The President is No Daniel Patrick Moynihan

April 10, 2005
Margaret Sloane

Albany Times Union
Albany Times Union - If Daniel Patrick Moynihan — the legendary intellectual of the U.S. Senate — were alive today, we would undoubtedly be treated to choice and memorable responses to the Bush administration's recent invocations of his name in support of two policy decisions, one domestic and one foreign.
Moynihan, who died in 2003, was never one to sit firmly on his side of the aisle if his analysis of a public policy issue led to a different conclusion than those held by his fellow Democrats. He was inevitably guided by principle.
He placed great importance in the consistency and longevity of his views. The Bush administration is brazenly appropriating the senator's prestige and credibility to buttress actions to which Moynihan himself never would have agreed.
In November 2004, President Bush said, "I will explain to them and I will show them Senator Moynihan's thinking as a way to begin the process" of working on Social Security reform. The senator was, in fact, a co-chair of the President's Commission to Strengthen Social Security.
However, the President's proposal to privatize Social Security by letting workers invest their Social Security payment does not resemble the balanced reform package supported by Moynihan. The senator supported the concept of a far more limited private investment account program for workers only after significant adjustments had been made to stabilize the system. He wanted to protect the long-term viability of Social Security, not do away with it altogether.
As a member of the President's commission, he advocated private accounts as an optional "add on" to base benefits. Moynihan advocated this position at a time early in Bush's first term when large surpluses were projected, before the implementation of huge tax cuts and before the invasion of Iraq . It is not at all clear that Moynihan would have supported private accounts in any form given the current economic crisis resulting from the Bush administration's failed tax and budget policies.
More recently on March 7, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, while announcing John R. Bolton's nomination to be ambassador to the United Nations, stated, "Through history, some of our best ambassadors have been those with the strongest voices, ambassadors like Jeane Kirkpatrick and Daniel Patrick Moynihan." Echoing this remembrance, Secretary Rice said with her next breath that Bolton "will be a strong voice for reform." Perhaps, but the mere coincidence of having a strong voice does not guarantee that Bolton will be another Moynihan in either style or substance.
Senator Moynihan was a strong supporter of the United Nations. He was the U.S. ambassador there from 1975 to 1976. One of his 18 books, "On the Law of Nations," focused on the role of international law in American history and lamented its decline in importance.
On the other hand, Bolton has written, "The real lesson of Kosovo is that 'international law' in political and military matters is increasingly exposed as an academic sham." A substantial difference indeed.
Furthermore, however much Moynihan might have thought the United Nations needed improvement, you would not have found him opining that "there is no such thing as the United Nations" nor that "it wouldn't make a bit of difference" if it lost 10 floors of its building, as Bolton has been quoted as saying.
Moynihan used words eloquently and originally and he knew they were powerful. And he believed in the importance of international law as well as the ability and necessity of government helping the least powerful in society.
We can only hope that if the Bush administration insists on invoking his name that they might also be influenced by his ideas. Barring that possibility, as we mark the second anniversary of his death, I would wish to hear the senator's pithy responses to the misuse of his name and his views on a multitude of issues we now face, including Social Security reform and the role of the United Nations in a post-Sept. 11 world.

Margaret Sloane is a research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and a Ph.D. candidate at The Fletcher School. She was a legislative research assistant on Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan.


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