he could have at the time. I

was against the don't-ask-don't-tell policy, but it wasn't his preference,



                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    PLAYBOY: Didn't you help make the compromise?


    FRANK: No. I voted against it. Sam Nunn first came up with a version of the

policy. I presented an alternative version that was rejected. The villains in

this are Sam Nunn and Colin Powell. Powell wouldn't go along with anything



    PLAYBOY: What were you pushing?


    FRANK: I would have accepted a policy that says, "You won't talk about being

gay while you are on duty, but when you are off duty it is not a problem. If

somebody finds out, it's none of his business." The policy they adopted is not a

very good one. What's even worse is that the military has been abusive of the

policy. They hate it. They think it goes too far, though it doesn't go nearly

far enough. Clinton has been so afraid of the military that he won't enforce it.

He lets them get away with abusing people.


    PLAYBOY: Is it just a matter of time before that changes?


    FRANK: Nothing is automatic. It's a matter of our mobilizing politically.



                              Playboy July 1, 1999                              


    PLAYBOY: Meanwhile, there seems to be less, not more, tolerance of gays. A

survey showed that homophobia is on the rise among teenagers. Also, there has

been a spate of hate crimes against gays.


    FRANK: What we need to do is fully support secondary schools teaching that

prejudice-any prejudice-is wrong and that you don't beat people up because you

don't like them. The two thugs who murdered Matthew Shepard were sadly just a

few years out of high school, 21-year-old pieces of shit. Kids have to be

educated about tolerance-of different races, sexual orientation, whatever.


    PLAYBOY: Did you take it as a personal affront when the Republicans pushed

through the Defense of Marriage Act, which essentially prohibits same-sex



    FRANK: Of course. When Henry Hyde's marital affairs were revealed, I said to

him, "I agree with those who say that this isn't relevant as far as the

impeachment is concerned. But it is as far as Doma is concerned." Given his

prominence as committee chairman in pressing Doma and arguing to me that gay

marriages violate the sacrosanct institution of marriage, I think there was

justification in what I said. They are arguing that legally acknowledging gay

unions will undermine conventional marriages. It's nonsense. They're saying I

can't get married. They're saying that my ability to marry another man somehow


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


jeopardizes heterosexual marriage. Then they go out and cheat on their wives.

That doesn't jeopardize heterosexual marriage? So there's some reconciling to



    PLAYBOY: When you confronted Hyde, how did he respond?


    FRANK: He said, "It's complicated. I understand your point." But we'll see

what happens.


    PLAYBOY: What can you do?


    FRANK: The vicious part of Doma says that if a state recognizes same-sex

marriage, the federal government will not honor it. So if and when a state

recognizes gay marriage, I will try to push through legislation that challenges

the federal government's stand. It will be a state's-right argument-that it's

not up to the federal government. It will also be challenged in court.


    PLAYBOY: What do you think is behind the right wing's homophobia?


    FRANK: I think it is a vestige of religious influence. Beyond them, however,

Americans take a generally pro-gay position, though not yet on marriage. If you

ask the public, "Should you be fired because you are gay?" they say, "Of


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


course not." Knowing that, when the bigots try to kill legislation that

prohibits discrimination, they say, "Gays already are protected. Everyone is

protected. Gays are looking for special rights." They get support that way, but

it's nonsense. If the question were, "Should people be able to have recognition

of the fact that they love someone else and legally share rights with them?" you

would get a yes. I think everyone should have the same rights and anyone being

discriminated against should have special protection. Doma meanwhile was mostly

political. Hawaii was debating same-sex marriage and some gay groups said, "If

Hawaii allows it, we're going to use the U.S. Constitution to argue that every

state must allow it." It isn't good constitutional law, but it gave the

Republicans a plausible argument that a decision in Hawaii to allow gay

marriages was going to lead to gay marriages everywhere in America. Hawaii

unfortunately didn't go through with it, but it helped the right-wingers push

the Defense of Marriage Act. Republicans saw a political wedge issue. They

proposed Doma in 1996 and brought it to a vote. They figured they were going to

make Clinton either sign the bill and piss off gay people or veto the bill and

piss off everybody else. It was political. Completely.


    PLAYBOY: After serving as long as you have in this House, are you less

idealistic and more pragmatic?



                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: I'm no different now. And I reject the idea that pragmatism and

idealism are opposed. The more idealistic you are, the more pragmatic you should

be. The more you care about your values, the more you are morally obligated to

get them implemented. It is not always easy to figure out how, but you have to

try: You try to reconcile your ideals and the real world.


    PLAYBOY: Do you have a plan for the next election? Do you see yourself

running for a different office, or will you run again for Congress?


    FRANK: I am going to run again. The only other office I would run for would

be the Senate, and there are already two very good senators from Massachusetts.

I'm 59 years old, rather late in life to be picking a new job. I expect to spend

the next 15 or so years at this job and move on to retirement.


    PLAYBOY: Does it get tedious, or is it still interesting?


    FRANK: It is about as tedious as anything else. Every job has elements of

tedium, but on the whole it is still very exciting.


    PLAYBOY: In general, do you find that your congressional colleagues are an

impressive group? Are the American people well represented?


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    FRANK: Absolutely, at least in terms of general intelligence. I served in

the state legislature for eight years and saw that the people who left the state

legislature and went to Congress tended to be the people you would want to see

do so. Holding values constant, I think people are well represented. There are

some notable exceptions, but that's inevitable.


    PLAYBOY: We assume you are referring to the congressmen you refer to as

"rabid Republicans." Do you include Hyde in that group?


    FRANK: Henry was especially dogged in the impeachment, but I think he

convinced himself. He had the Bridge on the River Kwai syndrome. He probably

didn't want the job at first, but he got it and was a good general.


    PLAYBOY: You've already indicated your dislike of Bob Barr. You once said

that you would douse the flames if he were on fire but would regret it



    FRANK: There's an old joke about a little Jewish boy in Russia. He sees a

man drowning and jumps in and saves him. The guy says, "Son, you have just saved

the czar. I am going to give you a wish. What would you like?" The boy answers,

"My wish is that you never tell anybody I saved you. If my parents find out I

saved the czar, they will kill me." So I would save Barr out of duty but


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


wouldn't like doing it. He is a terrible influence. He's a mean and hateful man.

He has consorted with racists. He seems to be a man whose primary interest in

life is to use official power to make other people's lives miserable. Barr is

part of the fringes who believe that they are obligated to impose their private

choices on other people. Religion is conceived as a wonderful thing and it can

be a source of great love and good. But some people use it to make other

people's lives miserable. Religion becomes a stick with which you beat other

people. There are fringes throughout the world, the Haredim in Israel, Islamic

fundamentalists, fundamentalist Protestants and Catholics, the Hindus and the

BJP in India who tear down mosques and burn Christians. I don't understand why

people can't validate their own beliefs without victimizing other people. I just

don't understand it. I don't understand what motivates a straight person to make

as his or her major political goal to deny the rights of gay people. I don't

understand why someone would worry about what movies the rest of us see, what we

read. In the case of forcing children to pray in school, it's not about wanting

a child to be allowed to pray in school if he wants to-a child can do that now.

They want prayer in schools because they think everyone should be forced to

pray. They feel that if you leave it to the average citizen, he won't pray. So

they want to use the public school mechanism to force kids to be more religious

than their parents want them to be. I don't understand that impulse. It's



                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    PLAYBOY: Do you at least understand the view of the extreme right? Reagan

and the Moral Majority bemoan what they see as the moral degradation of the

country. Clinton is just the most prominent example.


    FRANK: Absolutely. And here was their chance to do something about it.

Clinton was a scapegoat. They truly hate what is happening to America. They went

to sleep in a painting by Norman Rockwell and woke up in a Hieronymus Bosch.

Instead of nice, clean-cut, well-defined figures of Americans, they saw


   a nation of people writhing and squirming in pain: People are getting

abortions, they are tolerating homosexuality, people of many races are mixing,

there's salacious material on television, people who aren't religious are making

fun of religion. Culturally, these conservatives are losing the country, and

they absolutely hate it. They can't believe the public really disagrees with

them, though, because their roots are deeply populist. So they need an

explanation. They have to blame something or someone. And that person is the

Wizard, Bill Clinton. They really believe that Bill Clinton, with Hillary

helping him-Hillary, who represents everything they dislike in a woman,

including being a forgiving wife-is stealing America. With his cleverness and

the Clintons' alliance with the media moguls who are shallow and corrupt, they

are stealing America. They really believe Bill and Hillary have temporarily

bewitched the American people. And they believe that if they could have gotten


                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


rid of Bill Clinton, they could have had their country back. They didn't really

want to impeach Bill Clinton: They wanted to drive a stake through his heart.


    PLAYBOY: If Clinton had not provided the opportunity-with his relationship

with Monica Lewinsky-would it have been someone else?


    FRANK: Maybe, though they wanted Clinton badly. Clinton slipped through in

1992, but the Republicans blame George Bush for that. They say, "Bush was sort

of namby-pamby." The true believers never accept defeat as a repudiation of

their ideas. It is always that their ideas weren't presented with enough

authority. The left does it, too. They thought that if George McGovern hadn't

compromised on amnesty and abortion he would have won the presidency. The right

thought Bush was just weak. In 1994, however, when the Republicans won big, they

thought it showed where America really was. Yet in spite of winning big, they

accomplished little of their agenda. And that was blamed on Clinton. The scandal

erupted and they thought they had him. They were rubbing their hands together.

That he survived it makes them hate Clinton more than ever: "The son of a bitch

got away with it." Once again, the extreme right doesn't see it as a repudiation

of its values. But that's exactly what it was. The American people spoke. In

2000, they will speak again.



                              Playboy July 1, 1999                             


    PLAYBOY: One last question: What exactly does a congressman do?


    FRANK: Two things. First, we try to implement a set of values through the

federal government. In my case, I want to work for more fairness in our society.

But whatever your values, you're trying to affect public policy to bring things

closer to the way you think they should be. Second, you're an advocate for the

specific concerns of the people you represent. Whatever it takes, you want to

make sure that people aren't treated unfairly by bureaucracy and that they get

their fair share. That's the job-pushing your values and protecting the people

you represent. It may sound corny, but it's really trying to make the world

better. That's what it's all about. If you're not here to try to make this a

better world, you have no business being here.