Barney Frank’s memoir reminds me that we’re almost exact contemporaries – two white guys who’ve been watching a lot of the same stuff, in Boston and Washington, politics and culture, for 50 years, 1965 to 2015, a long, crazy and almost coherent season of American life. We’re putting a conversation here into a time capsule.
If we’d been born a century earlier, we’d be talking about the start of an awful war in Europe and remembering an awful Civil War here. Between us, we’d have spent up-close time with Lincoln, Mark Twain, R. W. Emerson and P. T. Barnum, Henry and William James, and probably Willy’s unruly student who became president, Teddy Roosevelt.
As it is, we’ve been face-to-face with M. L. King, LBJ and all the Kennedys, James Baldwin, David Halberstam, Norman Mailer and Gore Vidal, Dorothy Day and Margaret Marshall, Jackie Robinson and Bill Russell, Bill Bulger and Kevin White, Howie Carr and Tom Winship, Frank Sinatra and Yo-Yo Ma, Tip O’Neill and Newt Gingrich, Anthony Lewis and George McGovern, Walter Reuther and Nelson Rockefeller, Ralph Nader and Ross Perot. But we’re trying to think about history, not celebrity. I asked Barney to begin with a list – with room for disagreement – of the most over-rated figures of our time, and the most under-sung heroes of our own experience, famous or obscure. Barney – as is his wont – accentuates the positive.