The perils of Pat

The Claremont Review of Books (subscribe here), is celebrating its tenth anniversary with a gala double issue that has just been published. The CRB is my favorite magazine and the powers-that-be at the magazine have traditionally afforded me the opportunity to pick a few of my favorite pieces to have placed online for presentation to our readers. The tradition holds with the tenth anniversary issue, even though it has been unusually difficult to pick from the issue’s essays and reviews this time around. The issue presents a wealth of riches.
This past Friday I wrote about Tom Klingenstein’s essay on “diversity” in higher education in “A good talk spoiled.” Tom is the new chairman of the Claremont Institute. Bowdoin College President Barry Mills used Tom in a fractured fairy tale he told Bowdoin students this past fall at convocation. In his essay Tom talks back to President Mills. We await word from Mills on whether he will invite Tom to campus in the “diversity” cause that Mills professes to champion.
Tom’s essay is one of the highlights of the tenth anniversary issue. One of the highlights of the book reviews is Steve Hayward’s “Standing Pat,” a review of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary, edited by Steven Weisman.
Steve Hayward is a scholar with true expertise in the life and presidency of Ronald Reagan, as can be seen, most recently, in the second volume of his Age of Reagan. Steve is also an expert on Moynihan. He deployed him in the first volume as a sort of Greek chorus to comment on unfolding events. Steve’s expertise on Moynihan is also on display in the review.
In the first volume of the Reagan books, incidentally, Steve called Moynihan “the thinking man’s liberal” and likened him to a biblical prophet, “without honor in his own time (not to mention his own party).” Steve added, somewhat less flatteringly: “Moynihan might be regarded as the Forrest Gump of American politics; he ha[d] been on the scene, if not right in the middle, of most of the prominent controversies in America from 1964 until his retirement from the Senate in 2000.”
I asked Steve if there was anything he might want to add to his review of Moynihan’s letters for this post. He responded:

I always liked Moynihan, even if his voting record was frustrating. George Will told me (back in the 1990s) that Moynihan was his best friend in Washington, and explained his voting record purely as a function of coming from liberal New York, and Fred Siegel told me that Moynihan was always nervous and insecure about primary challenges from his left; Moynihan surprisingly took way too seriously Al Sharpton’s ludicrous primary challenge in 1994, for example.
This basic insecurity (it is latent in the book) may explain some of the failings that I highlight in my review. I was surprised to arrive at such a harsh judgment of Moynihan. One of my long-running themes about him was that if liberals had listened to him starting back in the 1960s, they wouldn’t have experienced the disasters (both substantive and politically at the polls) that they have experienced.

Next week the Claremont Institute will be hosting a panel moderated by CRB editor Charles Kesler on “The Meaning of Moynihan: Ends, Means, & the Limits of Analysis in Politics.” The topic of the panel is drawn from Steve’s review of the book of Moynihan’s letters. Panelists will include Steve Hayward and Steve Weisman as well as Chris DeMuth (AEI) and Charles Horner (Hudson Institute). I trust Steve will update us when the time comes.


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