Timely Griefs

A Dangerous Place

by Daniel Patrick Moynihan, with Suzanne Weaver
Atlantic-Little, Brown, 297 pp., $12.50

A story for the Easter season: Daniel Patrick “I don’t suppose there is any point in being Irish if you don’t know the world is going to break your heart eventually” Moynihan had his staunch, freedom-loving heart broken at a dangerous place called the United Nations, and only a seat in the Senate could restore it. That made the third or fourth time in recent memory (mine) that the now-junior senator from New York had mourned for his own dashed hopes for a better world so eloquently and so profitably that he ended up with a better job, a new book, and more column inches of moral uplift from George F. Will and the other trendy purveyors of an easy decency calling itself “the new conservativism.”

Irishness can be its own excuse for hyperbole, and Moynihan probably should not be taken too literally in these timely griefs of his. In another life, he could be working the bars on Second Avenue, his heart broken by injustices in Belfast and his porkpie out for the IRA. That battered heart and battered houndstooth are his emblems, the stations of the cross he bears on a long and treacherous journey toward his own main chance. There is more of the Irish pol in this devotee of Savile Row and English country-house manners than in a whole back room of Jim Daleys and Honey Fitzs and founding Kennedys—the brutal sentimentality, the gift for lyric nonsense, the bashful charm that can turn vicious in a moment, the cultivation of injured sensibility, a kind of self-pity for the world’s ills.

Maybe a “new conservative” is just an old bleeding-heart liberal whose heart has started bleeding for itself. Pat Moynihan was house liberal to the Republicans longer, and later, than he was the Democrats’ resident conservative. He worked for John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Gerald Ford without worrying overmuch about contradictions in his own commitment or in their policies. For a while, he even managed to devote himself to Arthur Goldberg, possibly the most fatuous man in Washington. (Goldberg is best remembered at the UN for the time he called a press conference to share the family’s “great joy” at the engagement of one or another of his children, and Mrs. Goldberg proceeded to read an Indian love poem to the astonished reporters.) And it was probably reasonable to predict, even then, that anyone willing to put in time with Arthur Goldberg at the Labor Department was not going to find it very trying to work for presidents who dangle cabinet titles and ambassadorships and the possibility—always irresistible to Moynihan—of reading about yourself every morning in the newspaper. Moynihan, in fact, never fretted about the ethics of working in Richard Nixon’s White House. His silence was odd in a Democrat, odder still in a soi-disant “liberal” Democrat or, as he used to call it (not for nothing, that Fulbright Fellowship to the London School of Economics), a …

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Letters

Moynihan’s Call September 27, 1979