Aaron Schaffer, Photo Editor

On Oct. 12, former U.S. House of Representatives Congressma Barney Frank and New York University Law Professor Arthur R. Miller ’56 tackled political issues both past and present during Meliora Weekend’s annual Presidential Symposium, “Great Issues of the 21st Century.”

Alumni, students, and other Meliora Weekend guests filled Strong Auditorium Saturday afternoon for the 90-minute event. University Trustee, Hugo Sonneschein ’61 introduced the symposium, identifying Frank as a great representation of the intelligence needed for success in contemporary society: “always thinking, and a little wild.”

Miller then took the reins, acknowledging the origin of his and Frank’s relationship at Harvard Law School in 1974 — Miller as a professor, Frank as a student. The nostalgic moment was cut short, however, when Frank interrupted his ex-professor to check his buzzing cell phone, much to the amusement of the crowd.

Phone tucked away, Miller and Frank dove into the history of Frank’s career as a democratic representative in both the Massachusetts and U.S. House of Representatives as well as serving as House Financial Services Committee Chair and the first openly gay congressman to voluntarily “come out.”

Frank summarized his view on his sexual orientation: “I’m gay, but it’s no big deal,” comfortably answering Miller’s inquiry “Are you a happily married man?” with an affirmative “absolutely.” Frank chose to come out in 1987 after realizing that that the struggle to live a double life “publicly ambiguously… privately with a man” just “didn’t work.”

Frank noted that his initial election to Congress came as a surprise in 1981 when he ran “expecting to lose.” During his three-decade term in office — which ended intentionally in 2012 by a “worn out” Frank — the congressman become best known as an advocate for LGBT rights and executive accountability. Frank discussed his key role in the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and meditated on the corrupt executive bonus system he fought with his 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

Miller and Frank soon turned to the current government shut down, with Frank noting “Obama has never gotten the cooperation that [democrats] gave to Bush.” Miller pointed to republican senator Ted Cruz’s role in the congressional stand off, declaring: “Ted Cruz was my student: obviously I didn’t teach him a damn thing,” resulting in a round of applause from the audience.

“It’s affecting people in ways they don’t know… the longer it goes on the worse it gets” said Frank, who claimed that President Obama is “doing exactly right” under the circumstances. Frank closed the topic with his statement: “I think the Republicans will ultimately back down and raise the debt limit… they’re about to cave in.”
Before opening the floor for questions and concluding the symposium, Miller requested that Frank give some insight into congressional practices that people “don’t know about and should.” Frank answered with a discussion on voting, claiming that straying from party lines is often the result of conditional votes, promised only if “needed.” When Miller asked Frank if he missed this exciting congressional world, Frank smiled facetiously, admitting: “I wanted to be a senator… but on my own terms.”

Rudd is a member of the class of 2017.

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