Daniel Patrick Moynihan: Recalling an earlier era and a Democrat with civility, humor and patriotism

Special to WorldTribune.com

By Susan Smith, Fairfax Free Citizen

One watches — or should I say listens to — the more and more unhinged left in America in increasing wonderment certain that what is being said about our President can’t get any worse. It’s got to stop at some point, one thinks, but now we know it’s never going to stop unless someone makes it stop.

Perhaps we should take a page from the book of the great American, and the man referred to by several of his political rivals as “the greatest Democrat,” Daniel Patrick Moynihan. When serving as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, after hearing nothing but vitriol from just about every other nations’ representative at the UN during Moynihan’s entire service as American Ambassador, Moynihan finally had had enough, and said, in his distinctive voice:

There are some things you cannot say about us.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan / WCBS

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a study in contrasts. He was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1927, and when his family moved to New York City, he attended public and later parochial schools there. He eventually graduated from City College of New York, and in later recognition of his formidable intellectual gifts, went on to Tufts University, the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, and the London School of Economics. In between those scholarly endeavors, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy, where he served as a gunnery officer from 1944 – 1947; he remained in the Naval Reserve from 1947 until 1966. I supply this biographical detail because the telling of it belies completely the extraordinarily patrician manner of man he was. He was a man who grew up in one of the poorer neighborhoods of New York City, where he shined shoes and worked as a longshoreman, but he was also a man who came to develop “a taste for Savile Row suits, rococo conversational riffs, and Churchillian oratory.”

Moynihan had a way of putting his finger on things. He was one of the most original figures in American public life: a scholar of ethnicity who knew his way around the rough-and-tumble of urban America; a tough and savvy politician, whether in the faculty commons or the smoke-filled ward hall; a fervent Democrat who saw value in working with (and for) Republicans; a working class kid who wore bow ties and spoke with a patrician stutter; a student of the past who voiced prophetic insights on race, government secrecy, and America’s role in the world; and a public servant of the utmost seriousness who was known for his humor.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan was also brilliant, whose love of the written and spoken word drove him into the political world of Democratic politics, precisely to where any young self-respecting Irishman should, and that is in the fold of the first Irish Catholic President, John F. Kennedy. He served him in various sub-Cabinet posts, and later served in several Cabinet posts with Kennedy’s successors, both Democratic and Republican. During this time, he prepared and published, in 1965, the remarkable work for which he is perhaps best known, The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, later called the Moynihan Report.

In this seminal document, Moynihan brought to the American consciousness for the first time in the 20th century following the vast expenditures of The Great Society, and the War on Poverty, etc., the horrible conditions in the black community. Primary among these was the abandonment of blacks of the family unit to move into primarily single parent households. Everything that was negatively affecting the black family, and the black community, including massively increased crime, drug use, illegitimacy, and dependence on welfare, emanated from that factor.

During his entire public career, Moynihan never let up in his efforts to restore the back family in America, though he was continually thwarted in his numerous legislative suggestions to fix these problems, ironically by his own Democratic Party. He soon accepted another government position, rather non-sequitorially, as Ambassador to India, in 1973, during the Prime Ministership of Indira Gandhi; needless to say, he served brilliantly. In a letter to his son, Moynihan described, in his inimitable style, an action of some significance during his tenure:

I have the honor to report that a new record exists for the greatest amount paid by a single check in the history of banking. On February 18, 1974, I presented to the Government of India a check for Rs. 16,640,000,000. At the current exchange rate, this is the dollar equivalent of $2,046,700,000. The Government of the United States did this for reasons of important public policy, but my role in the matter was not unaffected by the prospect of entering the Guinness Book of World Records and thereby winning the permanent regard of my 14-year old son who at times appears to read nothing else. I enclose a photostat of the check in order that you should have no doubt of the matter.

Then, in 1975, Moynihan accepted President Nixon’s offer to become Ambassador to the United Nations, which he had actually been offered twice before, but had turned it down on both occasions. As Ambassador to this mess of an international body, Moynihan took a “hardline anti-communist stance, in line with the agenda of the White House at the time.” The Ambassador was also a strong supporter of Israel, which was not a popular position to take within that forum. When Moynihan actively fought against the UN resolution saying that Zionism was a form of racism, in response, Permanent PLO Observer to the UN Zehdi Terzi threatened his life. But the American public “responded enthusiastically to his moral outrage over the resolution; his condemnation of the ‘Zionism is Racism’ resolution brought him celebrity status and helped him win a US Senate seat a year later.” In his book, Moynihan’s Moment, author Gil Troy posits that “Moynihan’s 1975 UN speech opposing the resolution was the key moment of his political career.” Moynihan himself, when ruminating on what it took to be a successful UN Ambassador, made the following observation:

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.

The world also learned, during the tenure of Daniel Patrick Moynihan as UN Ambassador, that the time was finished that America and Americans would allow themselves to be maligned with impunity.

Moynihan served as U.S. Senator from New York with distinction, as he did everything. He also had fun when he was there, and was living proof that civility and humor went a long way in affecting positive change in the Senate. Senator Moynihan offered the following in a letter to his friend, Vice President Walter Mondale (who was very proud of his Norwegian heritage) re: a relevant discussion he had with Senate colleagues Gaylord Nelson and Scoop Jackson:

As a descendant of a race of scholars much victimized by these folk (Vikings) when they first appeared on the rim of the earth, I have had reason to learn their history with perhaps greater precision than some. In any event, at one point I broke into the conversation to tell of the Viking encirclement of Europe which at one point put them simultaneously in occupation of Kiev and at the gates of Constantinople. None of you had heard anything about any of this, and wearily (as one can spend only so much time trying to explain things to Norwegians) I undertook to get the details. It turns out, however, that the available facts are not precise. The attack on Constantinople took place June 13, 860, involving a flotilla of some 200 ships. Some twenty years earlier (or thereabouts) the Russ (as the Scandanavian Varangans were known) had occupied Kiev. However, while Varnadsky in Ancient Russia (1940) has the attack coming from the East, across the Mediterranean from then established bases in Sicily, others hold that it came down from in the North. And so the pincer question is somewhat in dispute. You are familiar, of course, with the aftermath. Exhausted by these adventures, and thoroughly befuddled by their brief encounter with civilization, the Norsemen withdrew to the wastelands whence they had come, and relapsed into the morose melancholia that has characterized them ever since.

Would that even a semblance of such behavior were possible in our current nonfunctioning U.S. Senate in 2017.

As far as the personal life of Daniel Patrick Moynihan was concerned, suffice it to offer a quote of the great man himself:

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.

It would wonderful to think that if a “great Democrat” such as Daniel Patrick Moynihan were still alive and in public life, he could somewhat stifle the insanity on the part of his fellow party members and allow our 45th President to serve as he has been elected to do.