George Will

For calling attention, four decades ago, to the crisis of the African-American family--26 percent of children were being born out of wedlock--he was denounced as a racist by lesser liberals. Today the percentage among all Americans is 33, among African-Americans 69, and family disintegration, meaning absent fathers, is recognized as the most powerful predictor of most social pathologies.

At the U.N. he witnessed that institution's inanity (as in its debate about the threat to peace posed by U.S. forces in the Virgin Islands, at that time 14 Coast Guardsmen, one shotgun, one pistol) and its viciousness (the resolution condemning Zionism as racism). Striving to move America ``from apology to opposition,'' he faulted U.S. foreign policy elites as ``decent people, utterly unprepared for their work.''

Their ``common denominator, apart from an incapacity to deal with ideas, was a fear of making a scene, a form of good manners that is a kind of substitute for ideas.'' Except they did have one idea, that ``the behavior of other nations, especially the developing nations, was fundamentally a reaction to the far worse behavior of the United States.''

Moynihan carried Woodrow Wilson's faith in international law, but he had what Wilson lacked--an understanding that ethnicity makes the world go 'round. And bleed. The persistence of this premodern sensibility defeats what Moynihan called ``the liberal expectancy.'' He meant the expectation that the world would become tranquil as ethnicity and religion became fading residues of mankind's infancy.

Moynihan's Senate campaigns were managed by as tough-minded and savvy a pol as New York's rough-and-tumble democracy has ever produced, a person who also is a distinguished archeologist--his wife Elizabeth. In his first campaign, in 1976, Moynihan's opponent was the incumbent , James Buckley, who playfully referred to ``Professor Moynihan'' from Harvard. Moynihan exclaimed with mock indignation, ``The mudslinging has begun!''

His last home was an apartment on Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue. That ``Avenue of Presidents" was transformed from tattiness to majesty and vibrancy by three decades of his deep reflection about, and persistent insistence on, proper architectural expressions of the Republic's spiritedness and reasonableness, virtues made wonderfully vivid in the life of Daniel Patrick Moynihan.


George Will

George F. Will is a 1976 Pulitzer Prize winner whose columns are syndicated in more than 400 magazines and newspapers worldwide.
 
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