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Daniel Patrick Moynihan, RIP political hack

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Daniel Patrick Moynihan was just a hack liberal politician. Oh, he was a learned Harvard professional, very erudite and charming. He wrote a bunch of books.

A lot of Republicans and conservatives liked him. George Will regarded him as a personal friend. Great for him.

Moynihan was more annoying to me sometimes, though, than even an average Democrat congressman. This is because of his especially highly developed talent for talking out both sides of his mouth. He goddam KNEW better than the welfare state crap. He wrote voluminous books about it. From David Frum’s intended to be positive obituary note:

When it came time to say ‘aye’ or ‘nay,’ Moynihan was a loyal adherent of the liberal wing of the Democratic party. When Americans for Democratic Action and the American Conservative Union handed out their annual ratings, Moynihan regularly scored in the high 80s and low 90s on the liberal scale; under 10 on the conservative scale. I remember watching him from the Senate balcony during the impeachment fight, his mouth not merely closed, but his lips pressed together as tight as the two sides of a Ziploc bag, as if to prevent any stray syllable of condemnation from slipping out.

But off the Senate floor, at the typewriter and the rostrum, few writers of the century have more vividly and powerfully described the failure and collapse of the liberal project of the 1960s.

Talk is cheap. Moynihan could tell you all day long in eloquent detail about the failings of the welfare state, but in his powerful role as a United States senator where it really counted, he voted for all the standard crap right down the line.

So then, Moynihan was in practice just another hack Democrat partisan. His passing is surely a tragedy for his family and personal friends, but no loss of a statesman for the rest of us.

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  • James Russell

    Al, do you really hate everyone and everything, or do you just tell your shiny happy side not to come anywhere near this site?

  • Wow. How utterly necessary, Al.

  • Anybody who says anything critical about the Dixie Chick’s hateful comments about President Bush gets called a Nazi or McCarthyite. Yet if I criticize a hack politician in considerably less inflammatory language, then I’m just a hater.

    Yes, this criticism IS necessary. Moynihan was a powerful elected official, and his public record should be criticized. He got FAR too many passes on the basis of pleasing personality and general facility at being two-faced.

    In short, my patience wanes for dishonesty and two-faced behavior in politics and public discourse. There’s plenty of room for legitimate disagreement on many topics, but I am not willing to accept blatant dishonesty without calling people on it.

    Also, I don’t at all “hate” Pat Moynihan. The word I used for him was to say I found him “annoying.” That’s way short of hate.

    Up past annoying, I would use the word “contempt” for more egregious figures, such as Michael Moore or Jesse Jackson.

    I have only a limited amount of actual hatred to spread around, so I save that for real monsters, such as Hussein or Yasser Arafat.

    In fact, you can’t truly love the good without despising and fighting the bad and wicked things that threaten it. When our soldiers shoot a Baath party thug, it is much more an act of loving protection for family and home than of hatred for the bad guy. He just had to be put down like a rabid dog.

    Finally, then, let me briefly address some things that I do NOT hate. You can find copious writing about some of my favorite things HERE and HERE.

    And let us conclude with a little invocation from Tom T Hall, whom I indeed un-hate very much.

    I LOVE

    I love little baby ducks, old pick-up trucks, slow-moving trains, and rain
    I love little country streams, sleep without dreams, Sunday school in May,
    and hay
    And I love you too

    I love leaves in the wind, pictures of my friends, birds in the world, and squirrels
    I love coffee in a cup, little fuzzy pups, bourbon in a glass, and grass And I love you too

    I love honest open smiles, kisses from a child, tomatoes on the vine, and onions
    I love winners when they cry, losers when they try, music when it’s good, and life
    And I love you too

  • san

    Al, no is questioning your right to criticize the makers of public policy. But when you kick off with a title like “Daniel Patrick Moynihan, RIP political hack”, you might as well just entitled your piece “Ignore the following as it is an unreasoned assault.” You can still make your point with a little dry wit — for example “Patrick Moynihan passes away from injuries sustatined while falling off the fence.” However, your title seems a mere potshot at a dead guy.

  • san

    “sustained”… you know what I mean.

  • Well now San, you may have a reasonable point here. I disagree, but I can see how someone might say that. I tend to favor humor as an approach to argument very often. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood.

    If I were good enough, I’d aspire to write something like HL Mencken’s infamously scathing obituary of William Jennings Bryant, the former senator who had just “won” his case as prosecutor of the Scopes Monkey Trial days before his passing. In fairness to both Moynihan and me though, Mencken had an exponentially juicier subject for ridicule.

    Some believe that you shouldn’t speak ill of the dead. I am not one of those. If I didn’t like you in life, I’m not going to come up with fake niceties when you pass. I would feel like a hypocrite for doing so.

    I can, however, understand a reasonable point in some people’s minds of making nice for the guy’s family and friends. After all, the man himself is gone so what good does it do?

    That good, such as it is, comes from dropping my two cents into the public discourse involved in setting out his legacy. I’m not talking bad about Moynihan in order to spite his family, but to add a voice of dissent against particularly his conservative defenders, especially George Will.

    Moynihan wanted to have it both ways. He wanted to be regarded by himself and others as a conscientious and honest social scientist, but he acted just like any other hack liberal politician. He routinely acted politically in obvious contradiction to his academic writing.

    I believe that it does not serve the public good for politicians to think that they can behave in this manner and get a pass. I am totally unwilling to help any up and coming Moynihans in their delusions of nobility. They don’t deserve it. It is distasteful to me, and it would only encourage their negative behavior.

  • bflaska

    “and hay
    And I love you too”

    Is the writer making an intentional joke here, substituting “hay” for “hey”?

  • Anybody who says anything critical about the Dixie Chick’s hateful comments about President Bush gets called a Nazi or McCarthyite.

    And someone who reckons there’s no justification for a war on Iraq gets equated with Holocaust deniers.

  • I find your post to be refreshing in its honesty! Hypocrits and liars are not the kind of people who are needed in the Congress or anywhere in leadership position.

  • Thank you for your kind words, Thomas.

  • Shark

    Al:“I tend to favor humor as an approach to argument very often. Perhaps I just wasn’t in the mood.”


    You could have saved some time and just posted a digital jpeg of you pissing on his grave. That would have been about as interesting and insightful.

    re: Anybody who says anything critical about the Dixie Chick’s hateful comments about President Bush gets called a Nazi or McCarthyite.

    You’re so right: I pity the poor people who criticized the Dixie Chicks. The Chicks’ critics were treated SO unfairly.

    Yeee-ah. Hello. Earth to Al.

    A friggin’ pop trio says they’re ‘ashamed’ Bush is from their home state and they’re labeled traitors and terrorists by every right-wing blather blaster in the country.

    Perspective, babe, perspective.

  • No Shark, a depiction of urinating on Moynihan’s grave would NOT have been insightful at all, but merely a gesture of contempt. I intended here to explain as precisely and succintly as possible WHY I didn’t care for Moynihan. It’s not just that he was a liberal, but that he clearly knew better than how he acted for many years.

    Nothing personal, but the guy was a terrible hypocrite who got WAY too much credit simply for having a nice facade.

    I do tend to favor humor and satire (a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down), but not always. This was more a straightforward critique.

    Some of the critics of the Dixie Chicks did go overboard. It was before your time here, but best I can tell I was the first person to cuss Natalie on the web for her comments.

    That was worth a quick cussing, but then it was time to lighten up. Perspective, as you say.

  • Shark

    AL: “…I intended here to explain as precisely and succintly as possible WHY I didn’t care for Moynihan. It’s not just that he was a liberal, but that he clearly knew better than how he acted for many years. Nothing personal, but the guy was a terrible hypocrite who got WAY too much credit simply for having a nice facade.”

    Then it’s safe to assume your next post will be about our current President?

    Show me what a fair, independent-minded guy you are.

  • In some aspects Shark, yup, W needs it broke off up in him. I could give you several things. For starters, he signed that *#$$^ McCain-Feingold law that he was saying was unconstitutional back when he was running for president in Y2K.

    He also needs the steel tariff stuck up his ass as well. Against his beliefs, and against what he knew was good for the country.

    And don’t even get me started on him and the new Medicare drug entitlements.

    Damn it Shark, now you’ve got the veins bulging out on my forehead.

    Happy now?

  • OK Shark- Another piece with me harshing on Dubya from the vaults for your pleasure so you’ll know that I’m Fair and Balanced, like Al Franken and Fox News: “Bush-Gore: The Truth Serum Debate.” [YOU KNOW THE DRILL: RIGHT CLICK, SAVE AS…] I’ll note that it is partly written in tribute to John Water’s classic Cecil B Demented, which I just got on a new DVD for $1.50. HA!

  • Shark

    George W. Bush, hypocrite/political hack, RIP November 04

    BUSH: “I don’t think our troops ought to be used for what’s called nation-building.”

    BUSH: “It really depends upon how our nation conducts itself in foreign policy. If we’re an arrogant nation, they’ll resent us. If we’re a humble nation but strong, they’ll welcome us. And our nation stands alone right now in the world in terms of power,
    and that’s why we’ve got to be humble…”

    BUSH : “Bring ’em on!”

  • Eric Olsen

    Of course the change in attitude may also reflect the effects of an event you may recall from back in the late-summer of ’91 – my personal attitude certainly went through some adjustment.

  • Being “humble” does not mean sitting back and letting SOBs kill us.

  • Shark

    Big Al,

    See how we went from you dissin’ Moynihan to you defendin’ Bush?

    This was just an exercise ’cause I wanted to let ya know…

    “I read your book, you magnificent bastard!” —Shark Patton to Al Rommel

  • Shark, in all fairness, you turned it into a Bush attack. This isn’t really directed at you, Shark, because I am guilty and I have seen it countless other times, where people just casually drop their ad hominem attacks of whichever side at any time, but how is it possible that we can turn anything into a war debate on this site?

  • Fair and balanced doesn’t mean I’m just going to blindly attack all politicians all the time. I’ll defend Bush somewhat regarding foreign policy because I think he’s doing something in the general direction of the right thing, relatively gently squeezing some nuts to make it understood that you can’t be even having anything to do with people who are trying to come kill Americans without facing serious consequences.

    In short, you definitely CAN get me to defend Bush if you pick just the right topic. He’s not 100% bad.

    On the other hand, I’ll even defend Bill Clinton- if you talk about NAFTA and welfare reform. He managed to do some good there.

  • Thank you, I just wanted to give a greeting and tell you I like your blog very much.


  • Ok, you’re off-base about Moynihan. But regardless, you should read Moynihan’s ground-breaking book, Secrecy, about why the CIA and the White House overestimated the Soviet nuclear threat. He argued that government secrecy had the effect of eviscerating the arguments of anyone who claimed the threat was overblown. When one side says the danger is overblown, and the other side says, “but you don’t know about top secret document X or Y,” the purveyor of secrets is always the one who succeeds (and raids the federal coffers in the process). I feel (and a number of historians agree) that this is one of the shrewdest analysis about the federal government I’ve read.

    Moynihan also wrote against-the-tide policy pieces about welfare in the sixties. Ultimately, though, his book Secrecy is what he will be remembered for. Its relevance to the Iraqi war is undeniable.

  • A quote from Moynihan’s book,

    “The central fact is that we live today in an Information Age. Open sources give us the vast majority of what we need to know in order to make intelligent decisions. Decisions made by people at ease with disagreement and ambiguity and tentativeness. Decisions made by those who understand how to exploit the wealth and diversity of publicly available information, who no longer simply assume that clandestine collection-that is, ‘stealing secrets’-equals greater intelligence. Analysis, far more than secrecy, is the key to security….Secrecy is for losers.”