Long before The Sopranos and Jersey Shore introduced the nation to the ripe effusions of the New Jersey personality, voters in and around greater Boston had accepted Barney Frank as one of the more unusual players in the political game.
First as a cigar-chomping aide to Boston Mayor Kevin White, then as a state representative for the Back Bay and Beacon Hill, and finally as a 16-term congressman, Bayonne-born Frank drove conservatives crazy, sometimes tried the patience of moderates, and usually thrilled progressives.
Republicans repeatedly tried to fry Frank as a double-yolked, Harvard-educated egghead. But that didn't seem to faze blue-collar Democrats and suburban independents, the twin pillars of his success.
Style aside, Frank walked the same legislative line as two other late lunch-bucket Democrats, Speaker of the House Tip O'Neill of Cambridge and Congressman Joe Moakley of South Boston.
This, more than anything else, was the secret of Frank's electoral success.
Like many with long public careers, Frank enjoyed his triumphs and suffered his tribulations. He made history as the first member of congress to say that he was gay. His personal life was, for a bit, a mess. But whatever the headlines, his constituents stood by him. Frank's commitment to their long-term best interests ensured his re-election.
Now, at the age of 71, Frank has said that he is retiring at the end of this term.
Grace has never been a strong point with Frank. His kvetching about his redrawn district does him, as a schoolmarm might say, a disservice. Most political pros have predicted that, if Frank ran, he would've won after a nasty fight.
The question is, what would Frank have won after that? Two more years in the minority is the most likely answer. Implicit in Frank's exit is his judgment that the Democrats will not recapture the House of Representatives. And that is an extremely sobering political indicator.
The reality that the Republicans will likely still control the House and have a shot at taking the Senate underscores H.L. Mencken's observation that democracy is a system where the people get what they deserve — and they deserve to get it good and hard.
News that Frank is stepping aside has provided Republicans and conservative nut jobs with another opportunity to propagate the big lie that his strong support for affordable housing was the cause of our great economic meltdown.
This canard belongs on the shelf with other grand deceits, such as Saddam had weapons of mass destruction.
The financial implosion that triggered the ongoing international economic crisis was the fruit of common delusion, of bipartisan error. That Frank was less culpable than many other Democrats is, at this point, something of a footnote.
As former chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, his efforts to regulate mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae certainly warrant scrutiny. But the record shows that Freddie and Fannie followed economic trends, they did not set them. The rot, the putrification that caused the economic collapse, flowed from Wall Street, not Washington.
No one has done more than Frank to reset the nation's economic controls. His role in the conception, drafting, and passage of the Dodd-Frank reform bill should be recognized as a principled and practical attempt to roll back 30 years of bad financial policy.