An open letter to Joe Holley of the Washington Post:
Joe. Word. So in reading your obituary of Ted Kennedy -- an overall fine piece on a senator’s senator -- I was struck by one piece of what seemed like casual hyperbole, in this line: "Kennedy served in the Senate through five of the most dramatic decades of the nation's history."
With all respect, that seems a bit of a bias toward the recent. I understand, though. I’m partial to the 1980s, because of Transformers toys, New Order, the fall of communism, “Amadeus,” my birth, Tetris, and 1984 not turning out like 1984. Great. For other drama, there’s the crack epidemic, “E.T.,” our bully incursions into Latin America … but would we call this one of the most dramatic decades in U.S. history? Nah. Bottom half.
What about the '90s? We enjoyed a splendid little war in Iraq, a comparatively pissant World Trade Center attack, Rodney King riots, Oklahoma City bombing, Super Nintendo and a president whose predilection for chubby intern BJs allowed his enemies to grind the government to a standstill. Granted, we’ll all remember where we were the day we returned the Panama Canal to Panama. But could any reasonable person label this one of the most dramatic decades in U.S. history? Not unless you’re inclined to label Sunday brunch one of the most dramatic meals of the week.
Now, the '60s were about as helter-skelter as a decade gets in this country, especially for Ted Kennedy: both his brothers were assassinated, he was hurt in a plane crash that kills the pilot, and he drove a car off a bridge that killed his passenger and his presidential hopes. And the small matters of the stolen 2000 election, 9/11, Afghanistan, the less-splendid and much larger war in Iraq, the Boston Red Sox winning World Series again, worldwide financial meltdown, the battle over torture as a national policy, etc., et al, have enshrined the ‘00s as one your grandkids will ask you about. But the '70s (Viet Nam, Kent State, Bob Barker starting on “The Price is Right,” Watergate, Roe v. Wade, the Immaculate Reception) are only a middling decade as well. Top half, maybe.
All of which leads us to ask, if the past five decades are really five of the most dramatic in U.S. history, how many of them would make your list of the top five most dramatic decades? Let’s assume drama is at its peak when we wonder whether a country will survive a given time in any recognizable form, followed next by the creation of institutions or characteristics that go on to define the country. Here, then, is my list, in chronological order:
From 1776-89 (cheating, perhaps, but only sensible)
The 1840s, 1870s, 1900s, 1930s and in all likelihood the 2000s have got to follow in the conversation. Kennedy by that admittedly haphazard calculation, then, served in two of the 10 most dramatic decades in the country’s lifespan. Just because we’re here now doesn’t make this the most interesting time to be in history, merely the most convenient.
A setrec will not be necessary.