Nick Eberstadt begins his splendid new book, A Nation of Takers: American’s Entitlement Epidemic, with a 1973 quotation from Daniel Patrick Moynihan:
The issue of welfare is the issue of dependency. It is different from poverty. To be poor is an objective condition; to be dependent, a subjective one as well. That the two circumstances interact is evident enough, and it is no secret that they are frequently combined. Yet a distinction must be made. Being poor is often combined with considerable personal qualities; being dependent rarely so…. It is an incomplete state of life: normal in a child, abnormal in an adult.
I myself am a great deal more measured in my admiration of Moynihan, who died in 2007, than is Nick. (Nick not only quotes Moynihan but dedicates the book to the man.)
After his 1976 election to the Senate from New York, Moynihan proved a stout a defender of the ever-expanding federal government — and when Senator Kit Bond of Missouri challenged a piece of pork spending that Moynihan was attempting to slip past his colleagues, Moynihan, the supposed exemplar of civility, responded by throwing a punch. During the Reagan years in particular, Moynihan, still given to grandiloquent speeches on the Senate floor, proved a particular menace to the Republic, seeking to thwart the policies that were even then both ending the Cold War and fostering an economic expansion that disproportionately benefitted the poor Americans whom Moynihan pretended to champion.
Still. Before his electoral ambitions swamped his academic work, turning him, entirely too often, into a kind of hypocrite, Moynihan got off some very good writing and analysis — as this 1973 observation so trenchantly demonstrates. Would that his fellow Democrats might take the observation to heart today.
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