New York's Senator

Daniel Patrick Moynihan's Legacy

Many people thought that after Bill Clinton was elected president in 1992, he would place one of his first phone calls to fellow Democrat and New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Having successfully worked for four presidents in a row (Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, and Ford), Moynihan as a third-term senator had been waiting a long time for a collegial occupant of the White House to implement serious welfare reform. But the phone call never came. Regarding Moynihan as a dithering, cantankerous old man, the Clintons ignored him. And they weren’t subtle about it. A White House official told Time, "We’ll roll right over him if we have to."

The result was mayhem for the White House. The fact that Moynihan’s ascension to the chairmanship of the Senate Finance Committee had come about because Clinton appointed Senator Lloyd Bentsen (D-Tex.) his Treasury secretary barely mollified the New Yorker. Moynihan, who died March 26 at the age of seventy-six, put every presidential appointment he could through the ringer. He threatened to hold Clinton’s health-care policy hostage to welfare reform, and did indeed both delay it and undermine it. With his astonishing gift for phrases, Moynihan made quotable fun of Clinton, calling his welfare ideas, for example, "boob bait for the Bubbas."

All the while he attended, as a good senator should, to the needs of his home state. "Every major piece of...

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About the Author

Julia Vitullo-Martin edited Breaking Away: The Future of Cities (Twentieth Century Fund Press). She was a Vista Volunteer, a civil rights worker, and an antiwar protester during the sixties.