Asking That Irish Eyes Smile on Us From Above

Pat Moynihan must be the leading contender to be Miller-McCune's patron saint.
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Pat Moynihan must be the leading contender to be Miller-McCune's patron saint.

At a recent American Academy of Political and Social Science gathering In Washington, D.C., to honor his contribution to the nation's civic legacy, a number of policy glitterati from diverse fields made similar claims on the late polymath, claiming him in turn for things as diverse as espionage, architecture and government statistics.

"There's not an area of public policy I think Daniel Patrick Moynihan didn't touch — or more specifically, his electric Smith Corona typewriter didn't touch," recalled Mike McCurry, best known now as Bill Clinton's press secretary but who cut his teeth as a Senate staffer, including serving as Moynihan's press secretary from 1981 to 1983.

And so much like Jesus is trotted out for each generation to redefine, to use another religious metaphor, each in a series of speakers recreated Moynihan in their own image. Newsman Sander Vanocur recalled the humorous Pat, former Nixon staffer John Price the bipartisan Pat, former Fannie Mae chief Franklin Raines the wise fiscal steward Pat, and real estate guru Robert Peck the public works Pat. Eminent academician William Julius Wilson was scheduled to address urban poverty Pat, but was delayed at the airport and delivered his remarks at a dinner later in the evening where the Moynihan Prize was awarded.

And if there was one common homily, it was Moynihan's widely repeated dictum that everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.

And it is that dictum that leads me to claim Moynihan for Miller-McCune. While all the speakers had their own icons of St. Pat, no one called dibs on patron saint, so I'm making that call now.

Of course Moynihan would be quite a catch for any young organization seeking celestial representation, that he was a talented sociologist and a politician fits exquisitely with Miller-McCune's focus on evidence-based social science and how it can impact policy. (Sorry about using "evidence based," but it would be a shame to have been in D.C. and not adopt the phrase du jour.)

And that Moynihan always insisted on real numbers to determine the courses he would advocate seems pristinely Miller-McCune-ish, where data is our fetish, too. Let me draw some further parallels from Moynihan attributes identified by Robert Katzmann, a former counsel for then-Sen. Moynihan (and editor of Daniel Patrick Moynihan: The Intellectual in Public Life) now sitting on the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. To wit, Katzmann identified Moynihan's "roaming intellect," which I'd argue M-M shares; his "concern with facts," check; his linking of abilities and resources to action, a qualified check; his moral compass, ummm, we're not immoral, but we are focused on the public weal; his "concern with the consequences, and the unintended consequences, of federal policy," check; and civility in public discourse, a double check.

He also called Moynihan a "one-man Google" in the days before Google, and I'll just let that one lie undisturbed except to note that our site search is powered by Google.

Now having our own patron saint — which fairly safely presupposes that Mr. Moynihan did indeed join the choir invisible when he died in 2003 — lays some requirements for righteousness on our shoulders. Given the diversity outlined above, which still neglects some minor achievements like, say, being U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, there's lots of room for us to gain our own wings.

Let me take two areas, somewhat wildly divergent, as our good works for now.

Let's start with the ultra-local, public works. Peck, who was Sen. Moynihan's chief of staff in the mid-'80s and later counsel for the Senate Environmental and Public Works Committee, said Moynihan "really believed in something called the public realm. ... I'm prepared to argue that no one has taken up that cudgel since." Or, as he recalled the good senator saying, "You can live without oil, you can live without love, but you can't live without water."

Given the United States' magnificent but shopworn infrastructure, and the need for an essentially new electrical grid to provide both intelligence and distribution for far-flung renewable power sources, we'll take a gander at wielding that particular shillelagh.

Secondly, we'll keep an eye on the U.S.'s global responsibilities, as both broadly and narrowly outlined by Moynihan's former legislative assistant on foreign affairs and intelligence, Mark Bradley.

He pointed out three key concepts that permeated Moynihan's thinking on foreign affairs: international law, and U.S. adherence thereto"; that the U.S. needed to be active in the United Nations, both to dampen down "international deviancy" in that body and that you have to play to win; and, lastly, that ethnicity matters, whether on the streets of New York or the enclaves of the Balkans.

We've started down that road — my first recollection is of Emily Badger's one-two punch on human and economic rights — but we'll keep on the case. After all, we know who's likely to be watching.