National conservatives lost one of their favorite foils in August 2009 when Senator Edward M. Kennedy succumbed to brain cancer.
Today they lost another constant target, Representative Barney Frank, when the Newton Democrat announced he would not seek reelection next year.
“Barney Bails,” blared the afternoon headline on the Drudge Report, which tilts decidedly to the right.
Author Matt Drudge appended a yellow smiley face, as well as an accompanying piece with a tenuous link to Frank’s announcement: “Happy Days: Dow Surges,” read that headline.
Local Republicans, meanwhile, stepped up to take credit for the surprise announcement. It came nine months after Frank vowed to seek a 17th term next fall, and just two weeks after Democrats in the Legislature completed a redistricting plan that did not force Frank into a runoff against one of the his congressional colleagues.
Instead, he faced a likely rematch against Sean Bielat, a former Marine who gave Frank a stern challenge a year ago.
“It is clear that Congressman Frank was not looking forward to another hard-fought campaign after losing his gerrymandered district and spending nearly every penny he had in 2010,” said state GOP Executive Director Nate Little.
National conservatives have long ignored that fact that Massachusetts was overwhelmingly Republican into the 1950s.
The 1960 election of John F. Kennedy as president elevated the image of the state as a liberal Democratic bastion, a sentiment perpetuated nearly a half-century by his youngest brother — Ted Kennedy — and refreshed in the national consciousness by the 1988 presidential campaign of former Governor Michael S. Dukakis.
Yet Dukakis was replaced as governor by William F. Weld, the first of four consecutive Republican governors to hold the Corner Office over a 16-year span.
The most recent of those chief executives, Mitt Romney, decided against seeking a second term in 2006 so he could run for president in 2008. He’s now considered a frontrunner for the GOP’s 2012 presidential nomination.
In addition, a little-known Massachusetts state senator, Scott Brown, helped the Republicans regain Kennedy’s seat in January 2010 — allowing them to prevent a cloture vote in the chamber and to filibuster legislation not to the party’s liking.
Yet Democrats saw Frank as a throwback, one in Kennedy’s mold: brash and unapologetic about his politics.
They lamented his departure from Congress as much as Republicans saluted it.
“Barney’s passion and his quick wit will be missed in the halls of Congress, and Michelle and I join the people of the Bay State in thanking him for his years of service,” said President Obama.
Nancy Pelosi, the former House speaker and now the chamber’s minority leader, said in her own statement: “Congressman Barney Frank is an exceptional legislator, a trusted advisor and confidante, and a champion for his district and his state. His extraordinary career in public office will leave a lasting legacy on behalf of justice, human rights, consumer protection, affordable housing, and better economic opportunity for all Americans.”
Gay rights groups were especially mournful. Frank was among the first openly gay members of Congress.
MassEquality Executive Director Kara Suffredini said: “Congressman Barney Frank is a national leader and his decision to retire, while understandable, will be a tremendous loss not just for residents of the Commonwealth, but for the country. Congressman Frank’s contributions span the important issues of the day, and his leadership on LGBT causes has been particularly critical.”
Rea Carey, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, said: “As an openly gay member of Congress for nearly a quarter century, Barney Frank has made his mark on history. Yet his legacy is much more than that — for 30 years, he has dedicated himself to bettering the lives of the people he serves, and the country he serves. His voice — often loud and uncompromising — will be missed by many, including me.”
Glen Johnson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.