Robert Novak

Moynihan's early Senate staff was comprised of glittering future Republicans or crypto-Republicans: Elliott Abrams, Charles Horner, Checker Finn, and the late Eric Breindel. Some of them felt betrayed by the senator's subsequent leftward drift, but Moynihan was a practical politician who understood the adjustments necessary to survive in New York Democratic politics. He still favored school vouchers, for example, but just did not talk about it anymore.

Moynihan became unbeatable as a four-term senator, permitting him to exercise a freedom of expression that offended his party's ideologues. When New York's Democratic Mayor David Dinkins faced 1993 defeat for re-election, Moynihan condemned the city's leadership for tolerating bad behavior. While guiding President Bill Clinton's tax package through the Senate Finance Committee, he called it the biggest increase in history. He denied Clinton's claims of a health care crisis, and called the illegal foreign political contributions to Clinton "an attack on our system" from Asia.

Perhaps his greatest Democratic heresy was longtime advocacy of private contributions as the necessary medicine for Social Security. His last public service was co-chairing President Bush's commission on Social Security reform, which made just such a recommendation.

A few years ago when I was recuperating at home from a broken hip, the senator dropped by and brought a copy of "Secrecy," one of 19 books he wrote. He pointed out the book's disclosure that Gen. Omar Bradley had dogmatically kept secret from President Truman the result of communications intercepts revealing Soviet espionage in the U.S. "How that would have kept the Democrats from the embarrassment of defending Alger Hiss and saved us from McCarthyism," said Moynihan. I can't imagine another U.S. senator exploring this, but there was only one Moynihan.

Robert Novak

Robert Novak (1931-2009) was a syndicated columnist and editor of the Evans-Novak Political Report.

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