Barney Frank announced yesterdaythat he will be retiring from Congress after 16 terms. Heprobably will be remembered for three things, unfortunately notin order of importance. First, for being an out-of-the-closet gay man at a timewhen there weren’t any others holding national elected office.(Frank was first elected in 1980 and came out in 1987.) Second,for being the co-author of the Dodd-Frank financial reform bill,passed in response to the near collapse of the nation’sfinancial system in 2008. Dodd-Frank will either save us from anew financial catastrophe or bring one on, depending on whom youtalk to. We hold something closer to the former view. Third, but not least, Frank will be remembered as theauthor of some of the great wisecracks in the history ofAmerican politics, including his remark that anti-abortionRepublicans believe life begins at conception and ends at birth.Other barbs were aimed at his nemesis, Newt Gingrich. At thenews conference announcing his retirement, Frank said he didn’tthink he’d led a good enough life to see Gingrich win theRepublican nomination for president, but he still had hopes. Nevertheless, it’s unavoidably poignant that Frank hasannounced his retirement at the same moment that Gingrich isenjoying his 15 minutes — or more? — as a front-runningpresidential candidate. There aren’t many characters left in American politics, atleast at the national level. In labeling Frank a character, weintend no insult. The label, when applied to a politician, canbe a double-edged compliment that often carries the patronizingsuggestion of unseriousness; a self-important blow-hard,perhaps, or a self-styled posturer. But this needn’t be. Thelate Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York was acharacter, although he wrote books that transformed the debateon a dauntingly wide range of subjects. (Frank, by contrast, hasan unfinished Ph.D. thesis awaiting him at Harvard. Also, he isa hard-working legislator, which Moynihan was not.) Eccentricity of dress helps to identify a character, thoughthis can include the suspiciously dapper, like Moynihan, or thedeterminedly sloppy, like Frank, his shirttails hanging out andglasses perched at a jaunty angle. A bizarre accent is alsouseful, be it Moynihan’s (straight out of Oxbridge, but pickedup, somehow, in the slums of Hell’s Kitchen in Manhattan) orFrank’s (learned in New Jersey and never unlearned despitedecades in Massachusetts). But the essential quality ofcharacters is that they live their own lives and say what’s ontheir minds, and they don’t especially care that other peoplemay disagree (a possibility that terrifies most politicians). Barney Frank is just such a character, although he nevergot the credit he deserved for being willing to work with theother side. He retires with the satisfaction of knowing not onlythat he has many friends in both parties, but also that he iscordially disliked by some of the worst people in politics. To contact the Bloomberg View editorial board:.