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Obituaries

Daniel Moynihan, 76; Served 4 Presidents

March 27, 2003|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a scholar-politician who was the only American to have served four successive presidents in high-level positions, died Wednesday afternoon at Washington Hospital Center. He was 76.

Moynihan died as a result of complications stemming from a ruptured appendix, said his former aide, Tony Bullock. He had been in the hospital since March 10.

He had surgery to remove his appendix the next day and appeared to be recovering. But on March 14 he was transferred to the intensive care unit, where he was treated for an infection, pneumonia and low blood pressure.

Moynihan rose from a broken family to become an author, teacher, diplomat and advisor to presidents of both parties. He served in the administrations of Presidents John F. Kennedy, Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford. He was ambassador to India and to the United Nations. And he wrote or edited 18 books.

President Bush called Moynihan an "intellectual pioneer" committed to freedom for people around the world and equal opportunity for all Americans. "He committed his life to service and will be sorely missed," Bush said in a statement.

Moynihan spent 24 years in the Senate as a Democrat from New York before retiring from public office in 2000. He then became a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington and a professor at Syracuse University.

"He understood that being a U.S. senator was a precious trust," his successor, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) said on the Senate floor in announcing Moynihan's death. "We have lost a great American."

Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) called Moynihan an "intellectual superstar, and a bona fide expert on both foreign and domestic policy." Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) noted: "It's very hard to find consensus among 19 million New Yorkers, but just about every one of the 19 million New Yorkers loved Pat Moynihan."

Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani said Moynihan established himself "as one of our nation's most eloquent voices in the quest for a more civil society. Sen. Moynihan was the very example of what a statesman should be."

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Moynihan was blessed with a brilliant mind and an acerbic wit. "When he left the Senate, we all knew that the place would never be the same without him," she said. "Now that he has passed on, the same is true of American politics."

A congressional colleague once called him the "cerebral center" of the Senate, where the 6-foot, 4 1/2-inch former Harvard professor delivered lectures rather than speeches, and defied easy political categorization. His comments were often sprinkled with historical and philosophical references.

He was a leading defender of social welfare programs, even when it put him at odds with President Bill Clinton, a fellow Democrat. And after his retirement from the Senate, he continued to champion efforts to keep Social Security solvent, accepting President Bush's appointment to head a federal commission on the program's future.

Although Moynihan was not known for specific legislation, he was influential in shaping the debate.

Sen. Clinton said Moynihan came to the Senate floor armed with three signature items: his horn-rimmed glasses, a bow tie and a great idea.

"His soul was anchored in the New Deal, but it was his ability to enhance that social contract to meet the challenges of the 21st century that helped transform the lives of millions of New Yorkers and Americans," she said in a statement Wednesday.

"Whether it was Social Security, Medicare, education, health care, the environment, fighting poverty or historic preservation, every issue illustrated what Sen. Moynihan did best: He used the power of an idea as the engine for change."

As an aide to Nixon, he caused a furor when he recommended a policy of "benign neglect" for dealing with race relations. He contended that the remark was misinterpreted, and that what he was calling for was a cooling off of the inflammatory rhetoric over race.

The Almanac of American Politics once described Moynihan as "the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln, and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson." Or, as Congressional Quarterly's Politics in America 1994 put it, he was "part Irish bartender, part Harvard professor."

Philip A. Klinkner, a professor of government at Hamilton College in New York, said Moynihan was an "intellectual giant in the Senate" who, among other things, led the way in the 1960s to a rethinking of the politics and policy of race, welfare and urban life.

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