Lawrence O’Donnell, Jr. on David Ellwood: “A distinguished record of scholarship, service and strengthening the quality of government leadership”
“David Ellwood’s work exemplifies that rare combination of outstanding scholarship and dedicated public service that the Moynihan Prize was created to recognize. Professor Ellwood has devoted his career to a policy arena that Daniel Patrick Moynihan cared deeply about: reducing poverty for American families and addressing the challenges of low pay and unemployment. Like Professor Moynihan before him, he has also played a key role in training tomorrow’s political leaders and encouraging his best students to enter government service.”
“Beginning with his landmark book, Poor Support: Poverty and the American Family, Professor Ellwood has stressed the need to ‘make work pay.’ In a 1989 op-ed in the Washington Post, he wrote with Moynihan-like clarity about the plight of poor households with full-time workers. He said: ‘The problem facing these families is not distorted values, dependency, or some culture of poverty. Their problem is that their wages are too low.'”
“Professor Ellwood’s work has significantly influenced public policy in the United States and abroad. His most recent research focuses on the changing structure of American families, the forces reshaping fertility and marriage patterns, and the larger implications of these changes for society and the economy. With Mary Jo Bane, he co-authored Welfare Realities: From Rhetoric to Reform. He is also the author of A Working Nation: Workers, Work, and Government in the New Economy.”
“In his youth, David Ellwood was a recipient of the David N. Kershaw Award, given by the Association of Public Policy Analysis and Management to outstanding individuals under the age of 40 who have made a distinguished contribution to the field of public policy. He is also a recipient of Stanford University’s Morris and Edna Zale Award for Outstanding Distinction in Scholarship and Public Service.”
“After Hurricane Katrina, Dean Ellwood helped to establish the Acting in Time Initiative at the Kennedy School to examine how government can work more effectively to address our most pressing problems, such as natural disasters, environmental issues, and the health care system before they reach the crisis point.”
“In 1993, Professor Ellwood joined the Clinton Administration as Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation at the Department of Health and Human Services. He served as co-chair of the President’s Working Group on Welfare Reform, Family Support and Independence. He played a key role in the Administration’s development and implementation of critical social policy.”
“He worked with President Clinton and Senator Moynihan to dramatically expand the Earned Income Tax Credit for working families. He also worked to provide more generous medical care supports for the children of working parents and more generous child care allowances. He was an early proponent of welfare reform, but in 1996, along with Senator Moynihan, he publicly urged the president not to sign legislation that failed to provide adequate training and public-sector jobs, if needed, for welfare recipients who reached their limit on cash assistance. He has continued to be a strong voice for the economic security of people for whom work can be very challenging, and he has continually posed the question of what happens to those who cannot find jobs—a question that the President and Congress chose to ignore in 1996 when they seemed to believe we would never have another recession.”
“I met David when President Clinton nominated him for the Assistant Secretary position at HHS. I was then the chief of staff of the Senate Finance Committee, which had jurisdiction over his confirmation. Senator Moynihan was, of course, the Committee Chairman. Chairman Moynihan was not thrilled with every nominee sent his way. No Chairman ever is. The Chairman had made it clear to the White House that he would like to see David in the Administration, but he was never surprised when the system produced a nominee that was a rung or two below the best and the brightest. When David’s nomination came through, the Chairman told me, ‘Well, they got that one right.'”
“As is traditional in these cases, the nominee dropped by the Chairman’s office for a pre-hearing chat. I sat in on the meeting and found myself automatically reverting to my undergraduate policy of never saying a word in the presence of Harvard professors.”
“Chairman Moynihan, laboring under the burden of too much experience in the field, was not as optimistic as David about the political prospects for welfare reform. He said wearily, ‘David, there’s no sense getting into this if you’re not willing to spend thirty years on it.’ Needless to say, he knew David was willing. He knew he was looking at the young man who would carry on this work long after he was gone.”
“I have been asked countless times in the last few years what would Senator Moynihan think about this or that issue of the day. I always say I don’t know. Even when I have a very good feel for what his angle on the issue would be, I say I don’t know … because, at best, I could only tell you 50 percent of what he would think or maybe 80 or 90 if it was a simple issue. But that final 10 or 20 percent, that surprising, often counterintuitive, thing that would make it a Moynihan idea? Well, for that, you could only ask the man himself. So, in the years that I haven’t been able to check with him first, I have never spoken for him. Until now.”
“I can tell you with absolute certainty that if he could be here tonight, Pat Moynihan would be honored to say the following words himself:
“For his distinguished record of scholarship, public service and strengthening the quality of government leadership, David T. Ellwood is presented the 2009 Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize of the American Academy of Political and Social Science.”
Lawrence O’Donnell is a writer and producer and Senior Political Analyst for MSNBC, and former senior adviser to Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. The preceding remarks were offered in presenting the 2009 Daniel Patrick Moynihan prize to David Ellwood.
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