Barney Frank Vs. The Dining Room Table

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POLITICS SEPTEMBER 16, 2010

Barney Frank Vs. The Dining Room Table

“Birth of a political career” was not the first phrase that came to mind when Lyndon LaRouche disciple Rachel Brown got upbraided by Barney Frank last year. Brown, you’ll remember, became briefly Internet-famous thanks to her performance at a town hall meeting in Dartmouth, Massachusetts, where she held up a photo of Obama with a Hitler moustache and harangued Frank about Obamacare. “Why do you continue to support a Nazi policy, as Obama has expressly supported this policy,” she asked Frank. “Why are you supporting it?”

For the quick-witted, acerbic Frank, it was a hanging curveball over the fat part of the plate. “When you ask me that question,” the Congressman said, “I am gonna revert to my ethnic heritage and answer your question with a question: On what planet do you spend most of your time?” He went on to say that “it is a tribute to the First Amendment that this kind of vile, contemptible nonsense is so freely propagated.” Then, the line that spread across the Internet faster than photos of a Lady Gaga meat-outfit: “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.”

At that very moment—when Frank was taking her to the woodshed—Brown realized what she had to do: knock the 14-time incumbent out of office. “I decided that this guy’s incompetent,” she told me Tuesday, which was primary day. “He’s immoral, he’s choosing to do the wrong thing consciously.”

She ran as a Democrat, but her platform, not surprisingly, was mostly lifted from Lyndon LaRouche’s ideas, and therefore reads as a hodgepodge of crackpottery and science-fiction ideas laid atop a foundation of standard big-government liberalism.

It’s a strange brew, and the best way to describe her ideas might be as a sort of ping-pong game in which one side is a reasonable-sounding FDR liberal and the other is a conspiracy-minded speed freak. Ping: We need to reinvest in American infrastructure. Pong: Yes, and that infrastructure must include a tunnel under the Bering Straight connecting the U.S. and Russia. Ping: We need to bring back Glass-Steagall. Pong: Yes, because that will help bring us out from under the heel of the British Empire, which to this day controls our financial system. Ping: We must invest in scientific research. Pong: Yes, and that will help us achieve our goal of setting up a manned colony on Mars, using the moon as a base camp and helium-3 fueling station along the way. (None of these positions are made up or exaggerated, by the way.)

All of this made Brown an easy target during the campaign. “I am also not for colonizing Mars, as my primary opponent is” was a particularly choice line from Frank during their debate two Tuesdays ago. His campaign also sent out a mailer that read “How Barney’s opponent sees the world” with a picture of the moon under it, which referenced LaRouche’s “extreme, odd, and hateful beliefs.” (It’s hard to know where to begin on that front.)

But in our age of incoherent keep-your-government-hands-off-my-Medicare Tea Party activism, there was something intriguing about the 29-year-old’s big-government insurgency campaign. Brown is new to both politics and Massachusetts—she had first encountered LaRouche PAC during her time as a community college student in Washington state, and after working for the movement out West, said she had moved to Massachusetts a year and a half prior to take up the good fight here—but, unlike most Tea Partiers, she had a full-blown theory of the world, a comprehensive take on How Things Work, and though it was wracked with paranoia (maybe because it was wracked with paranoia) I couldn’t help but be fascinated.

So I asked if I could hang out with her on primary day. And what I got was not the angry, Hitler-invoking woman from the YouTube video, but rather a quietly earnest true believer whose beliefs I could follow ... to a point. She told me about the importance of a national bank, about how Frank hadn’t done enough to help struggling homeowners, about what it means that, thanks to budget cuts, Detroit can no longer fight its own fires. I’d find myself nodding along for a sentence or two—until she started in about NAWAPA or how Obamacare will let grandma die (it’s depressing that the stupidest rumor of the past couple years seems to have the most traction across the political spectrum). She was friendly and straightforward and energetic, and throughout my time with her I kept forgetting that I was talking to someone who fervently believes Obama is controlled by powerful British puppeteers.

Brown was eager to get her message out on Tuesday, which by afternoon had turned into a postcard-perfect late-summer Southern New England day. I met with her shortly after she pulled up to the town common in Taunton, a working-class town 40 miles south of Boston, about halfway down the length of a congressional district which is shaped a bit like Massachusetts itself.

Brown’s plan for the day was to drive around the district in a sound car, playing music and talking to voters. The sound car was crafted from a scuffed-up green Jeep 4x4 a New Hampshire LaRouchie had offered for the occasion. The A-frame mounted on top featured a poster with a picture of her that encouraged the residents of the 4th District to “DESTROY THE BRITISH EMPIRE, IMPEACH BARACK OBAMA!” A smaller, slightly lower-key sign on a rear window had a less urgent demand: “RESTORE GLASS-STEAGALL.”

As we set out with Scott Mooney, another LaRouchie, in the driver’s seat, Brown explained that she wasn’t worried about her chances in a district that had shown itself to be overwhelmingly Frank-friendly for decades. “There’s something about Americans which is that we may let things get bad, but we tend to resist fascism,” she said. “We tend to not allow fascism at the last moment. So, people are smelling that.”

Brown, meanwhile, was trying to sniff out a sense of voter turnout. City Hall was closed due to construction. A woman inside the local police station directed us to a school that was serving as a temporary town government office, where someone else directed us to a firehouse polling place staffed by four older ladies and a bored looking Taunton cop. They told us that turnout had been extremely low, and, sure enough, there was not a voter to be found. “It might pick up when people get out of work,” one of them said. “It might, and it might not.”

Frustrated but not sunk, Brown decided to turn to her secret weapon: the power of song. Earlier she had told me that she and a few other LaRouchies had started the Rachel Brown for Congress Chorus, and had been performing free concerts in Brookline on Fridays and Saturdays. “It gets to something in their brain which is higher than their brain,” she explained.

So we cruised the streets of Taunton blasting a few of their songs. First, and arguably least appropriately, the Negro spiritual “Oh, Freedom.” Then some spoof songs, like one sung to the tune of “Oh! Susannah” (“Bail-out Barney/oh don’t you lie to me/’Cuz you sank the country with your British bailout policy”). When, accidentally or not, we started slowly rolling through Fairfax Gardens, rough housing projects on the western side of town that looked to be mostly black and Latino, and “Oh, Freedom” came back on, there were some thumbs down and plenty of quizzical looks from the people soaking up the weather outside. But on the bright side, the guy with the scorpion tattoo on his shoulder who came up to the truck was very friendly, and one of the two kids who approached the jeep with scorpion-guy said “I’ll tell my mom to vote for you” as we left.

Then, as we drove past Pepperoni’s Pizza and back toward the common, Brown began talking to Taunton's voters directly via the jeep’s PA system. Here was where the schizophrenia of her LaRouchism came through most clearly, the generally well-founded complaints about the economy and the concentration of power intermixed with conspiracy theorizing that would make Mulder and Scully blush—the two often coexisting side-by-side in consecutive sentences.

“Why do we have no jobs and are giving more money to Wall Street?” she asked the people of Taunton. “‘Cuz Barney Frank’s in office and Obama works for the British empire.”

Brown ended up losing, of course (though she did score a respectable quarter of the vote in Taunton), and the jokes at her expense continued. But as she drove away in her sound truck after dropping me off at the common, I felt a twinge of sympathy for her. She certainly had more to say than a dining room table. And while her LaRouchie ideas are crazy and in some ways dangerous, she obviously cares about people and wants to get them back to work and keep them in their houses. So what if some of those houses’ backyards would open out onto Olympus Mons?

Jesse Singal writes for The Boston Globe‘s opinion pages. He can be reached at jsingal [at] globe.com. His last piece for tnr.com was about Dr. Laura.

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posted in: politics, boston, dartmouth, detroit, youtube, russia, barack obama, barney frank, jesse singal, rachel brown, scott mooney, tea partiers, jeep, jeep 4x4, massachusetts, new hampshire, medicare, new england

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