In the bustling side room of the synagogue where the memorial service for Allard Lowenstein would soon begin, family, speakers, and special friends milled about waiting for the signal to file out to their appointed places. I was chatting with Christopher Dodd when the tall figure came through the door and began to greet participants at the other end of the room. “I’ve never met Pat Moynihan. Would you introduce me?” Of course, I said, and walked over to where the senator was standing. I introduced the man who had defeated my brother, Jim, for reelection as senator from New York in 1976 — to the aspirant politician who would defeat brother Jim a few months later in his bid to serve as senator from Connecticut. All in the family.
But the special nature of a Moynihan friendship had been in place a very long time. He went to Washington in 1969 to serve as assistant to President Nixon, and called one day to say he’d like to come up to explain the president’s proposal for a family-assistance program. …Of course. What about joining the editors of National Review at dinner, and briefing us jointly? That was a fine idea, and he arrived on a White House jet and spoke of his program, which would reconstruct welfare policy aimed at helping the poor to standing relief and minimizing the welfare bureaucracy. Two undergraduates had been invited to come in after dinner to sing and play, on guitar and autoharp, their spirited and lyrical songs. Moynihan was captivated and stayed late to hear more. The next day he sent a telegram giving a forgotten detail of his proposed program, complimenting the student musicians, and asking for my wife’s recipe for her oxtail soup. The idea for his grand new welfare program withered away, torpedoed by Milton Friedman’s testimony that he would certainly favor it provided all other welfare programs were discarded.
When he served as ambassador to India I had a long cable from him (he loved, during his time there and in the U.N., to communicate via Western Union, though never in telegraphese). He had seen the story in the New York Times reporting that, reacting to student protests, I had withdrawn my commitment to give the commencement address at Vassar, “GOOD FOR YOU. DO THOSE LITTLE BASTARDS THINK WE HAVE NOTHING ELSE TO DO ON SUNDAY AFTERNOONS?”
He went then to the United Nations, and admiration for him magnified among my colleagues as he belted the Soviet bloc with his grandiloquent scorn. At the end of that session of the General Assembly, National Review nominated him as Man of the Year. Attending the 20th anniversary celebration of the magazine, he was introduced from the podium and received a standing ovation.
At his desk as senator he wrote his fine speeches and heuristic books on subjects that included welfare policy, the venerability of Penn Station, federal secrecy classifications, and the restoration of Pennsylvania Avenue. His insights were shrewd and original. His speeches and books sideswiped joyfully popular liberal cliché-thought. But when voting time came, he was almost always there to observe the party line. His deportment at that hour was that of the freethinking monk who, at vesper-time, clocks in submissively to the catechetical regimen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan didn’t win four elections in New York by stressing the desirability of school vouchers, or the tragedy of black family disintegration.
Yet he was always a shining light, giving pure pleasure as a lyrical social philosopher and wit. At our last meeting at the large affair at the president’s house at Yale preceding the commencement at which we would receive honorary degrees, he and I were asked, by the president to say something after dinner, before the Whiffenpoofs serenaded us. Speaking extemporaneously, his imagination, his memory, and his aptitude for association brought on light references to obscure events. We got his benevolent smile, the pixie-Irish face puckered in apparent inquisitive stress. He had a thought . . . Perhaps it would be of interest . . . Perhaps you Yale people would find . . . relevant in some way.
And it was over. And the deans and awardees and professors did smile. I did too of course, with the special affection I had for the man who took my brother’s seat in the Senate, and, now, with prayerful thoughts for his safe passage.