Frank, along with Senator Chris Dodd, is the principal author of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Legislation, which Democrats argue is critically important for regulating Wall Street and financial markets.
It is also one of the key arguments Democrats make for why they should be reelected, both at the Congressional and Presidential levels this year. That is, that the reforms that Frank and his colleague Senator Chris Dodd offered took an out of control financial system and offered the prospect of leveling the playing field so that the perceived unfairness of the benefits Wall Street executives and corporate executives get will be in large measure, moderated-- if not eliminated.
The Act, and Barney Frank's advocacy of it, is critically important in that it provides regulation of hedge funds, enhances reporting requirements for public companies-- particularly with regard to CEO compensation, and works to ensure access to credit for consumers. At a time when fairness is the key issue in much of the commentary on the left, the role of Barney Frank and his legislation is absolutely critical to the Democrats argument for 2012.
Moreover, and equally important, Frank is one the smartest and most facile members of Congress, and his retirement will be a huge loss for the Democrats in terms of pushing the argument that the party can readdress the balance of financial and economic interest in the country.
Furthermore, Frank is probably one of the wittiest and most thoughtful members of Congress, and his voice will almost certainly be missed in the Democratic Caucus.
The larger issue is that the nature of the Democratic party is changing. The liberal lions of the past-- people who possess transcendent intellect and political influence, like Frank-- are leaving the scene and being replaced by people who, whatever one might think of their political views, are not of the same stature, intellect and ability.
In Frank, the Democrats are losing an advocate who has changed American policy, provided intellectual heft for the Democrats, and has been at the center of efforts to respond both retrospectively and proactively to the sentiments that have driven the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I have known Barney Frank personally since my days as an undergraduate at Harvard. I have always found him to be one of the smartest, most able members of Congress. We certainly have never been close, but it would be a mistake not to recognize his role in shaping and formulating Democratic policy and Democratic positions.
The real question now is what role he will play in the reelection of President Obama and Democrats in the House and Senate. It might tempt some to believe that Frank will go quietly into the night, but given his history, his rhetorical skill, and his influence on events and policy, that is probably wrong.
At 71, Frank has at least 10, if not 15 years of active service left, and what he does, what he says, and what role he plays in the 2012 campaign could make a huge difference to Democratic fortunes.
Douglas E. Schoen is a political strategist and Fox News contributor. His most recent book is "Mad as Hell: How the Tea Party Movement is Fundamentally Remaking Our Two-Party System" published by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins.