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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 278

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This is the grave of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.

A man who suffered from a perspective on African-American life I think can only be ascribed to a white family pathology developed by two centuries of white power, Moynihan was born in Tulsa in 1927. His parents moved to New York in 1933 and lived as working class people, although he was able to spend summers on his grandfather’s farm in Indiana, so they weren’t that poor, even if it was the Depression. He went to City College for a year, but the war broke out and he joined the Navy in 1944. He was placed in officer training and so never saw combat because by the time he finished his degree at Tufts with Navy sponsorship, the war was over. He did serve briefly as a lieutenant gunnery officer in 1947 but was soon discharged. He returned to Tufts for a second undergraduate degree, this time in Sociology, where he ate up the worst of social science, a topic that black commenters such as Albert Murray would eviscerate him for 25 years later. He had a Fulbright at the London School of Economics in the early 50s, but spent a lot more time shopping and imitating Winston Churchill than studying, although he did manage to earn a PhD in History in 1961, getting an academic job at Syracuse in Political Science.

During these years, his involvement with politics was more intense than with academia. He began to identify strongly as a Democrat while in London and came back to work for Averill Harriman. He only went into teaching when Harriman lost to Nelson Rockefeller. But as a young, well-connected Democrat with academic credentials, it wasn’t surprising when he was tagged by the Kennedy administration for a position in the Department of Labor, where he worked from 1961-65. Moynihan was heavily influenced by the social science of the period. Unfortunately, that social science was deeply racist, even if not of the George Wallace variety. Moynihan was heavily influenced by Stanley Elkins, who believed that slavery had infantilized black people, making them dependent on the dominant society. Elkins’ work was a step beyond the Dunning School of studying the South, but it was still inherently paternalistic. Moreover, it continued to ignore actual black scholarship, such as that of W.E.B. DuBois and many others. Moynihan would ignore that too. Working in the Department of Labor, the Moynihan Report argued that black single-mother families was not about poverty, but rather about a defect in black culture that was the fault of slavery and Jim Crow, but nonetheless had created a pathology in black families. The ultimate in victim-blaming, the Moynihan Report has received praise from black writers such as Thomas Sowell, but then that is no praise at all. Much more useful is the sheer vitriol that the great writer Albert Murray unleashed at both Moynihan and Elkins in his early 70s books such as The Omni-Americans: Some Alternatives to the Folklore of White Supremacy and South to a Very Old Place, which are deep meditations of the black experience that eviscerate social science as arid studies of black communities that fail to actually study those communities, take their viewpoints seriously, and are pseudo-scientific justifications for racism. Obviously social science has changed since then, but for someone who rolls his eyes at the idea that what social scientists are doing is scientific, it’s glorious. Plus Albert Murray is awesome.

To be fair, Moynihan used the report and its recommendations to argue for greater social spending on black families, but then he never really recognized his own paternalism and he began worrying that a welfare system that encouraged black women to have more children was a bad thing. Of course, that’s not what Aid for Families with Dependent Children did, but that’s how Republicans defined it and Moynihan bought into it, because of course he did. Being too close to Robert Kennedy, LBJ forced Moynihan out of the White House in 1965. He spent the next few years in a variety of positions commenting on urban issues, especially the urban riots, which he saw as an outrage that required white liberals and white conservatives to unite to right the ship. There wasn’t much room for black voices in Moynihan’s view of the nation, especially if they didn’t act according to his preconceived notions of respectable behavior.

Thus, Moynihan was more than happy to work for Richard Nixon. An early advocate for a Universal Basic Income, this placed him in conflict with Nixon’s other advisors almost immediately, who were far less interested in social scientific thinking and solutions and far more interested in destroying the welfare state. Yet before he left the administration in 1970, he wrote a memo to Nixon arguing that the time had come to stop talking about race, which Nixon was more than happy to do. Again, Moynihan was in way over in his head as an “expert” on racial and urban issues. Nixon tried to name him UN Ambassador, but he refused that assignment. However, in 1973, he became Ambassador to India, where he sought to improve relationships with that nation in context of Nixon and Kissenger’s move toward close relations with Pakistan. So he managed to get a bunch of Indian debt cleared and that was good. Then, in 1975, Gerald Ford finally convinced Moynihan to take the job as UN Ambassador. While there, the only thing he basically did was come down radically on the side of Israel against Palestine and his embrace of Zionism led to greater popularity in New York, which then elected him senator in 1976.

Moynihan was still a Democrat, despite all these years working for such nice men as Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger. Unfortunately, he defeated Bella Abzug in 1976, who would have been way more awesome. Not too interested in domestic issues by this point, Moynihan became a leader in foreign policy. His staunch anti-communism moderated by the 80s and he criticized Reagan’s actions in Central America. He also correctly identified the problems that would soon tear the Soviet Union apart and suggested basically that the U.S. just let that happen and quit getting involved in illegal wars to fight communism.

Moynihan remained involved in some domestic policy issues–taxes and environmentalism a bit. But he also was one of the Democrats who led the fight to ban partial birth abortion. He also opposed the Clinton health plan in 1993. While he was a reliable liberal vote on many issues, on basically every issue Moynihan led on, he was a negative force, a man who believed in patriarchy and a paternalistic view toward people with less power. He supported a partial privatization of Social Security but got mad when Al Gore used the word “privatization” to describe it in 2000. He wasn’t incapable of changing and voted against the Clinton welfare reform in 1996, but overall, his value over replacement senator from New York was quite negative, much more so than, say, Dianne Feinstein for California and closer to Joe Lieberman levels of suck. Plus, that meaningless vote against welfare reform is even more trivial considering the decades of intellectual work he had done to set that very bill up. Today, Moynihan serves as the ideal Democrat for right-wing trolls such as Bret Stephens, or conservadem hacks like former Bob Kerrey aides, although given that Moynihan could be a troll himself, this seems appropriate.

Moynihan decided not to run for reelection in 2000, when Hillary Clinton replaced him. He died in 2003, at the age of 76.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan is buried on the confiscated lands of the traitor Lee, Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

If you would like this series to visit the graves of other terrible Democrats, you can donate to cover the expenses here. Lord knows there are enough of them. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

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