History will probably remember Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Democrat of New York, as one of the great American senators and rank his name alongside Stephen Douglas and Daniel Webster. He isn't known as a topnotch legislator--his name is attached to no ground-shaking bill--but he is respected by colleagues in both parties and by the media as one of the brightest men to work in Washington in recent years. He's also had a fascinating political journey, which took him from liberalism in the 1950s to flirtations with neoconservatism in the '60s and '70s to old-style Democratic loyalties in the '80s and '90s. "In contact with both liberalism and conservatism, he belongs to neither," writes Moynihan biographer Godfrey Hodgson, an English journalist who previously penned a history of American conservatism, The World Turned Right Side Up. "Supported by both, he seems to link them, and to transcend them."
Hodgson covers Moynihan's whole life--from growing up (it wasn't in Hell's Kitchen, by the way) to his time in the navy, his controversial role in the Johnson administration (where he wrote the so-called Moynihan Report on the black family), his Nixon-Ford days as ambassador to India and the United Nations, and finally his career as an elected pol. He moved about constantly, writes Hodgson: "It is a record that suggests impatience, dissatisfaction, persistent difficulty in getting on with superiors, and the troubled emotions that afflict a man of immense ability and energy who cannot quite find the right task and is afraid that his time will run out before he does." Following four full terms in the Senate, he has finally found "increasing serenity." (Moynihan announced he would not seek reelection in 2000, which opened the door for Hillary Clinton's candidacy.) Hodgson himself has known Moynihan for several decades; the senator even attended the author's wedding in 1970. This relationship allows the biographer to include firsthand reflections at appropriate moments ("When Pat announced that he was going to work for Nixon in the White House, I almost fell off my chair").
An interesting, favorable, and admiring book, The Gentleman from New York serves as a fitting tribute to the man. Of Moynihan's legacy, Hodgson writes: "After the dazzling speeches and elegant essays, the wit and the prophetic utterances are largely forgotten, he will be remembered as the man who ... had the lucidity and courage to restate the enduring propositions of the American political creed ... [and] above all a faith in the redemptive power of republican government." --John J. Miller
From Publishers Weekly
Though it may not rank as the definitive Moynihan biography, this informative study brings clarity to the Democratic senator's 24-year career as a legislator and his even longer career as a political thinker. Moynihan has called his career a series of "chance encounters, random walks"; Hodgson (The World Turned Right Side Up), an Oxford-based historian and a friend of Moynihan's since 1962, manages to lend that random walk a narrative coherence. Giving a colorful if not always balanced account of the senator's extraordinary journey from the sidewalks of New York to the chairmanship of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, Hodgson, who had access to the senator's political papers and personal letters, peppers his account liberally with charming anecdotes and vivid biographical details. He portrays, for example, a young Pat, back in New York City after three formative years at the London School of Economics, devouring cheese and onion sandwiches between beers at McSorley's Ale House. He also gives a nicely detailed account of Moynihan's momentous 1975 speech as delegate to the U.N., where he denounced anti-Semitism amid a furious debate over a resolution declaring Zionism a form of racism. And he follows the legislator as he went on to become, in the words of the New York Times, an "aggressive debater, outrageous flatterer, shrewd adviserAindeed manipulatorAof Presidents, accomplished diplomat and heartfelt friend of the poor." Hodgson's summary of the senator's legislative record is uncritical, and his prose gets cumbersome in places. But as an eyewitness account of Moynihan's colorful career, this biography is a welcome achievement. (Aug.)
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