Power to the Students: Barney Frank Visits NuVu

Barney Frank

Post written by Madeleine Cary (current Beaver & NuVu student) and was originally posted on the NuVu blog.

Not many children come home from school and ask their parents: “What do you think I should I ask Barney Frank about tomorrow?” But then again, NuVu is not any school–it is a laboratory of learning and exploration situated near the MIT campus. On a rainy morning in May, students took time off from their investigations–animating comic books and analyzing digital data, to name two– to hear the Congressman speak. After a short briefing from the instructors, and some fidgeting by a local camera crew, Barney Frank entered the large and airy studio. He informed us that instead of a stump speech or boiler-plate platitudes, he really wanted to talk about what we were interested in, and wanted to ensure we were engaged, not only in the give-and-take he proposed for our time together, but in the entire political process to which he has devoted over thirty years. I was called upon to ask my question first: “Given the recent resignation of Romney’s foreign policy advisor, due to pressure from the Conservative right over the fact that he is gay, do you think that President Obama will highlight the fact that this election is, as importantly, about civil liberties as it is about the economy?”

Madeleine Cary taking notes on Congressman Barney Frank’s responses to various questions


Because of the economy, Frank said, voters appear less concerned about civil liberties. Of course, Democrats seem to care more about these issues and can therefore appeal to a growing cohort of open-minded young people, whom he says will make the difference in the general election. “Twenty years ago, conservatives argued that {homosexuality} was a choice. This has been a wholly discredited theory.” In Mitt Romney’s case, Frank added, the candidate asked his former foreign policy advisor to “be quiet” about the fact he was gay, so the campaign would not be “ashamed” of him. Frank expressed surprise that the man was appointed at all, as Romney directly appeals to Anti-LGBT voters across the Republican political spectrum.

NuVu students listening to Congressman Frank


The conversation then shifted to the price of education. This is a tricky topic, Frank admitted, especially with the economy in the shape that it’s in. A student asked about school loans that often leave the recipient in crushing debt, and if there was anything that could be done to prevent this. The answer was ‘yes’, and that Frank had actually passed a bill to reduce the interest rate on loans. Part of the problem, he said, is that there is too much inequality. There are a fraction of people who do not need the loans, and then there are people who rely on student loans to go to school and can’t afford to pay them back. This is known as the spiral. According to Barney Frank, there are several things the government could do to combat this problem. First, they could implement a system in which the amount one pays for student loans is in proportion to their first salary. This, he says, would allow more people to pursue the career of their choice rather than one they take to get out of debt. Second, this country could scale back military spending, and put more money into community colleges. This way, more and more young people would enroll in classes, then go on to earn a higher salary, thus helping bridge the income gap.

Emily Lynch asks the Congressman about rising education loans


The final topic of the morning was on the issue of bipartisanship. Frank’s response to the inquiry about whether it was possible to, in effect, have a no-party system, which insisted upon cooperation and compromise was swift and sharp: “Do you think I could sit down with Rick Santorum and Michele Bachmann and put our differences on federal spending, women’s rights and gender equality aside? No, they’re nuts!.”

This reporter felt it was refreshing and interesting to listen to a politician who clearly enjoyed speaking his mind. Although part of his honesty is likely because he does not need to worry about his re-election, I know from past elections and events that Barney Frank has rarely hesitated to tell anyone exactly what he thinks. It has gotten him into some trouble politically, but I feel that he is more respected and admired for staying true to himself and the principles in which he believes.

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