Moynihan, Daniel Patrick

views updated Jun 11 2018

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Born March 6, 1927

Tulsa, Oklahoma

Died March 26, 2003

Washington, D.C.

Social scientist and U.S. senator

"Religion and race define the next stage in the evolution of the American peoples."

D aniel Patrick Moynihan had two careers: the first as a professor and sociologist, and the second as a public servant and U.S. senator from New York. As a sociologist, Moynihan created a stir in 1963 when he and coauthor Nathan Glazer (1923–) published Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City, challenging the idea that as different nationalities came to the United States, they melded together to create a new "American" identity.

As a politician, Moynihan was a Democrat, but he held positions under both Democratic and Republican presidents. He often used his academic work in trying to solve difficult social problems, such as the endurance of poverty among African Americans. As a result, Moynihan was difficult to pin down as a conservative or a liberal. A conservative has a political philosophy of limited government influence and supports conventional social values. A liberal is someone who favors active government influence and is more open to new ideas and individual rights.

Early life in New York

Moynihan's best known academic work was about New York City, where Moynihan spent much of his childhood. He was born, however, far from New York: in Tulsa, Oklahoma, where his father, John Henry Moynihan, was a journalist and his mother, Margaret Ann Phipps, was a painter and sculptor. His father moved his family, which in addition to Daniel Patrick included a younger brother and a sister, from job to job, sometimes working in advertising. In 1937, Moynihan's father abandoned the family.

The sudden disappearance of Moynihan's father forced his mother to scramble to earn a living. She and her children moved from a middle-class suburb into Manhattan's Hell's Kitchen, a rough neighborhood near the docks of the Hudson River. As a boy, Moynihan sometimes shined shoes in Times Square to earn money. Later, he worked unloading and loading ships. His mother at one point owned a bar, where Moynihan also worked occasionally.

Living and working in Manhattan gave Moynihan a very different perspective on American society than he might have gotten had his family remained in a city like Tulsa. For one thing, New York had a much greater variety of ethnic groups, or people who maintained their sense of being part of a group of people who had emigrated from a particular country in Europe, than most Midwestern or southern cities. New York in the 1930s and 1940s remained largely a city of immigrants; as late as 1960, half the city's population had been born outside the United States.

Moynihan attended a variety of schools in New York, both Catholic and public, and graduated from Benjamin Franklin High School. He started attending City College of New York, and after a year joined the Navy Reserve, which sent him to Middlebury College in Vermont for a year to train as an officer, and then to Tufts University near Boston, Massachusetts, where Moynihan earned both a bachelor's and a master's degree in 1949. Moynihan started working on a doctorate in sociology, but he did not finish his doctoral degree (Ph.D.) until 1961.

Moynihan as public servant

After first serving in the military, which had financed his college education, Moynihan began what proved to be a half-century career that mixed politics with academics. In the mid-1950s Moynihan plunged into the politics of New York City, which with a population of about seven million was the nation's largest city. It was also traditionally the major point of entry for immigrants of all sorts. In the 1950s, the city had large populations of African Americans, who had come (or whose parents had come) from the American South, as well as Puerto Ricans from the U.S. territory in the Caribbean. In politics, Irish Americans often competed with Jewish Americans for dominance in city government.

The Melting Pot

"The Melting Pot" is a phrase borrowed from a play of the same name by an English playwright, Israel Zangwill (1864–1926). The play, which was a hit in New York when it opened in 1908, is about the coming together of various nationalities in the United States—in the form of a love story. U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919; served 1901–9) was said to have loved the play when he saw it, shouting to the author, "Bully, Mr. Zangwill! Bully!"—an expression of the time meaning excellent or first rate.

Long after Zangwill's play was forgotten, the image persisted of the United States as a place where old hostilities and differences that separated emigrants when they lived in Europe would disappear. The expression "melting pot" was taken from industrial processing: the image was of different types of metal being poured into a pot, where they would melt (in the heat of passion in the case of Zangwill's play) and come together as an alloy, a kind of new metal that would be superior to any of the individual ingredients. The key notion was that different nationalities would enter the United States and merge into a new nationality: the American.

The sentiment was especially popular with Jewish immigrants in the United States, who had long been excluded from full participation in the European societies from which they came. In the United States, freedom to practice one's own religion was guaranteed and discrimination based on religion was to be banned. It was also an idea popularly taught in public schools for most of the twentieth century as part of an effort by the government to avoid conflicts between immigrant groups and to promote national unity, especially when the United States found itself going to war against the very countries (such as Italy) which had been home to many immigrants or their immediate ancestors.

Moynihan began his political career as a volunteer in the New York City mayoral campaign of Robert F. Wagner Jr. (1910–1991) in 1953. The experience was important since New York City politics was strongly influenced by the various national groups that still lived in the same neighborhoods of the city, much as they had when their ancestors arrived from Europe.

Moynihan worked for New York governor Averill Harriman (1891–1986) from 1955 to 1958, during which time he attracted notice with a study of automobile accidents. Whereas most studies of car accidents treated the subject as one related to driving and focused on safer cars and better highway design, Moynihan viewed car accidents as a public health problem that involved issues far removed from cars and highways, issues like alcohol, exhaustion, and social stress. Moynihan then worked for the New York State Democratic Committee for two years, and was a delegate to the Democratic convention in 1960. The convention saw the nomination of U.S. senator John F. Kennedy (1917–1963) of Massachusetts, who became the first Catholic of Irish ancestry to be elected president.

In 1959, Moynihan started work as director of a New York state government research project at Syracuse University, where he later was also an assistant professor of political science for two years (1961–62). With the election of Kennedy, Moynihan moved to Washington, D.C., where he worked as an assistant to the secretary of labor from 1961 to 1963. Moynihan tried his hand at electoral politics, running (but losing) in the party primary for president of the New York City Council in 1965. He then worked for the mayoral campaign of Abraham Beame (1906–2001) in 1965.

The next year he taught at Wesley University, then moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, to teach at the Joint Center for Urban Studies run by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he stayed until 1977. During this period, he was also a professor of government at Harvard and was appointed to several key posts in the administration of President Richard Nixon (1913–1994; served 1969–74). These positions included counselor to the president and executive secretary of Urban Affairs Council (1969–70), ambassador to India (1973–75), and U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (1975–76).

Beyond the Melting Pot

Although Moynihan wrote extensively, the work that brought him to fame initially was Beyond the Melting Pot, written with his fellow professor Nathan Glazer (1923–) and published in 1963. The book's subtitle was The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Moynihan and Glazer studied the habits and attitudes of five of New York's largest groups and concluded that "the point about the melting pot … is that it did not happen." Instead, members of national groups have continued to identify themselves as belonging to a group within American society. This attitude, expressed as "I'm Irish" or "I'm Italian," showed up in many different ways in New York: in where people lived in the city, what jobs they held, what food they ate, and the people with whom they associated.

The authors found nothing surprising in the persistence of national identities. Rather than fading over time, they discovered that national identities sometimes grew stronger with succeeding generations. Although the children of immigrants might have once felt embarrassed about the "old country" ways of their parents, the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of immigrants often felt just the opposite: proud to be "Irish," or "Italian," even if they had never visited their ancestral land and could not speak the language of their ancestral land.

The Moynihan-Glazer study found that such attitudes were not shared by all ethnic groups. Descendants from the earliest English settlers, for example, did not think of themselves as anything but Americans. Many descendants of German immigrants no longer identified with their ancestral land, partly because German immigrants had shared many traits with the English settlers who preceded them and partly because Germany's roles in World War I (1914–18) and World War II (1939–45), when the United States and Germany fought one another, may have diminished the inclination to loudly identify with a country perceived to have started both conflicts.

For many other nationalities, however, "ethnicity is more than an influence on events," the authors concluded. "It is commonly the source of events. Social and political institutions do not merely respond to ethnic interests; a great number of institutions exist for the specific purpose of serving ethnic interests. This in turn tends to perpetuate them."

Moynihan and Glazer identified two other aspects of a person's identity that also served to keep apart different groups of Americans: race and religion. They noted, for example, that among African Americans, Protestant clergymen often played a prominent role in the politics of the black community, which would be extremely

Senator Moynihan

In his role as presidential advisor, Moynihan continued to bring the sensibility of a professor to government. Many politicians tended to assess government policy in terms of how it might impact the economic well-being of different groups, but Moynihan made a reputation as someone who wanted to study facts before reaching any conclusions about how government could best help individuals or groups of individuals. In the case of African Americans, for example, Moynihan concluded that racial discrimination might not be the most important reason for the persistent poverty that plagues black people in America. He suggested instead that the breakdown in African American families (for example, the high frequency of single-parent families) might be a more important reason that black Americans have, overall, not kept pace economically with whites. Such views did not always make Moynihan popular among his fellow Democrats, especially when they were expressed as an advisor to Republican presidents like Richard Nixon.

In 1976, Moynihan was elected to the Senate, representing New York, where he remained for the next twenty-four years. Just as he had done as a professor and advisor to presidents, Moynihan continued to urge innovative solutions to social problems, based on close study of the facts rather than on standard political philosophy.

Moynihan retired from the Senate in 2000 and returned to Syracuse University to teach. First lady Hillary Rodham Clinton (1947–) succeeded Moynihan following her victory in the November election. Moynihan died in March 2003.

—James L. Outman

For More Information


Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press and Harvard University Press, 1962.

Glazer, Nathan, and Daniel P. Moynihan, eds. Ethnicity: Theory and Experience. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1975.

Hodgson, Godfrey. The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2000.

Katzmann, Robert A., ed. Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The Intellectual in Public Life. Washington, DC: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press, 1998.

Moynihan, Daniel P. Loyalties. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1984.

Schoen, Douglas E. Pat: A Biography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan. New York: Harper and Row, 1979.


Alter, Jonathan. "A Man of Ideas in the Arena: Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 1927–2003." Newsweek (April 7, 2003): p. 63.

Heilbrunn, Jacob. "The Moynihan Enigma." The American Prospect (July-August 1997): p. 18.

Nuechterlein, James. "The Moynihan Years." Commentary (October 2000): p. 29.

Roberts, Sam. "Melting Pot: A Look Back and Beyond." New York Times (May 17, 1990): p. A24.

Web Sites

"Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, 1927–2003." Congressional Biography. (accessed on March 21, 2004).

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick

views updated May 18 2018

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick 1927-2003


Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Moynihan grew up in a poor neighborhood in New York City, shining shoes to earn money. He served on active duty as a gunnery officer on the USS Quirinus. He went on to graduate from Tufts University, receiving three graduate degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He was a Fulbright fellow at the London School of Economics. A member of Averell Harrimans New York gubernatorial campaign in 1954, he served for four years on the governors staff and became a Kennedy delegate at the 1960 Democratic National Convention. During the Kennedy and Johnson administrations he was an assistant secretary of labor and was influential in formulating national policy that came to be known as the War on Poverty.

In developing his views on the position of the black community in American society, Moynihan was influenced by Stanley Elkinss Slavery: A Problem in American Institutional and Intellectual Life (1959), which argued that the dependency of black Americans on society was produced by slavery and that slavery had, like the Nazi concentration camps, produced a psychological infantilism. Moynihan supported the idea of affirmative action to counteract the historical legacy of slavery. Moynihan was impressed by the fact that, while unemployment was declining, more people were joining the welfare rolls, and these welfare recipients were typically families with children with a lone parent (invariably the mother).

In 1963 he coauthored Beyond the Melting Pot with Nathan Glazer, claiming that intermarriage was not common and that ethnic divisions were resulting not in a melting pot but a salad bowl. His internal memorandum with regard to black families was leaked to the press. Subsequently known as the Moynihan Report, it identified a tangle of pathology in the dysfunctional black family, resulting in welfare dependency. Critics saw the report as a case of blaming the victimthe title of William Ryans 1971 book taking issue with white liberalism in general and Moynihan in particular. Moynihans views were appropriated by racists who seized upon press coverage, focusing on the fact that many black children were being born out of wedlock. In the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program, the man out of the house rule was said to encourage lone parents not to cohabit because otherwise their welfare entitlements would be jeopardized. Joining Richard Nixons White House staff, Moynihan supported Nixons commitment to a guaranteed annual income, which he discussed in The Politics of a Guaranteed Income (1973). He became notorious for a memo to Nixon in 1969 recommending that the issue of race could benefit from a period of benign neglect (DeWitt 2005). Moynihans critics have argued that his influence on the Nixon administration meant that the cause of black emancipation was curtailed by lack of attention to the social and economic issues confronting black Americans.

After a brief spell as director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, he had major appointments as ambassador to India (19731975) and as U.S. representative to the United Nations. He controversially ensured that the UN Security Council took no action against the illegal annexation of East Timor by Indonesia in 1975 on the grounds that Indonesia was a cold war ally of the United States.

Moynihan remained a controversial figure by opposing President Bill Clintons proposal to expand health care coverage to all American citizens. Moynihan took the view that there was no health care crisis, and he supported a ban on partial-birth abortions, which he saw as close to infanticide. Having chaired the Commission on Government Secrecy, he published Secrecy: The American Experience in 1998, arguing that suspicion and lack of information created unnecessary political schisms.

While the Almanac of American Politics described him in 1994 as the nations best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and the best politician among thinkers since Jefferson, his critics have argued that his views on the black family had damaging consequences for black Americans, that his opposition to health care coverage was regressive, and that his strategy toward East Timor resulted in thousands of civilian deaths.

SEE ALSO Benign Neglect; Culture of Poverty; Glazer, Nathan; Moynihan Report


Barker, Lucius Jefferson, Mack H. Jones, and Katherine Tate. 1999. African Americans and the American Political System. 4th ed. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

DeWitt, Larry. 2005. Moynihan, Welfare Reform, and the Myth of Benign Neglect.

Hodgson, Godfrey. 2000. The Gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Katzmann, Robert A., ed. 1998. Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The Intellectual in Public Life. Washington DC: The Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick. 1965. The Negro Family: The Case for National Action. Washington, DC: Office of Policy Planning and Research, U.S. Department of Labor.

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, and Nathan Glazer. 1963. Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Ryan, William. 1971. Blaming the Victim. New York: Pantheon.

Bryan S. Turner

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

views updated Jun 08 2018

Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (born 1927), United States senator from New York, was a politician and scholar whose career marked him as one of America's most influential public figures in the second half of the 20th century.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was an academician, presidential adviser, diplomat, legislator, and author. He was renowned for his willingness to confront diverse issues ranging from race to social security to disarmament to international order. Yet the enigma of "Pat" Moynihan is that, despite his varied careers and numerous achievements, he never seemed identified with any one of them. He could not exclusively be called scholar, although he wrote 16 books (he's written more books, columnist George Will said, than most politicians have read); nor politician, despite many years as New York State's senior senator; nor statesman, even with unique service as ambassador to India and to the United Nations. Neither could he be called bartender, newspaper hawker, shoeshine boy, dockworker, or naval officer, although he was all of those. There exists a rather Chaucerian quality about this personality which made him master of the trades he undertook.

Moynihan was at home on both sides of Manhattan's 1940s: the steamy tenements of Hell's Kitchen on the west and the rarified air of the U.N. General Assembly on the east. Yet this self-proclaimed "Yorker," who lived in Delaware County's Pindars Corners and boasted a deep love of the Empire State, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on March 16, 1927. He was the firstborn of John Henry Moynihan and Margaret Ann Phipps. A brother named Michael arrived the following year and a sister Ellen was born in 1931. The family lived an itinerant life, much of it in New York, following his father's indifferent career in journalism and advertising. In 1937 his father deserted the family, leaving the fate of the children in his mother's hands.

Moynihan's father, an advertising copywriter for RKO Pictures, left home never to see his family again. Used to a middle-class existence, his mother and her three children disappeared from their life in the New York City suburbs and into shabby apartments, including one above a bar in the rough Hell's Kitchen area of New York. Moynihan's mother supported the family through welfare until she was able to get back on her feet. She married again briefly to an older man who provided temporary financial security and a move back to the suburbs. Nevertheless, Moynihan's adolescence was far from stable, moving around each time his mother took a new job.

A strong-willed, pragmatic woman, Moynihan's mother poured her life into her children's educations. Moynihan attended New York City Catholic and public schools and graduated first in his class from Benjamin Franklin High School. His yearbook predicted that he would grow up to be "cussing out the labor unions and durn radicals." He started City College in 1943. Moynihan insisted college was a fluke for him, taking the entrance exam only to prove he was "as smart as I thought I was." After a year of college, he joined the Naval Reserve with Vermont's Middlebury College V-12 program to train for an officer position. The Navy sent Moynihan to continue his education at Tufts in Medford, Massachusetts, where he earned a bachelor's and master's degree.

His interests were extremely broad, including urban politics, international labor, auto safety, and race relations. Although he started doctoral work at Tufts' Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy soon after earning his master's degree in 1949, he did not graduate until 1961. But the 1950s were well spent. Three years in England, including a one-year Fulbright at the London School of Economics at age 33, broadened him greatly, as did campaigns for New York's mayoral and gubernatorial candidates. He also chose a career in academe which took him to Syracuse, Wesleyan, and finally Harvard. When Moynihan returned to the U.S. after his stay in London, he began to make his way through the New York political arena. As a volunteer in Robert Wagner's 1953 mayoral campaign, he learned he was enjoying politics and went on to work on Averell Harriman's race for governor. It was here where he met Elizabeth Brennan, bursting into her room one night soon after they met and declaring, "You are going to marry me," before passing out on her floor. They married in 1955. She became her husband's chief advisor and handler, running his Senate campaigns. They had three children: Tim, a papier-mâché sculptor; Maura, a singer, actress, and writer; and John, a cartoonist.

By the time of the Kennedy-Nixon campaign of 1960, Moynihan had wide contacts and held iconoclastic but insightful opinions on many subjects. His association with urban politics and strong sympathies for the poor, whose plight he knew firsthand, impressed Kennedy's advisers and brought him appointment as assistant to Labor Secretary Arthur Goldberg.

Far removed from President Kennedy's inner circle, Moynihan was nevertheless "New Frontier" material. He soon made powerful friends among the dynamic men who surrounded the young president. He moved to assistant secretary of labor in 1963.

Kennedy's assassination that November affected him deeply, diverting his loyalties to Attorney-General Robert Kennedy, who won a Senate seat from New York in 1964. Moynihan served President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society administration loyally and effectively but did not enjoy the fullest confidence of Johnson's inner circle.

In 1965 as an assistant secretary in the Labor Department of President Johnson's cabinet, Moynihan wrote a report entitled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, which careened him to the lowest point in his career. In the report he warned that rising illegitimacy rates and a "tangle of pathology" threatened the stability of African American families and put at risk the income and equality gains African Americans had achieved through the Civil Rights Movement. Instead of receiving recognition for his perceived keen insight, he was widely criticized by African Americans and liberals as a racist.

In the 1960s Moynihan began his association with Harvard University and the Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies. A popular work of scholarship called Beyond the Melting Pot brought him national attention even though his co-author, Nathan Glazer, wrote most of the work. Moynihan's principal (but not sole) contribution was the chapter on New York's Irish. He moved in and out of government, and unsuccessfully sought the New York City Council presidential nomination.

Moynihan's commitment to the Democratic party was deeply rooted in his family. Yet it did not prevent him from serving the Nixon administration in an unusual and extremely influential way. President-elect Nixon, finding Moynihan's thinking "refreshing and stimulating" (as he later recounted in his Memoirs), named him head of the newly created Urban Affairs Council.

Moreover, Moynihan became a presidential mentor who could always be relied upon to speak his mind candidly. He even provided reading lists for Nixon's edification. The president accepted his advice on many matters, but was especially sympathetic to him as a fellow "outsider" whose humble origins he shared. One major incident that proved embarrassing to the administration consisted of an observation made by Moynihan that African American families might benefit from being left alone a bit to work out their own destinies. This apparently innocent possibility was described by Moynihan as "benign neglect," and the press and some segments of the public inferred from it a diminished ardor for civil rights, which the administration—rightly or wrongly—had never been noted for previously. Notwithstanding this flap, Nixon retained complete confidence in Moynihan, viewing his chief domestic adviser as an invaluable public servant.

After his reelection, Nixon offered Moynihan the post of ambassador to India, a selection demonstrating Moynihan's Chaucerian adaptability and Nixon's perspicacity in recognizing it. He served for two years under both the Nixon and Ford administrations, receiving an appointment in 1975 by President Ford as the nation's permanent representative to the United Nations. In this latter capacity he became a powerful voice of post-Vietnam American moralism, condemning Soviet obstructionism and imperialism and excoriating the venality of many Third World countries. He refused, as he once put it, to apologize for his fallible nation, challenging his listeners to "find its equal."

In 1976 he was elected to the United States Senate and served New York in this capacity for the next decade and a half, being reelected in 1982 and 1988. Although he can put his Johnson report and Nixon memo behind him, his past follows him. During a recent campaign the Reverend Al Sharpton, an African American protestor, made his own run for Senate and tried to remind voters of the latter incidents.

Known for his quirkiness (Elise O'Shaughnessy's profile of him in Vanity Fair described his gestures and speech patterns as belonging to someone with "intellectual Tourette's syndrome"), Moynihan's oddity, nevertheless, has worked for him. Recognized for his ability to recall and process voluminous amounts of information and popularize the ideas of others than for facilitating his own scholarship or original thinking, Moynihan has significantly contributed to the Senate. His popularity among voters (he's been elected for four terms and served in the cabinets or sub-cabinets of four presidents) and his firm belief that a government's purpose is to promote goodness in society earned him the chair of the Finance Committee when Lloyd Bentsen left to become head of the Treasury Department. Although he also has a reputation for making his own government nervous (he criticized President Clinton's health-care bills; battled for better welfare reform—his pet issue—calling Clinton's ideas "boob bait for the Bubbas;" and suggested that a special prosecutor ought to look into the controversial Whitewater affair), most people realize that his candid personality contributes to the forward motion of government. "Pat Moynihan does a very simple thing that at the end of the 20th century has become the most inexplicable trait a politician can have: he says what he thinks," Laurence O'Donnell, Jr., the director of Moynihan's Finance Committee said.

Wherever he traveled in government or academic life, Moynihan brought his wit and capacity for innovative thinking. His brief assignment to the United Nations produced A Dangerous Place, a zesty account of America's rendezvous with world government. On the Law of Nations briefly but trenchantly continues the subject of the nation's efforts to carve its place in world history. Counting our Blessings, dedicated to his colleague Nathan Glazer, ranges far and wide, but never very far from his first loves: the family, the needy, and those deprived of participating in the dream by racial or ethnic factors. He is, as Time reporter Hugh Sidey stated, "the Senate's most eccentric, brilliant and fearless purveyor of uncomfortable truth. He has probably shaped as much national, social, and economic policy … as any other person.

Further Reading

Douglas Schoen's Pat (1979) is a clear and sympathetic account of the senator's life and career. Richard Nixon's R.N.: The Memoirs gives full credit to Moynihan for domestic accomplishments in his administration. Moynihan's many books give insight into his ideas and hopes for America and its society. A Dangerous Place, written with Suzanne Weaver (1975), Counting Our Blessings (1974), and On the Law of Nations (1990) provide a good source for evaluating his ideas and accomplishments. Periodical references can be located in "The Professor and the 400-Lb. Gorilla," Time, (June 21, 1993); "Is Independent Agency Status In Social Security's Future?" and "Moynihan Prevails: Senate Grants Independence," Congressional Quarterly Weekly Report, (October 9, 1993 and March 5, 1994, respectively); "The Moynihan Mystique," Vanity Fair, (May 1994); "Moynihan Rules," New York, (May 2, 1994); "The Newest Moynihan," New York Times Magazine, (August 7, 1994); and "Social Insecurity," Newsweek, (January 20, 1997). □

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick

views updated Jun 27 2018

MOYNIHAN, Daniel Patrick

(b. 16 March 1927 in Tulsa, Oklahoma), scholar and political adviser whose work on the problems of the inner city and the African-American family sparked controversy in the mid-1960s.

Despite the fact that he is commonly associated with the northeastern United States, Moynihan was actually born in Oklahoma, the first of three children of John Henry Moynihan, a journalist and advertising copywriter for RKO Pictures, and Margaret Ann Phipps, a homemaker. The family made its way to New York City when Moynihan was still a small child, and by 1937 Moynihan was living in a middle-class suburb. In that year, however, Moynihan's father deserted the family. Suddenly in poverty, the family drifted from one bad neighborhood to another, living for a time above a bar in Hell's Kitchen, one of the seedier neighborhoods in midtown Manhattan.

After graduating first in his class from Benjamin Franklin High School in 1943, Moynihan enrolled at City College (now City College of the City University of New York). A year later he joined the U.S. Naval Reserve and enrolled in the navy's V-12 program at Middlebury College in Vermont, where he underwent officer training. The navy then sent him to Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts, where he earned four degrees: a bachelor of naval science (1946), a bachelor of arts (1948, cum laude), a master of arts (1949), and a Ph.D. Though he began work on the latter degree in 1949, two years after leaving the navy, Moynihan did not actually earn his doctorate until 1961.

In the meantime, Moynihan spent two years (1950–1951) at the London School of Economics and Political Science on a Fulbright scholarship; gained his first practical political experience by volunteering in the New York mayoral and gubernatorial campaigns of Robert Wagner and Averell Harriman, respectively, in 1953; and, on 29 May 1955, married the painter and sculptor Elizabeth Brennan. Brennan, with whom he had three children, later served as his adviser during his campaigns for the U.S. Senate.

After serving the city and state of New York in various capacities during the late 1950s, Moynihan went to Washington, D.C., with the administration of the newly inaugurated president, John F. Kennedy, in 1961. He served in the office of the secretary of labor from that year until 1965, first as special assistant (1961–1962) to Secretary of Labor Arthur Goldberg; then as executive assistant (1962–1963) to Goldberg and W. Willard Wirtz, who became the new secretary in 1962; and, finally, as Wirtz's assistant secretary of labor for policy planning and research (1963–1965).

Moynihan's own experience with poverty gave him a deep sense of compassion for the poor, while his Irish Catholic background instilled in him an awareness of ethnicity and ethnic marginalization not common among most Americans of white western European extraction. Furthermore, his father's absence had given him firsthand experience with the connection between poverty and the breakdown of the family. These concerns motivated not only his work with the labor department but also his writing as a scholar on policy issues.

A prolific author with more than two dozen books to his name by the beginning of the twenty-first century, Moynihan first established a reputation as a writer and commentator in the 1960s. Among the books he wrote or co-wrote during that decade were Beyond the Melting Pot: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians, and Irish of New York City (1963, with Nathan Glazer; second edition, 1970); The Negro Challenge to the Business Community (1964, with Eli Ginzberg and others); The Assault on Poverty (1965); Poverty in America (1965, with Margaret S. Gordon and others); The Negro Family: The Case for National Action (1965, with Paul Barton and Ellen Broderick); and Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding: Community Action in the War on Poverty (1969).

One of these books, The Negro Family, would bring upon Moynihan a firestorm of disapprobation that constituted the greatest crisis of his career. The book was actually a Department of Labor pamphlet published at a time when the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson was poised to launch the "Great Society," a set of government programs by which Johnson intended to declare "war on poverty." It is hard to imagine two approaches more different.

The war on poverty and its attendant programs, which had the enthusiastic support of many, if not most, white liberals, African-American leaders, and social scientists, were based on the implicit assumption that problems in the black community, such as poverty, drug abuse, crime, and out-of-wedlock births, could be solved by providing members of that community with the things they had hitherto lacked. These deficits included the opportunity for an education, effective political participation through the vote, an end to discrimination, and an infusion of funds to close the economic gap between blacks and other groups within the nation.

The Negro Family, on the other hand, treated poverty as a symptom rather than a cause of problems within the black community. The real issue, Moynihan and his coauthors maintained, was the disintegration of the black family: without solid two-parent homes, their research indicated, no amount of money, jobs, and other cosmetic cures could save the black underclass. These conclusions were based not on preconceptions but on analysis of data. In studying Labor Department statistics, for instance, Moynihan had discovered a predictable pattern: when unemployment was high, the welfare rolls swelled, but when unemployment dropped, so did the number of people on the dole. Beginning in 1963, however, the unemployment rate had gone down, but the number of people on the welfare rolls was increasing. Obviously, then, the problem was not a lack of jobs but what Moynihan called a "tangle of pathologies."

Black leaders reacted to Moynihan's book by calling him a racist, while white detractors accused him of "blaming the victim." However, The Negro Family actually places much of the blame for the "tangle of pathologies" on slavery and the Jim Crow laws, though in the final analysis it is not a book directed so much toward placing blame as toward identifying the problem. This did not stop a harsh reaction to the report, even on the part of such figures as James Farmer of the Congress of Racial Equality or Bayard Rustin of the A. Philip Randolph Institute—men of such stature that their good faith is not a matter of question.

Perhaps as an outgrowth of the response to The Negro Family, Moynihan left Washington and the Johnson administration in 1965. Later that year he conducted an unsuccessful campaign for president of the New York City Council and served as codirector of policy and planning for the mayoral campaign of Abraham Beame. After a stint as fellow at the Wesleyan University Center for Advanced Studies in Middletown, Connecticut (1965–1966), Moynihan served as director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University Joint Center for Urban Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts (1966–1969). He was also a professor of education and urban politics at Harvard from 1966 to 1973.

As a conservative Democrat, Moynihan was not necessarily averse to Republicans, nor they to him, and so it was that President-elect Richard M. Nixon asked him to join the administration in 1968. Nixon had been reading Moynihan's work, which, as he later recalled in his R.N.: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978), he found "refreshing and stimulating." Nixon invited him to serve in a number of capacities: assistant to the president for urban affairs, counselor to the president, and executive secretary of the newly created Urban Affairs Council. Moynihan held these positions from 1969 to 1970, during which time another politically incorrect observation brought him into the cross-hairs once again. Maintaining that the government should quit interfering in the black community and should allow African Americans more of a free hand to work out their problems, he coined the unfortunate phrase "benign neglect." Opponents of both Moynihan and Nixon seized on this expression as supposed evidence of a declining commitment to civil rights.

Following his reelection in 1972 Nixon appointed Moynihan ambassador to India, and in 1975 President Gerald R. Ford named him ambassador to the United Nations. Late in the following year, Moynihan won the first of four elections to the U.S. Senate. In Washington he soon made a name for himself as a Democrat capable of working with Republicans, while his sharp criticism of President Bill Clinton's sexual and ethical peccadilloes showed him as a leader unwilling simply to maintain the party line. Moynihan retired from the Senate at the end of his fourth term, in 2001.

White-haired and known for quirky speech patterns, Moynihan has remained a public figure of wide renown, and respect for his work has only increased with time. This is particularly the case with regard to his observations on family, poverty, welfare, and social problems expressed in The Negro Family. The enthusiasm driving the War on Poverty has long ago evaporated, and poverty is far worse than it was when Johnson launched the Great Society in 1965. Not surprising, from the perspective of Moynihan's report, is the concurrent disintegration of the underclass black family—and this despite the trillions of dollars that have been directed toward solving the problem. By the mid- 1990s all but the most committed demagogues had come to recognize that the old ways of solving the problem of poverty were not working, and they were forced to admit (however grudgingly) that Moynihan had been right all along.

Insights on Moynihan's work in the late 1960s and early 1970s may be found in Richard Nixon, R.N.: The Memoirs of Richard Nixon (1978). Robert A. Katzmann, Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The Intellectual in Public Life (1998), offers a view of the subject from the perspective of numerous colleagues. Moynihan's own A Dangerous Place (1975), written with Suzanne Weaver, chronicles his time at the United Nations. Also of note are Douglas Schoen, Pat (1979), and Godfrey Hodgson, The Gentleman from New York (2000).

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick

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Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Born March 16, 1927, in Tulsa, OK; died of a ruptured appendix, March 26, 2003, in Washington, DC. Professor and United States Senator. During his more than 40 years in government and teaching, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was known for his erudite, opinionated, and entertaining speaking style, as well as for his willingness to criticize presidential administrations of both parties, and his often controversial views on race relations. Although he was not known as an original researcher, the 18 books he wrote or edited sparked intense debate and further research and action on the part of those who read them. His campaign to turn Washington D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue into a lasting monument renewed the city and remains today as a legacy to his interest in architecture. Moynihan was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1927, the son of a newspaperman. Later in that year, his father moved the family to New York City, where he worked writing advertising copy. In 1937, when Moynihan was ten, his father abandoned the family, leaving them in poverty. They moved into a series of Manhattan apartments, and Moynihan helped to support the family by shining shoes in Times Square. Moynihan graduated from high school with honors in 1943, and then worked as a stevedore at Piers 48 and 49 in Manhattan.

After attending City College in Manhattan for a year, Moynihan enlisted in the Navy and received officer training at Middlebury College and at Tufts University. The following year, with the end of World War II, he was discharged, worked at a bar his mother had bought, and then earned his B.A. at Tufts in 1948. In 1949, he earned an M.A. at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts. In 1950, he received a Fulbright Scholarship to attend the London School of Economics. Upon returning to the United States in 1953, he worked on Robert F. Wagner's mayoral campaign and then wrote speeches for W. Averell Harriman's successful gubernatorial campaign in 1954, later becoming Harriman's chief aide. While working there, he met Elizabeth Brennan, and they married in May of 1955. In 1961, after completing his Ph.D. in international relations at Syracuse University, he began working in the Labor Department in Washington, D.C., eventually becoming the department's assistant secretary. While there, he became interested in the architecture of office spaces, and then in the architecture of public buildings and public spaces. This interest would endure for the rest of his life, and would give rise to one of his most enduring projects: transforming Washington's dingy Pennsylvania Avenue into a grand boulevard that connected the U.S. Capitol and the White House.

Moynihan was also interested in immigration and ethnic diversity, and became controversial for his views on the problems facing African–American families. Noting the high levels of unemployment, welfare, and unmarried mothers among African Americans, he wrote that America had destroyed these families through the historical legacy of slavery, and that it was the responsibility of the government to adopt policies to enhance the stability and resources of these families. His views were roundly criticized by liberal observers, and in 1965 he left the administration. In 1966, he moved to Harvard University, where he served as director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies and became a tenured professor in the Graduate School of Education. He continued to spar with liberals on his views regarding African–American issues.

When Republican Richard M. Nixon was elected president, Moynihan, who viewed himself as a liberal Democrat, joined the White House staff as assistant to the president for urban affairs. His friends and his wife were startled by his alliance with Nixon, and his wife refused to move to Washington. While working with Nixon, Moynihan pushed for a Family Assistance Plan for poor families; the program went nowhere. So did Moynihan's suggestion that the United States end the war in Vietnam.

In 1970 he went back to Harvard, where he shifted his interests to foreign affairs; he was instrumental in negotiating an end to India's huge food aid debt to the United States. In 1975 he became the United States' ambassador to the United Nations. As ambassador, he became famous for his blunt replies to criticism of the United States by other countries. United States Secretary of State Henry Kissinger disliked Moynihan's confrontational tactics, and Moynihan retired in February of 1976. He then ran for the Democratic nomination for the Senate, won easily, and won again three more times. As a senator, he worked to rectify a shortfall of Federal money to New York. He was also noted for his criticism of all four presidents under whom he served.

In 1977, Moynihan decided that President Jimmy Carter did not realize how evil the Soviet Union was, and over the ensuing years, he noted that the Soviet Union's empire seemed to be crumbling from the inside. As a result, he believed that vast military spending to protect the United States against the Soviets was no longer necessary, and he was sharply critical of President Ronald Reagan's emphasis on military spending at the expense of domestic spending. In 1990, he was similarly critical of President George H.W. Bush's decision to invade Iraq. When President Bill Clinton sought to establish a national health insurance program, Moynihan was against the program, commenting that the administration should first reform welfare. Despite this criticism, in 2000, President Clinton awarded Moynihan the Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor.

Moynihan died on March 26, 2003, as a result of complications arising from a ruptured appendix; he was 76. He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth; their children, Timothy, Maura, and John; and two grandchildren. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery with full military honors, including a 21–gun salute and a musical tribute by the Navy Band.


Independent (London, England), March 28, 2003, p. 20; Los Angeles Times, March 27, 2003, p. B16; New York Times, March 27, 2003, p. A1; April 1, 2003, p. D9; Washington Post, April 27, 2003, p. A1, p. A6.


Moynihan, Daniel Patrick

views updated Jun 11 2018

Moynihan, Daniel Patrick (1927– ) US social scientist and public official. He was active in the administrations of Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and has been a Democratic senator from New York since 1977. His best-known books include Beyond the Melting Pot (1963) and Counting Our Blessings (1980).

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