Daniel Patrick Moynihan, as an adviser to President Nixon, promoted a guaranteed minimum income for all families, in part to help unravel the “tangle of pathology” he had famously diagnosed in his report on “The Negro Family.” August 25, 1969.
(Associated Press)Influenced by the civil-rights movement, Moynihan focused on the black family.
In 1959, Moynihan began writing for Irving Kristol’s magazine , covering everything from organized crime to auto safety. Kennedy as president, in 1960, gave Moynihan a chance to put his broad curiosity to practical use; he was hired as an aide in the Department of Labor.
Moynihan was, by then, an anticommunist liberal with a strong belief in the power of government to both study and solve social problems. His fear of being taken for a “sissy kid” had diminished.
In what would become the most famous passage in the report, Moynihan equated the black community with a diseased patient: of being caught up in the tangle of pathology that affects their world, and probably a majority are so entrapped.
Many of those who escape do so for one generation only: as things now are, their children may have to run the gauntlet all over again.The report was called “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action.” Unsigned, it was meant to be an internal government document, with only one copy distributed at first and the other 99 kept locked in a vault.Running against the tide of optimism around civil rights, “The Negro Family” argued that the federal government was underestimating the damage done to black families by “three centuries of sometimes unimaginable mistreatment” as well as a “racist virus in the American blood stream,” which would continue to plague blacks in the future: That the Negro American has survived at all is extraordinary—a lesser people might simply have died out, as indeed others have …choosing mom in spite of loving pop.” In the same journal, Moynihan, subjecting himself to the sort of analysis to which he would soon subject others, wrote, “Both my mother and father—They let me down badly …I find through the years this enormous emotional attachment to Father substitutes—of whom the least rejection was cause for untold agonies—the only answer is that I have repressed my feelings towards dad.”As a teenager, Moynihan divided his time between his studies and working at the docks in Manhattan to help out his family.“My relations are obviously those of divided allegiance,” Moynihan wrote in a diary he kept during the 1950s.“Apparently I loved the old man very much yet had to take sides …But it may not be supposed that the Negro American community has not paid a fearful price for the incredible mistreatment to which it has been subjected over the past three centuries. “The Negro family, battered and harassed by discrimination, injustice, and uprooting, is in the deepest trouble,” he wrote.“While many young Negroes are moving ahead to unprecedented levels of achievement, many more are falling further and further behind.” Out-of-wedlock births were on the rise, and with them, welfare dependency, while the unemployment rate among black men remained high.In London, he’d cultivated a love of wine, fine cheeses, tailored suits, and the mannerisms of an English aristocrat. A cultured civil servant not to the manor born, Moynihan—witty, colorful, loquacious—charmed the Washington elite, moving easily among congressional aides, politicians, and journalists.As the historian James Patterson writes in , his book about Moynihan, he was possessed by “the optimism of youth.” He believed in the marriage of government and social science to formulate policy.