Bush's First 100 Days: Barney Frank

Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., has served in the House since 1980.

Thursday, March 8, 2001

What did you make of the so-called charm offensive, this sort of personality-driven approach?

Well, it was very intelligent. The way was set for him by the media, frankly. The media, increasingly, overdoes the story. The media set the stage for the charm offensive by, in December, arguing that there was going to be chaos, that the bitterness had gotten out of control.

Now it was obvious that it wasn't, but particularly in the vacuum that occurred in public policy in December when nothing is happening governmentally, the media had people ready to think that we were going to have armed bands clashing near the Capitol.

So when none of that happened, the president was a great beneficiary, and just as people overwrote and overtalked about the chaos that was coming, you know, they overwrote and overtalked the charm offensive.

People always like a new president. Remember Jimmy Carter walking down Pennsylvania Avenue, et cetera? I mean, Gerald Ford making his own English muffin. These things are very ephemeral, they fill the vacuum of no public policy, and they have zero impact, either on public policy or on the next election.

So, yes, given the limited effect they had, the president did them reasonably well, but they're very ephemeral.

The reaching out to the Black Caucus, having them up again, perhaps a gesture better made than unmade, but, still, a pretty chilly reaction from the Caucus members afterwards.

Well, we're adults who don't live by gestures. Yes, it's important for people to be pleasant to each other, but I would hope people wouldn't want us governing by gestures. Do people really think we should be changing our positions on deeply-held public policy positions because of slam [ph] or handshake? And by the way, remember, that on the president's part, it has almost all been unilateral.

That is, what he has said is I will be nice to you. Will you support my program. And I think we're perfectly prepared to say, well, I tell you what — we'll even be nicer to you if you support our program, with the exception of vouchers, where the president has accepted defeat, in effect.

The charm offensive consists of his saying that he would be happy if we supported his program. Frankly, we knew that. So, yes, it is useful not to have people snarling at each other, but it's really substantially irrelevant to the public policy process.

Reporters, critics, Democrats, pointing to this conclave outside of Pittsburgh as, as showing both the benefits and the limitations of this kind personal — personality-driven approach. You had Nancy Pelosi really pressing him on the Mexico City policy and getting less than clear answers on that. What was, what was your take on that?

Precisely that the president is much more comfortable in the personal relationships than in answering the questions. He was uncomfortable answering the questions. The questions weren't obscure, and they frankly confirmed the view of several of us, namely that he's — it's not just that he's not well-prepared. He's not a man who is given to a lot of thought about these issues.

Where he's had a chance to really prepare, taxes and education, he's able to talk, but even there his answers were, "Well, this is what I ran on." So, frankly, it was not an impressive performance in, in that sense.

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