April 20, 2011
An Odd Sort Of ClosureBy James G. Wiles
The news this winter that Joseph Lieberman will leave the U.S. Senate in 2013, coming in the same week as the death of Sargent Shriver and the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy's inauguration as President, presented an odd sort of closure.
For Lieberman, like Shriver, was a link to a political past and a Democratic Party which is now extinct.
Joe Lieberman entered Yale College the year John F. Kennedy was elected president. In announcing his decision to retire, Lieberman said that it was JFK's inaugural address which first inspired him to enter politics. He interned with Connecticut Senator Abraham Ribicoff, an early JFK supporter.
Thus, media reports correctly pegged Lieberman as "the last JFK Democrat in the Senate." The question, however, is why this is so. What happened to make the ideals of the New Frontier persona non grata in today's Democratic Party?
Joe Lieberman, when he entered the Senate in 1988, was not the only JFK Democrat there. But their numbers were fast declining. Their standard bearer, Senator Henry "Scoop" Jackson (D. Wash.) -- first elected to Congress in 1941 -- had died in 1983. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D. N.Y.) and Bob Kerrey (D. Neb.) retired in 2001. Ernest Hollings (D.S.C.) left in 2005.
That left Lieberman. In his 2006 campaign for the Senate, Lieberman was not even able to secure his party's re-nomination. Instead, only two years after being his party's Vice Presidential nominee, Lieberman had had to run (and win) as an Independent.
The stories of Sargent Shriver and Henry Jackson contain a kernel of the answer. But it's the recently published letters of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan which offer a fuller explanation.
Shriver, scion of a wealthy Maryland political family and, like Lieberman, educated at Yale, married into the Kennedy clan. JFK made Shriver the first head of the Peace Corps. Under LBJ, he led the War on Poverty. In 1972, Shriver was George McGovern's running mate on the Democratic ticket for president.
Thereafter, Shriver, like Lieberman 20 years later, fell out of favor with Party activists.
In 1972 and 1976, "Scoop" Jackson sought the Democratic presidential nomination, running on a strong defense platform. He lost both times, first to George McGovern, then to Jimmy Carter. Many of Jackson's academic brain trust -- like Jeanne Kirkpatrick, Richard Perle and others -- went on to serve in the administration of Ronald Reagan.
Pat Moynihan, quite literally, ran against this trend, winning election to the Senate in 1976, defeating Bella Abzug for the nomination and then William F. Buckley's brother, James, the incumbent. Moynihan's purgatory began the day he took the oath of office as a United States Senator.
Moynihan, like Shriver, was a New Frontiersman. From Irish working class roots in Manhattan, he attended the London School of Economics, after City College and Navy service in World War II. Although choosing a career in academia as a social scientist, Moynihan returned again and again to politics. His first gig was as New York Governor Averell Harriman's private secretary.
Moynihan served in the subcabinets of JFK, Lyndon Johnson, and Richard Nixon. He was also, successively, Nixon's Ambassador to India and Gerald Ford's UN Ambassador. In the latter position, Moynihan famously stood up to both the Soviet Union and the General Assembly's 1976 anti-Zionism resolution.
Pretty good credentials. Yet, with Jimmy Carter's arrival in the White House in 1977, the newly-elected Senator Moynihan found himself locked out. Like many other New York intellectuals who had once been FDR or JFK Democrats, Moynihan now was denounced as a neo-conservative.
What had happened? Moynihan's own answer appears in Steven Weisman's Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters, published last year.
First, Moynihan tells Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne in 1991, was the issue of race and the welfare state. "[T]he Liberal Project began to fail when it began to lie." This, in his judgment, started in 1966, with the left's rejection of the work of social scientists like James Coleman and Moynihan himself on the African American family. They were, Moynihan wrote, branded as "right wing deviationists. Whereupon the rot set in and has continued since."
Second was the Vietnam War.
By 1978, Moynihan is protesting to Jimmy Carter's Secretary of State, Cyrus Vance, that he and Senator Jackson -- both Democrats -- are being treated "as...enemies...The [Democratic] Party," Moynihan told him, "...in the late 1960s divided as it had never done since the late 1850s prior to the civil war." The former New Frontiersmen were now regarded as "hateful and wrong and dangerous and divisive..."
Vance had been a New Frontiersman, too, Secretary of the Army under JFK. Yet, like so many, Vance had turned. Moynihan never did.
When Daniel Patrick Moynihan retired from the Senate in 2000, he was succeeded by Hillary Rodham Clinton. Her husband, President Bill Clinton, presented Moynihan with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In 1963, a young Pat Moynihan had first proposed to President John F. Kennedy the creation of a system of civil honors.
With Joe Lieberman's retirement from the Senate, the anti-American left's purge of the Democratic Party -- the world's oldest political organization, which led the U.S. through two world wars, the Great Depression, Vietnam, and Korea -- is now complete.