Pat Moynihan Ennobled Our Democracy
Note: The following are excerpts from a tribute to Daniel Patrick Moynihan delivered on May 8th, 2008 at the presentation of the Inaugural Daniel Patrick Moynihan prize
I was honored that you asked me here tonight, not just because Pat Moynihan was a friend for 53 years, but also the occasion gives me the chance to be with his wife Elizabeth, an intellect of equal force and importance, and their daughter Maura, who is honorary chair of the Moynihan Prize Steering Committee. Pat Moynihan was a prize all by himself. When we first met in September 1950 at the graduate school of the London School of Economics, he was the richest man I’d ever met. Forget all those stories he told, which evoke Marlon Brando working on the docks of New York; he was no Marlon Brando but he was no pauper. In September 1950 in London, where you could buy an orchestra seat in the Old Vic for six shillings and sixpence, Pat Moynihan had a monthly income of $225.00; $75.00 from the GI Bill and $100.00 as a Fulbright Fellow. He also was very rich in intelligence and in language. He was also rich, and this goes along with his intelligence and language, because he was Irish. This was a gift from God. I remember when John F. Kennedy landed in Dublin, Ireland in 1963; he stood at the airport alongside Irish President Éamon de Valera, born in Brooklyn, and Kennedy spoke of how the Irish had hemorrhaged themselves to enrich the bloodlines of other nations. Pat was just such an enrichment. But being so enriched because he was Irish did not mean that Pat was not destined to be cushioned from criticism, mostly by others, not so nobly enriched. Consider the reaction to the Moynihan Report, written when Pat was working for Arthur Goldberg in the Labor Department. It came to be known as the secret Moynihan Report. The thesis was simple yet controversial: Welfare laws, then existent, placed a premium of support that went to welfare mothers in homes that were devoid of fathers, married or otherwise. It was not a popular thesis that Pat was advocating. One person who particularly distrusted it and disliked it was President Johnson, who reportedly said, “Secret Moynihan Report, secret goddamn Moynihan Report? Why, he’s down at the corner of 14th and Pennsylvania hawking free copies to Evans and Novak.”
If I have to formulate a succinct description of Pat, I would say he was an architect of ideas. No coincidence, Pat was a great student of architecture and he took his appreciation of architecture, stones, and cement to the architecture of ideas and words. That was the genius that guided him through the Senate for 24 glorious years.
Today, I fear we live in a political structure of vulgarity and an absence of ideas. Perhaps this award will serve to remind us that we need not live that way, that politics need not be a pejorative word. Perhaps this would help us recall, which George Orwell once wrote …that in the end everything is political. Pat was political, and through his life, his writings, his political service ennobled our democracy, he ennobled this nation, and he ennobled three simple but everlastingly glorious words: Daniel Patrick Moynihan.
Sander Vanocur is the host of the prime time series “Movies in Time” and “History’s Business,” both on the History Channel.
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