REP. Barney Frank has got himself and his party and the Congress in trouble with the revelation that he hired a male prostitute as a personal aide who then set up shop in the lawmaker's home. Tawdry and prurient are among the adjectives that come to mind. The Massachusetts Democrat says he was trying to reform the other man and didn't know of the illegal activity being conducted in his Capitol Hill apartment. If that's true, he is still guilty of very bad judgment. He admits this in calling for a full investigation by the House ethics committee.
There are serious questions of professionalism and morality here, as well as the need to protect voters' trust. Elected figures, after all, do represent more than their job description. The challenge for Frank is to demonstrate that his public life has not been undermined by what many feel is a questionable lifestyle.
His colleagues must determine whether Frank's conduct violated House rules of conduct. It's up to his constituents (who reelected him overwhelmingly after he had revealed his homosexuality in 1987) to decide whether he is fit to represent them.
Frank has spent most of his adult life as an effective and articulate lawmaker - first in Massachusetts and then in Washington. He represents the liberal wing of his party, but conservatives also appreciate his debating style. It is worth noting that he has pushed for ethics reform in Congress and was among those voting to investigate charges of sexual misconduct against a fellow Democrat. Until now, in other words, his record as a conscientious lawmaker has been good. That can be said whether or not one agrees with particular positions.
If it turns out Barney Frank must step down, his background as a scholar and lawyer will offer other opportunities for public service. It's sad and unsettling that Congress faces yet another question of ethics among its members. It should move quickly and thoroughly to get to the bottom of the Frank affair.