The risks which banks were passing on to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were ultimately risks to the taxpayers. Although there was no formal guarantee to these enterprises, everybody knew that the federal government would always bail them out, if necessary, to keep them from failing. Everybody except Barney Frank.
"There is no guarantee," according Congressman Frank in 2003, "there is no explicit guarantee, there is no implicit guarantee, there is no wink-and-nod guarantee." Barney Frank is a master of rhetoric, who does not let the facts cramp his style.
Fast forward now to 2008, after the risky mortgages had led to huge numbers of defaults, dragging down Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and the financial markets in general -- and with them the whole economy.
Barney Frank was all over the media, pointing the finger of blame at everybody else. When financial analyst Maria Bartiromo asked Congressman Frank who was responsible for the financial crisis, he said, "right-wing Republicans." It so happens that conservatives were the loudest critics who had warned for years against the policies that Barney Frank pushed, but why let facts get in the way?
Ms. Bartiromo did not just accept whatever Barney Frank said. She said: "With all due respect, congressman, I saw videotapes of you saying in the past: 'Oh, let's open up the lending. The housing market is fine.'" His reply? "No, you didn't see any such tapes."
"I did. I saw them on TV," she said. But Barney Frank did not budge. He understood that a good offense is the best defense. He also understands that rewriting history this election year is his best bet for keeping his long political career alive.