Opinion: Barney: I don’t love you, you don’t love me


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It may not rank with Winston Churchill’s response to Lady Astor, but Rep. Barney Frank’s broadside today -- launched at a protester carrying a sign depicting President Obama with a Hitler mustache -- was about as entertaining as comebacks come in today’s political scene.

‘On what planet do you spend most of your time?’ Frank asked during an appearance to discuss health care reform at a Massachussetts senior center, in answer to a woman who asked him why he supports a ‘Nazi’ effort to extend health coverage to all Americans. If Frank had ended with just this zippy one-liner it would have made a nice clip for ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,’ but there was more: ‘Ma’am, trying to have a conversation with you would be like trying to argue with a dining-room table. I have no interest in doing it.’ Commenting on her Hitler sign, he noted that it was ‘a tribute to the 1st Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated.’


With similar town hall meetings across the country being interrupted by raucous protesters who can’t seem to decide whether Obama is a Nazi or a socialist (and clearly failing to understand the meaning of either), this is the kind of response that has doubtless occurred to many reform advocates, but it took the famously scrappy Frank to rip away the filter between his thoughts and his vocal chords.

Is that a good thing? The criticism of pro-reform Democrats is that their wonky, Spock-like approach to this complex issue has been undermined by conservative activists whose simple, emotionally charged slogans are a lot easier to understand than the nuances of the public insurance option. Put another way, the Democrats see the reform movement as a policy debate, while Republicans see it as a political slug-fest. Frank may be the first Democrat to seriously slug back. That will no doubt thrill his Democratic base, but in such a close political battle the stances of people on the left and right don’t matter as much as those in the middle. And rudely insulting a protester at a senior center probably isn’t the best way to win hearts and minds in the heartland.

-- Dan Turner