Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, 1927-2003, American sociologist and politician, b. Tulsa, Okla., grad. Tufts (B.A., 1948; M.A., 1949; Ph.D., 1961). Raised in a poor neighborhood of New York City, he became active in Democratic party politics in the 1950s. With Nathan Glazer he wrote Beyond the Melting Pot (1963), an influential study of American ethnicity. Under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, he worked in the Dept. of Labor (1961-65), where he rose to the post of assistant secretary. In 1965 his office issued The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, commonly known as the Moynihan Report. Its conclusion that African-American urban poverty could be traced in part to a breakdown of family structure was at the time much criticized by civil-rights activists but is now generally regarded as an unusually prescient analysis.

After teaching for several years at Harvard, Moynihan returned to government as a special adviser to President Nixon. He later served as ambassador to India (1973-75) and to the United Nations (1975-76). He was first elected to the U.S. Senate from New York as a Democrat in 1976 and was reelected three times. Although Moynihan's policy declarations in the 1960s and early 70s were among the most significant formulations of what was called "neoliberalism" or "neoconservatism," in the Senate he was a consistent critic of the Reagan and Bush administrations, which enjoyed the support of many neoconservatives, and a strong supporter of Democratic presidents Carter and Clinton. He chaired the Senate finance committee from 1993 to 1995. He also had a lifelong interest in architecture and did much to retain, restore, and build important structures in New York City and Washington. Moynihan retired from the Senate in 2001; subsequently, he served on the faculty of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse Univ. His many books include Family and Nation (1986), Came the Revolution (1988), On the Law of Nations (1990), and Secrecy (1998).

See biographies by D. Schoen (1979) and G. Hodgson (2000).

For the U.S. Representative from Illinois, see P. H. Moynihan

Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan (March 16, 1927March 26, 2003) was an American politician and sociologist. A member of the Democratic Party, he was first elected to the United States Senate for New York in 1976, and was re-elected three times (in 1982, 1988, and 1994). He declined to run for re-election in 2000. Prior to his years in the Senate, Moynihan was the United States' ambassador to the United Nations and to India, and was a member of four successive presidential administrations, beginning with the administration of John F. Kennedy, and continuing through Gerald Ford.


Moynihan was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was brought by his family to New York City at the age of six. There he was brought up in a poor neighborhood, shined shoes for money, and attended various public, private, and parochial schools before graduating from Benjamin Franklin High School in Harlem. He and his brother spent most of their childhood summers at his grandfather's farm in Bluffton, Indiana. After school, Moynihan worked as a longshoreman before entering City College of New York, which at that time provided free higher education. After a year at CCNY, he then joined the U.S. Navy, receiving V-12 officer training at Tufts University, where he graduated with a BA. He served on active duty from 1944 to 1947, last serving as Gunnery officer of the USS Quirinus. He received a M.A., and Ph.D in sociology from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy also at Tufts. Afterwards, he studied as a Fulbright fellow at the London School of Economics. He later received an Honorary Doctorate of Law from Tufts and has the distinction of being the only person to hold five degrees from Tufts.

Political career

Moynihan was a member of Averell Harriman's New York gubernatorial campaign in 1954 and thereafter served four years on the Governor's staff, in positions including acting secretary to the Governor. He was a Kennedy delegate at the 1960 Democratic National Convention.

Assistant Secretary of Labor; controversy over the War on Poverty

Moynihan was an Assistant Secretary of Labor for policy in the Kennedy Administration and in the early part of the Lyndon Johnson Administration. In that capacity, he did not have operational responsibilities, allowing him to devote all of his time to trying to formulate national policy for what would become the War on Poverty. He had a small staff including Paul Barton, Ellen Broderick, and Ralph Nader (who at 29 years of age, hitchhiked to Washington, D.C. and got a job working for Moynihan in 1963).

They took inspiration from the book Slavery written by Stanley Elkins. Elkins essentially contended that slavery had made black Americans dependent on the dominant society, and that that dependence still existed a century later, supporting a view that the government must go beyond simply ensuring that members of minority races have the same rights as everyone else, and offering minority members benefits that others did not get on the grounds that those benefits were necessary to counteract that lingering effects of past actions.

Moynihan found data at the Labor Department that showed that even as fewer people were unemployed, more people were joining the welfare rolls — these recipients were families with children, but only one parent (almost invariably the mother). The laws at that time permitted such families to receive welfare payments in certain parts of the United States.

Moynihan's report was seen by people on the left as "blaming the victim", a slogan coined by William Ryan. He was also seen as propagating the views of racists, because much of the press coverage of his reports focused on the discussion of children being born out of wedlock. Despite Moynihan's warnings, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program had the "Man out of the house rule." Critics said that the nation was paying poor women to throw their husbands out of the house. Moynihan supported Richard Nixon's idea of a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI). Daniel Patrick Moynihan had significant discussions concerning a Basic Income Guarantee with Russell B. Long and Louis O. Kelso.

After the 1994 Republican sweep of Congress, Moynihan agreed that something had to be done about the welfare system possibly encouraging women to raise their children without fathers: "The Republicans are saying we have a helluva problem, and we do."

Local New York City and academic career

By the 1964 election, Moynihan was politically supporting Robert F. Kennedy. For this reason he was not favored by then-President Johnson, and he left the Johnson Administration in 1965. He ran for but did not win the presidency of the New York City Council. He then became Director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. With turmoil and riots in the United States he wrote that the next administration would have to be able to unite the nation again.

Nixon Administration

Connecting with President-elect Richard Nixon in 1968, he joined Nixon's White House Staff as Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs. He was very influential at that time, as one of the few people in Nixon's inner circle who had done academic research related to social policies.

In 1970, he wrote a memo to President Nixon saying: "the issue of race could benefit from a period of 'benign neglect.' The subject has been too much talked about… We need a period in which Negro progress continues and racial rhetoric fades." He argued that Nixon's conservative tactics (meaning particularly the speeches of Vice-President Agnew) were playing into the hands of the radicals, but he regretted that he was misinterpreted as advocating that the government should neglect minorities.

U.N. Ambassador

He later served as the United States Ambassador to India from 1973 to 1975, and as the United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations, serving a rotation as President of the United Nations Security Council in 1976.

As ambassador, Moynihan took a very hardline anti-communist stance, in line with the agenda of the White House at the time. He was also consistently a strong supporter of Israel.

Perhaps the most controversial action of Moynihan's career was his response, as Ambassador to the UN, to the Indonesian invasion of East Timor in 1975. The Ford Administration considered Indonesia, then under a military dictatorship, a key ally against Communism. Moynihan ensured that the UN Security Council took no action against this annexation of a small country by a larger one, which would involve massacres that killed over 200,000 Timorese. As he put it in his memoirs:

"The United States wished things to turn out as they did, and worked to bring this about. The Department of State desired that the United Nations prove utterly ineffective in whatever measures it undertook. This task was given to me, and I carried it forward with no inconsiderable success. Later, he admitted that he had defended a "shameless" Cold War policy toward East Timor.

The above passage ("no inconsiderable success") is cited by Noam Chomsky in A New Generation Draws the Line, as part of Chomsky's popular thesis that the United States was culpable in the Indonesian invasion, and subsequent massacres, an argument sustained by Moynihan's subsequent admission of moral failure.

Moynihan's thinking began to change during his tenure at the U.N. In his 1993 book on nationalism, Pandaemonium, he writes that as time progressed, he began to view the Soviet Union in less ideological terms, viewing it less as an expansionist, imperialist Marxist state, and more as a weak realist state in decline, not motivated by any strong ideology other than self-preservation. This view would influence his thinking in subsequent years, when he became an outspoken proponent of the then-unpopular view that the Soviet Union was a failed state headed for implosion.

Nevertheless, for the duration of his tenure as ambassador, Moynihan continued his hardline rhetoric, which he describes in Pandaemonium as extreme to the point where "I became something of an embarrassment to my own government, and fairly soon left before I was fired.''

Career in the Senate

In 1976, Moynihan was elected to the U.S. Senate from the State of New York, defeating U.S. Representative Bella Abzug, Ramsey Clark, Paul O'Dwyer and Abraham Hirschfeld in the Democratic Primary, and Conservative Party incumbent James L. Buckley in the general election. Shortly after election Moynihan ran a query on the State of New York's budget and whether it was paying out more in federal taxes than it received in spending. The further implications of this led to a yearly report known as the FISC. Moynihan's strong support for Israel while U.N. Ambassador, may have increased support among the state's Jewish population.

While considered by many to be a liberal, Moynihan did break with the orthodox positions of his party on numerous occasions. As chairman of the Senate Finance Committee he strongly opposed President Clinton's proposal to expand health care coverage to all Americans. Seeking to focus the debate on health insurance and the financing of health care costs, Moynihan garnered controversy by stating that "there is no health care crisis in this country."

Moynihan continued to be interested in foreign policy as a Senator, sitting on the Select Committee on Intelligence. His strongly anti-Soviet views became far more moderate, as he emerged as a critic of the Reagan Administration's hawkish Cold War policies, such as support for the Contras in Nicaragua. Moynihan argued that there was no active Soviet-backed conspiracy in Latin America, or anywhere, instead suggesting that the U.S.S.R. was suffering from massive internal problems, such as rising ethnic nationalism and a collapsing economy. In a December 21, 1986 editorial in the New York Times, Moynihan penned an editorial predicting the imminent collapse of the Soviet Union, and blasting the Reagan administration's "consuming obsession with the expansion of Communism— which is not in fact going on."

In the mid-1990s, Moynihan was one of the Democrats to support the ban on the procedure known as partial-birth abortion. He said of the procedure: "I think this is just too close to infanticide. A child has been born and it has exited the uterus. What on Earth is this procedure?" Earlier in his career in the Senate, Moynihan had expressed his annoyance with the adamantly pro-choice interest groups petitioning him and others on the issue. He complained to them saying, "you women are ruining the Democratic Party with your insistence on abortion.

Moynihan was a political liberal. He voted against the death penalty, the flag desecration amendment, the balanced budget amendment, the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, the Communications Decency Act, and the North American Free Trade Agreement. He was critical of proposals to replace the progressive income tax with a flat tax. Moynihan surprised many in 1991 when he voted against authorization of the Gulf War. Despite his earlier writings on the negative effects of the welfare state, he surprised many people again by voting against welfare reform in 1996. He was sharply critical of the bill and certain Democrats who crossed party lines to support it.

Public speaker

Moynihan was a popular public speaker with a distinctly patrician style. He had some peculiar mannerisms of speech, somewhat akin to William F. Buckley, Jr. in the form of slight stuttering and drawn-out vowels for emphasis.

Commission on Government Secrecy

In the Post–Cold War Era, the 103rd Congress enacted legislation directing an inquiry into the uses of government secrecy. Moynihan chaired the Commission. The Committee studied and made recommendations on the "culture of secrecy" that pervaded the United States government and its intelligence community for 80 years, beginning with the Espionage Act of 1917, and made recommendations on the statutory regulation of classified information.

The Committee's findings and recommendations were presented to the President in 1997. As part of the effort, Moynihan secured release from the Federal Bureau of Investigation of its classified Venona file. This file documents the FBI's joint counterintelligence investigation, with the United States Signals Intelligence Service, into Soviet espionage within the United States. Much of the information had been collected and classified as secret information for over fifty years.

After release of the information, Moynihan authored Secrecy: The American Experience where he discussed the impact government secrecy has had on the domestic politics of America for the past half century, and how myths and suspicion created an unnecessary partisan chasm.

Career as scholar

In addition to his career as a politician and diplomat, Moynihan worked as a sociologist. He was Director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, as well as a Fellow at the Center for Advanced Studies at Wesleyan University from 1964 to 1967. During this time he continued to write about the problems of the poor in cities of the Northeast.

Moynihan coined the term "professionalization of reform" by which the government bureaucracy thinks up problems for government to solve rather than simply responding to problems identified elsewhere.

Soon after his 1971 return to Harvard, having served two years in the Nixon White House as Counselor to the President, he became a professor in the Department of Government. He was the 1983 recipient of the Hubert H. Humphrey Award given by the American Political Science Association "in recognition of notable public service by a political scientist." He authored 19 books, leading his personal friend, columnist and former professor George F. Will, to remark that Dr. Moynihan "wrote more books than most senators have read." He also joined Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs as a public administration faculty after retiring from the Senate.

His scholarly accomplishments led Michael Barone, writing in the Almanac of American Politics to describe Moynihan as "the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.

Selected books

Beyond the Melting Pot, an influential study of American ethnicity, which he co-authored with Nathan Glazer (1963)

  • The Negro Family: The Case for National Action otherwise known as the Moynihan Report (1965)
  • Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty (1969) ISBN 0029220009
  • Violent Crimes (1970) ISBN 0807660531
  • Coping: Essays on the Practice of Government (1973) ISBN 0394483243
  • The Politics of a Guaranteed Income (1973)
  • The Politics of a Guaranteed Income: The Nixon Administration and the Family Assistance Plan (1973) ISBN 0394463544.
  • Business and Society in Change (1975) ISBN 0884390022
  • A Dangerous Place (1978) ISBN 0316586994
  • Best Editorial Cartoons of the Year, 1980 (1980) ISBN 1565545168
  • Family and Nation: The Godkin Lectures (1986) ISBN 0156301407
  • Came the Revolution (1988)
  • On the Law of Nations (1990) ISBN 0674635760
  • Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics (1994) ISBN 0198279469
  • Miles to Go: A Personal History of Social Policy (1996) ISBN 0674574419
  • Secrecy: The American Experience (1998) ISBN 0300080794
  • Future of the Family (2003) ISBN 0871546280

Death and posthumous honors


"'I don't think there's any point in being Irish if you don't know that the world is going to break your heart eventually. I guess that we thought we had a little more time."—Reacting to the assassination of John F. Kennedy, November 1963

"No one is innocent after the experience of governing. But not everyone is guilty."The Politics of a Guaranteed Income, 1973

"Secrecy is for losers. For people who do not know how important the information really is."Secrecy: The American Experience, 1998

“The issue of race could benefit from a period of benign neglect.”—Memo to President Richard Nixon

"Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact"—quoted in Robert Sobel's review of Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies, edited by Mark C. Carnes

(In response to the question: "Why should I work if I am going to just end up emptying slop jars.") "That's a complaint you hear mostly from people who don't empty slop jars. This country has a lot of people who do exactly that for a living. And they do it well. It's not pleasant work, but it's a living. And it has to be done. Somebody has to go around and empty all those bed pans. And it's perfectly honorable work. There's nothing the matter with doing it. Indeed, there is a lot that is right about doing it, as any hospital patient will tell you."


This article draws from the book The Promised Land by Nicholas Lemann, Bill Clinton's statements when awarding Moynihan the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000, and statements by senators on the occasion of his death in 2003, as well as the sources noted below.

See also

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