Daniel Patrick Moynihan was often right. Joe Klein on Why It Still Matters.
Moynihan remained a neoconservative hero throughout the 1970s, especially during his tenure as United Nations Ambassador, when he fought on behalf of Israel against those who allegedly equated Zionism with racism. He was elected to the Senate in 1976 and served for 24 years, with broad popular support. But he quickly grew impatient with the neocons, especially as they inflated the Soviet threat and supported Ronald Reagan, who wanted to cut programs for the poor. “I watched it all with a combination of disbelief, horror and complicity,” he wrote in “Pandaemonium”. The Soviet Union – and the Marxist fantasy – was crumbling, and yet Reagan persisted in a war against communism in Nicaragua: “all to fight a cold war that was over.”
In the 1990s, Moynihan began to bring his two big ideas together. Ethnic and caste conflicts are on the rise in the United States and around the world, along with the post-industrial social problems he anticipated. Could this be related? The problems seemed worse than ever and had spread to the white working class, where the out-of-wedlock birth rate was higher than it was in the black community when he wrote the Moynihan report – indeed, poverty became closely linked to cultural behavior. patterns passed down from one generation to the next. Gun crime was an epidemic, fueled in part by crack, a disastrous new drug technology. The Clinton administration’s response to these problems was, he believed, punitive: more prison for black men and less welfare for black women. He was furious with Clinton’s welfare reform plan: he called it “bait for the bubbas.” He predicted millions of children would sleep on subway gates, which turned out to be overkill – although thousands slipped through the holes in the new, less solid safety net. “We’re about to find out quite a bit about what we don’t know,” Moynihan wrote in “Miles to Go.” “The last quarter century has been quite productive in this regard. On the other hand, our social situation is much worse. Deviance – by which he meant antisocial behavior – was “defined downward.”
Twenty-five years later, we live in a world that was Moynihan’s nightmare: postmodern tribes – with their own bogus “facts” – have gone virtual; affinity groups are organized by cable news networks and social media platforms. Cynicism about the government’s ability to do whatever is useful is abundant. It remains to be seen whether Joe Biden’s post-industrial version of the New Deal – which Moynihan would have voted enthusiastically for because it reduces inequality with minimal social engineering – will heal the wounds. I guess he would actively seek statistics to prove that tax increases have little or no impact on economic growth. George HW Bush and Bill Clinton proved it (and even Ronald Reagan raised taxes when few looked for it).
Moynihan didn’t leave us many policy prescriptions, but he left a method: collecting family and poverty statistics, accompanied by a clear analysis of what they indicated. “Progress begins with social problems when it becomes possible to measure them,” he writes. Statistics can even contain good news from time to time – and, in fact, the past 40 years have seen great strides in the area that worried him most: equality for African Americans. In his 1970 note on “benign neglect” to Nixon, he predicted “extraordinary progress” for blacks. And it happened. There is now a strong black middle and professional class – nearly half of African American families have incomes above $ 50,000 – although disproportionate rates of poverty persist and wealth disparities persist.
Racism also persists; uglier than ever, as the white majority fades away. But even culture can change over time. The birth rate of blacks out of wedlock is 70%, but black women are graduating from college at an incredible rate – and they are making mature choices about when and how to have children (teenage births have fall). According to Princeton sociologist Kathryn Edin, many of these women “stabilize their family arrangements” and find partners over time. It would be fascinating to know Moynihan’s thoughts on this. He might even be happy.
“Hopefully – and why not? – there will be examples of successful adaptation, compromise, evolution ”, he writes in“ Pandaemonium ”. “Not all [change] will be without sorrow. But humor and intellect help.
BOOKS IN THIS EDITORIAL
BEYOND THE FUSION POT: The Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians and Irish of New York (1963), with Nathan Glazer. The Revolutionary Study of Ethnicity in America.