For half a century,
U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan stood as the nations
premier intellectual statesman. Perhaps no American public figure
in recent times has received such an outpouring of acclaim following
his or her death. It is richly merited, given Moynihans unmatched
accomplishments in fields ranging from social policy, urban architecture,
and New York State stewardship to political history, international
affairs, and historic preservation. Also noteworthy is the constant
and mutually cherished connection between the senator and Syracuse
died in March at age 76, had a remarkably productive career, encompassing
24 years in the Senate, as well as service to four U.S. presidents
(two Democratic, two Republican), including ambassadorships to the
United Nations and to India. Everyone who encountered him has a
favorite Moynihan moment. My fondest memory arises from
his recent tenure as University Professor at SU.
In spring 2001,
for the better part of 10 weeks, my Interest Group Politics class
undertook an elaborate public policy simulation focused on health
care issues. The 80-odd students played members of Congress, lobbyists
for groups like the American Medical Association, White House officials,
and reporters, all working to promoteor blocklegislation
on a prescription drug benefit, a patients bill of rights,
and the like. Late in the semester Senator Moynihan graciously agreed
to resume his senatorial role and evaluate the lobbyists in the
For a memorable
four hours, Moynihans Eggers Hall office was transformed into
a Senate anteroom, where successive groups of student-lobbyists
trooped in nervously to promote their goals and ideas on health
carea subject Moynihan knew as well as anyone, given his recent
turn as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee. He took up his
part with relish, gently but firmly pushing one student on her claims
about uninsured Americans; joking with another about a (real-life)
lobbyist from his group, Families USA; and barking with apparently
genuine asperity at one fellow whod boldly mentioned our
recent contribution to your campaign, Senator. Moynihan responded
sternly, One should never discuss financial matters in a U.S.
end, Moynihan emerged to find the students gathered in Eggers Commons,
excitedly discussing their respective lobbying experiences. Acknowledging
their expressions of gratitude, the senator remarked, The
thing about you lobbyists in D.C., whether youre Democrats
or Republicans, is you all wind up in the evening at the same saloon!
In unprompted notes later, several of the students called the experience
the highlight of their SU academic careers.
Moynihan meets with students in the Maxwell School.
career was marked by countless gestures of similar good cheer, as
well as rigorous intellectual engagement and unmatched wit. (When
addressed, with a sneer, as Professor Moynihan by incumbent
Senator James Buckley, his opponent in his first Senate campaign
in 1976, Moynihan mock-lamented, Ah, the mudslinging has begun.)
His years as a public servant, both in the executive branch and
in the Senate, yielded an astonishing record of involvement and
achievement. As one book reviewer wrote, The story of modern
American social policy and the story of Daniel Patrick Moynihan
are one and the same.
public contributions were of two general types that rarely are coupled
in the same person: policy making, where despite an oft-described
owlish demeanor and tendency to lecture
colleagues, he proved a master at the give-and-take of hardball
politics; and serious scholarship. Among Moynihans 18 books,
half of which were written while he served in the Senate, are truly
vital studies such as Beyond the Melting Pot, On the Law of Nations,
and, most recently, his powerful rumination on officialdoms
penchant for hidden activity, Secrecy: The American Experience.
of Moynihans early life, though well chronicled, deserve recollection.
Though the Hells Kitchen boyhood frequently attributed to
him is not exactly accuratehis mother indeed owned a bar there,
but not until Moynihan was olderhe did work as a shoeshine
boy in Times Square and, later, as a dock worker on Manhattans
piers. His service in the Navy followed, along with a stint tending
bar for his mother. He then went off to college at Tufts, where
he earned a B.A. degree, then M.A. and doctoral degrees from the
Fletcher School at Tufts.
academic career began where it concluded, at Syracuse University.
From 1959 to 1961, while working on a Ph.D. in international relations,
Moynihan directed SUs New York State Government Research Project
and wrote a book on Governor Averell Harrimans administration.
He also taught a class or two, though the students back then
knew more than I did, as he puckishly recalled in a talk at
SU last year.
Professor gets together with Chancellor Kenneth A. Shaw
and Vice Chancellor and Provost Deborah A. Freund.
His return to
the Hill as University Professor after he retired from the Senate
in 2000 was equally multifaceted. Moynihan lectured in several different
undergraduate and Maxwell School courses, held regular meetings
with doctoral students from across the social sciences, and convened
symposia, including a memorable 30-year anniversary roundtable on
his book Beyond the Melting Pot with his co-author, Nathan
Glazer. He also presided over the Moynihan Award ceremony, which
each year honors an outstanding junior faculty member in the Maxwell
School. Moynihan endowed the award nearly two decades ago. That
giftone small but significant and generous gesture characterizing
a life of an unmatched range of public contributionstestifies
to the profoundly good nature of the man. It also speaks to the
proud and enduring link between SU and this great citizen of New
York, the United States, and the world.
Kersh, a political science professor at the Maxwell School and the
College of Arts and Sciences, is author of Dreams of a More Perfect
Union (Cornell University Press, 2001). He was the recipient
of the Daniel P. Moynihan Award for teaching and research in 2001.