Typewriter of the moment: Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s policy machine and crystal ball

January 15, 2011

 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan at his typewriter - photo from the American Academy of Political and Social Science
Daniel Patrick Moynihan at his typewriter – photo from the American Academy of Political and Social Science

This photo adorns the page announcing and asking for nominations to the annual Daniel Patrick Moynihan Prize, at the site of the American Academy of Political and Social Sciences.

Moynihan was the always-opinionated, rarely un-informed social scientist who caused a firestorm of criticism to rain down on Richard Nixon when Moynihan, working for Nixon, suggested that civil rights might benefit from a period of  “benign neglect” by the President.  Later he caused another firestorm, and along period of reflection, when he worried in a paper about the potential bad effects of social welfare programs that would ease suffering, but fail to achieve all of their loftier goals — the workers compensation program that could not restore a worker to full service, the program to provide food and shelter to the children of out-of-work parents if the parents could not find new jobs, etc.  He worried about the ‘culture of poverty.’

He raised hell as the U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations.

Time Magazine cover of UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan

Time Magazine cover of UN Ambassador Daniel Patrick Moynihan

I knew him as the U.S. Senator from the State of New York, where he would shock his staff by showing up early on a Saturday morning to knock out a few letters to the editor, and op-ed pieces on his typewriter, without the bother of an in-session Senate to slow him down.  Later I worked for Checker Finn, who had worked with Moynihan when Moynihan was U.S. Ambassador to India.  Finn adopted many of his scholarly habits from Moynihan.  While working for Finn, nearly 25 years ago at the Department of Education, I got a taste of the world to come when Finn aggressively adopted e-mail messaging for himself and anyone of any executive influence under him, at the old Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI).  Aggressive adoption of new technologies can greatly improve organizations and organizational effectiveness.

Almost always with a bow tie.  Usually heavily editing his speeches, or writing his own op-ed pieces while other officials paid ghosts to do it for them.  Thinking thoughts Republicans would come to love, while a Democrat, but years before Republicans would come to love them.  Thinking thoughts Democrats would learn to love, but much later.

Few topics evaded his attention and careful thought.  He talked at length with David Gergen about the problem of Wikileaks, a dozen years before Wikileaks came to public attention (and years before Wikileaks even existed.)  He wrote books about international affairs, and education at home.  He pushed environmental laws to be better. Moynihan worried about the health of American families while James Dobson was still learning what a microphone and a family were.  In 1970, Moynihan warned the U.S. president that global warming is a problem.

Moynihan often appeared as the man who went everywhere, and did everything — after leaving Tulsa.  Moynihan studied everywhere.  He worked under New York Gov. Averell Harriman, and Presidents Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon and Ford, before serving a quarter century in the U.S. Senate (Is there some magic in that seat?  His predecessor was James Buckley; his successor was Hilary Rodham Clinton).   Here’s his brief Congressional biography:

MOYNIHAN, Daniel Patrick, a Senator from New York; born in Tulsa, Tulsa County, Okla., March 16, 1927; attended the public and parochial schools of New York City; attended City College of New York 1943; graduated, Tufts University, Medford, Mass., 1948; received graduate and law degrees from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy 1949, 1961, 1968; studied as a Fulbright fellow, London School of Economics and Political Science 1950-1951; served in the United States Navy 1944-1947; Navy reserve 1947-1966; assistant and secretary to New York Governor W. Averell Harriman 1955-1958; member, New York State Tenure Commission 1959-1960; director, Syracuse University’s New York State Government Research Project 1959-1961; director, Joint Center for Urban Studies, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University 1966-1969; author; held cabinet or sub-cabinet positions under Presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford 1961-1976; Ambassador to India 1973-1975; United States Permanent Representative to the United Nations 1975-1976; elected as a Democrat to the United States Senate in 1976; reelected in 1982, 1988, and 1994 and served from January 3, 1977, to January 3, 2001; was not a candidate for reelection in 2000; chairman, Committee on the Environment and Public Works (One Hundred Second and One Hundred Third Congresses); Committee on Finance (One Hundred Third Congress); awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom on August 9, 2000; professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School 2001; senior scholar, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars 2001-2003; died of complications from a ruptured appendix on March 26, 2003; interment at Arlington National Cemetery.

Moynihan was a man ahead of his time.

In this photo, he’s making use of the technology of his time:  A typewriter (I think it’s an old Royal).  How much different would the world be had there been personal computers, and the internet, for Moynihan to toy with?

Moynihan was a writer, and the typewriter the chief tool of his trade.  How important was writing?  He gets his own page at Amazon.com.   Hendrik Hertzberg, in The New Yorker, last year:

Nevertheless, Pat Moynihan was, first, last, and always, a writer. “When I was five years old, I asked my mother, what does Dad do?” his daughter, Maura, recalls in a charming afterword to a splendid new book. “She replied, he’s a writer. And he was: he wrote every day—even at Christmas—articles, books, speeches, and, in great abundance, letters.” You might say he wrote his way to power. Without the writing, no foot-in-the-door job in John F. Kennedy’s Labor Department (and no influence once he was there), no high domestic-policy post in Richard Nixon’s White House, no ambassadorships to India and the United Nations, no twenty-four years in the Senate—and no Moynihan Station.

More, Resources:

 

Daniel Patrick Moynihan and typewriter, Harvard University

Daniel Patrick Moynihan and typewriter (Smith-Corona, I think) in his office at Harvard University - 1971. George Tames/The New York Times.


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