Born on this day. Compare this man with the vulgar regressive shysters and shit-puppet morons who populate politics these days. Below is The Economist‘s deliciously scathing obituary.
- A POLYMATH in a profession of intellectual pygmies; a free thinker in a world of crushing orthodoxies; and a cheerful imbiber in a country that has turned, once again, to Puritanism—Daniel Patrick Moynihan really was one of the most remarkable American politicians of his generation.
- During one spate of Israel-bashing at the UN, the same man who used to tick off this newspaper for misconstruing Virgil marched over to the Israeli ambassador. “Fuck ’em,” he advised.
- His cause was the poor.
- One reason why he so disliked McGovernite leftists was that he thought that they were middle-class brats, intent on hijacking the party of his birthright.
- And one reason why he was so interested in conservative intellectuals was that he thought that their ideas on the primacy of the family and the organic nature of society might be able to revitalise his party.
A POLYMATH in a profession of intellectual pygmies; a free thinker in a world of crushing orthodoxies; and a cheerful imbiber in a country that has turned, once again, to Puritanism–Daniel Patrick Moynihan really was one of the most remarkable American politicians of his generation.
There was something of the Oxford don about him. Visitors to his rooms in the Senate were greeted by a glass of dry sherry (Tio Pepe was his preferred brand) and a lengthy tutorial. A discussion of Social Security reform would inevitably include learned digressions on the Victorian poor laws. Mr Moynihan wrote or edited 19 books–more, it was said, than some of his Senate colleagues had read.
The donnish Mr Moynihan was also a tough Irish street-fighter. His career looked effortless: a Harvard professorship; jobs in four successive administrations, including ambassadorships to India and the United Nations; and finally, in 1977 a Senate seat for his “native” New York. Yet he was actually born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (a fact he sometimes conveniently forgot). He grew up in a broken home, helped to provide for his family by shining shoes and working on the docks, and attended New York’s lowly City College.
His career was a testimony not just to character and brains, but to that past. He turned himself into an intellectual star by writing about ethnic America, a subject he knew well from his childhood in Hell’s Kitchen. And his spells in high office were often tempestuous. During one spate of Israel-bashing at the UN, the same man who used to tick off this newspaper for misconstruing Virgil marched over to the Israeli ambassador. “Fuck ’em,” he advised.
Rebel with a cause
Mr Moynihan could be prickly. One reason why he turned against Hillary Clinton’s health-care plans was that she neglected to consult him on a subject about which he had thought deeply. But even when prickly, he was better value than the average blow-dried politician; and even drunk he talked far more sense than most people do sober.
He was not a great one for party lines. The young Mr Moynihan shocked his Democratic friends in 1965 with a report that blamed social ills on the break-up of the black family. His thesis has since become conventional wisdom, but in the civil-rights era it was the purest heresy. He shocked them even more in 1969 by accepting a job in the Nixon administration. “Moynihan”, Herbert Stein observed, “was Nixon’s soaring kite reaching out for the liberal chic eastern establishment.”
Mr Moynihan had little sympathy with the leftists who came to dominate his party in the 1970s. He enjoyed close friendships with neo-conservative sages such as Irving Kristol and Norman Podhoretz, and contributed enthusiastically to the Public Interest. “The nation is turning conservative”, he once observed, “at a time when its serious internal problem may well be more amenable to conservative solutions than to liberal ones.”
Yet Mr Moynihan never forgot about the Democratic Party’s mission to improve the lot of ordinary people. He helped to write Lyndon Johnson’s great speech in praise of affirmative action (“You do not take a person who, for years, has been hobbled by chains…and then say, ‘You are free to compete with the others’.”) He accepted a job in the Nixon administration in part because it gave him a chance to advance his most cherished social reforms. The former Harvard professor once gave Nixon a reading list of the “ten best political biographies”, including Robert Blake’s biography of Disraeli. “You know very well”, the president told him after reading it, “that it is the Tory men with liberal policies who have enlarged democracy.”
Later, Mr Moynihan was just as harsh on conservative orthodoxy as he had once been on the liberal variety. In the 1980s, he remarked on “the degree to which conservatives seem to have displaced liberals as starry-eyed advocates of exotic and newfangled economic doctrines”. In the 1990s he fulminated against welfare reform. “Congress builds a coffin” was the title of one article he wrote on the subject. Mr Moynihan’s washroom on Capitol Hill displayed two magazine covers: a 1979 issue of the Nation entitled “Moynihan: The Conscience of a Neoconservative” and a 1981 issue of the New Republic entitled “Pat Moynihan: Neo-Liberal”.
There was something old-fashioned about Mr Moynihan–a throwback to an earlier age when politicians championed causes, not parties. His cause was the poor. One reason why he so disliked McGovernite leftists was that he thought that they were middle-class brats, intent on hijacking the party of his birthright. And one reason why he was so interested in conservative intellectuals was that he thought that their ideas on the primacy of the family and the organic nature of society might be able to revitalise his party.
Most politicians measure their success in terms of bills passed and pork delivered. Mr Moynihan was surprisingly good at bringing bacon to New York. But he did something far more important than this. He helped to change the climate of ideas on the left–and in doing so he helped to drag his once stranded party back towards what he regarded as the vital centre.