Daniel Patrick Moynihan

From New World Encyclopedia

Daniel Patrick Moynihan
Daniel Patrick Moynihan

In office
1975 – 1976
Preceded by John A. Scali
Succeeded by William W. Scranton

In office
January 3, 1977 – January 3, 2001
Preceded by James L. Buckley
Succeeded by Hillary Rodham Clinton

Born March 16 1927(1927-03-16)
Tulsa, Oklahoma
Died March 26 2003 (aged 76)
Washington, DC
Political party Democratic
Spouse Elizabeth Moynihan
Religion Roman Catholic

Daniel Patrick “Pat” Moynihan (March 16, 1927 - March 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's government.

In addition to his government service, Moyihan was a distinguished scholar, and while working in the Department of Labor under President Lyndon Baines Johnson, he authored "The Moynihan Report" as part of the administration's War on Poverty. Moynihan concluded that the breakdown in the structure of the "Negro family" in inner city culture, which, due to problems of racism rooted in slavery, marginalized the role of the father, was the source of much of the problem of African-American juvenile delinquency and inner city crime.

Moynihan was among the most important public intellectuals of his era. Scholar and statesman, he eschewed the partisan battles of his day and defies easy classification.

Early life and education

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 1944-47, 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. Afterward, 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 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 such 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 welfare laws at that time permitted such families to receive welfare payments in certain parts of the United States.

Did you know?
Daniel Patrick Moynihan regarded the breakdown of the family, particularly the black family, as central to the problem of poverty

Moynihan's report,[1] entitled The Negro Family: The Case for National Action, assessed the causes within inner city culture that were undermining the black family and its consequences. Following Elkins, it assessed the root of the problem as slavery and the loss of the strong black male figure in African-American culture. It analyzed the problem of unemployment, particularly of the black male, for family formation and warned that the matriarchal culture of inner city blacks failed to meet the needs of black children.

The Moynihan Report was seen by people on the left as "blaming the victim,"[2] a slogan coined by William Ryan.[3] He was also seen as propagating the views of racists,[4] because much of the press coverage of his reports focused on the discussion of children who were born out of wedlock. Despite Moynihan's warnings, the main welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, 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 U.S. Senator Russell B. Long and lawyer-economist 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."[5]

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. In the face of the 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 1969, on the initiative of Nixon, NATO tried to establish a third civil column, establishing itself as a hub of research and initiatives in the civil region, dealing as well with environmental topics.[6] Moynihan[6] named Acid Rain and the Greenhouse effect as suitable international challenges to be dealt by NATO. NATO was chosen, since the mutual defense organization had suitable expertise in the field and experience with international research coordination. The German government was skeptical and saw the initiative as an attempt to regain international terrain after the lost Vietnam War. The topics, however, gained momentum in civil conferences and institutions.[6]

In 1970, Moynihan 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,[7]condemning the 1975 resolution that declared Zionism to be a form of racism.[8]

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 in the struggle against communist expansionism. 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.[9]

Later, he admitted that he had defended a "shameless" Cold War policy toward East Timor.[10]

Moynihan's thinking began to change during his tenure at the U.N. In his 1993 book on nationalism, Pandaemonium, he wrote 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 UN ambassador, Moynihan continued his hardline rhetoric, which he described 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 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.[11]

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 Bill 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 created 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 Ronald Reagan Administration's hawkish Cold War policies, such as support for the Contras in Nicaragua. Moynihan argued, however accurately, 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."[12]

Moynihan was a political liberal. He voted against the death penalty, the flag desecration amendment,[13] 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.

In 2003, after retiring from the Senate, Moynihan died at the age of 76 after complications suffered from an emergency appendectomy about a month earlier. He was survived by his wife of 39 years, Elizabeth Brennan Moynihan, three grown children, Timothy Patrick Moynihan, Maura Russell Moynihan, and John McCloskey Moynihan, and two grandchildren, Michael Patrick and Zora Olea.

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 50 years.

After release of the information, Moynihan authored Secrecy: The American Experience[14] in which 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 1964-67. 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.[15]

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 member 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."[16]


  • In 2004, Michael Bloomberg, the Mayor of New York City, announced plans to replace Penn Station as the city's railroad hub. Built a block away within the historic landmark James Farley Post Office building, the new station would be named for Moynihan.
  • In 2005, the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs renamed their Global Affairs Institute the Moynihan Institute of Global Affairs.


Moynihan was among the most important public intellectuals of his era. Scholar and statesman, he eschewed the partisan battles of his day and defies easy classification. During his time as a U.S. Senator and U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, he took many positions that were controversial. However, his most enduring and probably most controversial position came during the Johnson administration's War on Poverty. His assessment of the trends of the African-American family and its role in creating and perpetuating poverty were widely criticized as "blaming the victim." However, they are widely accepted today as a fundamental problem, addressed by black organizations such as The Fatherhood Initiative of Dr. Charles Ballard, and the target of programs of the Department of Health and Human Services during the Bush administration.

Major Works

  • 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 978-0316586993
  • 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


  1. Department of Labor, Moynihan's War on Poverty report. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  2. The National Review; March 27, 2003.
  3. William Ryan, Blaming the Victim (Random House, 1971).
  4. William Graebner, The End of Liberalism: Narrating Welfare's Decline, from the Moynihan Report (1965) to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (1996), Journal of Policy History 14 (2): 170-190.
  5. Richard Lacayo, Down on the Downtrodden, Time Magazine. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Kai F. Hünemörder and Franz Steiner Verlag, Die Frühgeschichte der globalen Umweltkrise und die Formierung der deutschen Umweltpolitik (1950-1973) (Early history of the environmental crisis and the setup of German environmental policy 1950-1973) (2004, ISBN 3515081887).
  7. WRMEA, Daniel Moynihan. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  8. David Frum, How We Got Here: The '70s (New York: Basic Books, 2000, ISBN 0465041957), 320.
  9. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, A Dangerous Place (Little Brown, 1978), 247.
  10. Pandaemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics (Oxford University Press 1993).
  11. Answers.com, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Oxford University Press Political Biography. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  12. Human Life Review, Summer 2003, 13.
  13. United States Senate, Record Vote Number: 48. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  14. Amazon.com, Secrecy: The American Experience. Retrieved January 19, 2009.
  15. The Public Interest, 1 (1) (1965).
  16. Michael Barone and Grant Ujifusa, The Almanac of American Politics (Washington D.C.: National Journal, 2000, ISBN 0-8129-3194-7), 1090–1091.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barone, Michael, and Grant Ujifusa. The Almanac of American Politics 2000. Washington DC: National Journal, 1090–1091, 1999. ISBN 0812931947
  • Frum, David. How We Got Here: The '70s. New York, NY: Basic Books, 2000. ISBN 0465041957
  • Hünemörder, Kai F. Franz Steiner. Verlag, 2004. ISBN 3515081887
  • Ryan, William. Blaming the Victim. Vintage, 1976. ISBN 978-0394722269

External links

All links retrieved January 25, 2024.

Diplomatic posts
Preceded by:
Kenneth Keating
United States Ambassador to India
1973 – 1975
Succeeded by:
William B. Saxbe
Preceded by:
John A. Scali
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations
Succeeded by:
William W. Scranton
United States Senate
Preceded by:
James L. Buckley
United States Senator (Class 1) from New York
Succeeded by: Hillary Rodham Clinton
Political offices
Preceded by:
Quentin N. Burdick
North Dakota
Chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
Succeeded by:
Max S. Baucus
Preceded by:
Lloyd M. Bentsen, Jr.
Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee
Succeeded by:
Robert W. Packwood


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