Note: This is not meant to be "objective." I'm not going to name Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. They've gotten enough press, and I'll leave it to the official historians. These are the people in MY top ten and you can call me any manner of name you like as a result.
1) Betty Friedan. I met her one day on a parking lot in South Hampton with a couple of grandkids. She had more wrinkles than a clam. What I love about her is that she began what was definitely the most influencial ideological movement in my lifetime--feminism--and then at the end of her life denounced the ideologues and said they'd gone too far. She liked those grandkids. It's a matter of principle--you gotta luv Grandma Betty.
2) Robert Bly. He's not only one of the great poets of our age, but a true "cultural" leader. This is a seldom recognized yet highly esteemable contribution. He gave men back their balls after some hard times. My God, he took flack for it. They bombed his book THE SIBLING SOCIETY, which offers the best critique I know for this sad spectacle, namely, that Americans are no longer growing up--whether they are left, right, or center. He reminds us there's something that goes deeper than politics and it's called "culture." They refuse to name him poet laureate while guys he can write circles around keep getting the job. There is no justice.
3) Mahatma Gandhi, the "great soul." Yeah, I know he got plenty of press, but the man died for it, and today is in great disrepute with the very people he led. The Indians and Pakistanis want to bomb each other to hell. Without the idea of non-violence we are all lost. There would have been no Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, or anybody for that matter whose motto isn't "kill, kill, kill--revenge, revenge, revenge." At least there is now an "alternative in the wind" that a few flakes like me can point too.
4) Robert McNamara, another turncoat. The man sent thousands to their death in Viet Nam as a "technocrat" doing what his bosses told him. Then he fell silent for many years, had a burst of conscience, and had the courage to say he made a mistake at the end of his life. I hated him when I was a kid, but you gotta respect that. We all make mistakes, and self-rightousness has its limits.
5) Tony Judt, the NYU professor who died in 2010 of ALS. He was the Oxford educated son of immigrant Hungarian Jews. His series of essays for THE NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS on his death bed were as moving as anything I've ever read. He had the termidity at a very young age to see Israel had taken a wrong turn. He recognized the national psyche was damaged, and it was mostly going to lead to trouble for Israel and the world and he stuck by those views under tremendous pressure from the establishment to renounce them. I didn't know him personally, but I miss him.
6) Buddha. I'm of the opinion he actually lived, even if that wasn't his name. What a piece of work. He said it was okay to be "awake" when we open our eyes. It's still a novel startling concept, if it is a concept at all. And we have a responsibility when we are awake to help others wake the fuck up. Hullo--hullo?
7) Not Steve Jobs. I've heard enough. Especially all the techno-babble-shit. More interesting is his humble beginnings, dislocation, and battle to have a decent personal life despite the disadvantage of all those billions. A great case for a psychoanalytic interpretation, but don't expect me to read the "official" biography. He probably wasn't a nice guy, but either am I. Okay, Steve Jobs.
8) Joseph Campbell, the "philosopher of myth and religion." We're just at the beginning of understanding what he contributed. While the collective is still busy fighting about the meaning of their various "books" Joe figured out it's all a matter of symbols and if you take them as "the final word" you are a fool--and he proved it. Oh, they hate him. They call him anti-all that is holy. Only the geeks can understand a word he says, (and Bill Moyers) so call me a bloody geek, cause we've had enough time to see the literalists are full of shit. (It's okay, we can say what we think; they sure do.)
9) Bill Clinton. I thought I'd throw in a poll. A man with a weakness you can't write home about, but I fear the man didn't have much of a home to write home too--yet he passed every test, was a brilliant compromiser, orator, back room brawler, and balanced the bloody budget. Where the hell does genius come from--even if the field is "politics?" And now he has made himself into a senior statesman to the world representing the best the nation has to offer. What a guy.
10) Mom. How can a man not write about his mother when he's been as blessed as I have? She was abused as a child, her father was a tyrant, yet she forgave him and never faltered to lead us to the promise land of Northern Michigan, and show us what it is to get old, ornery, and real. I luv u Moms today and always.