The Professor and the President

The Professor and the President: Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House

Copyright Date: 2015
Pages: 150
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  • Book Info
    The Professor and the President
    Book Description:

    What happens when a conservative president makes a liberal professor from the Ivy League his top urban affairs adviser? The president is Richard Nixon, the professor is Harvard's Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Of all the odd couples in American public life, they are probably the oddest. Add another Ivy League professor to the White House staff when Nixon appoints Columbia's Arthur Burns, a conservative economist, as domestic policy adviser. The year is 1969, and what follows behind closed doors is a passionate debate of conflicting ideologies and personalities.

    Who won? How? Why? Now nearly a half-century later, Stephen Hess, who was Nixon's biographer and Moynihan's deputy, recounts this fascinating story as if from his office in the West Wing.

    Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) described in the Almanac of American Politics as "the nation's best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson", served in the administrations of four presidents, was ambassador to India, and U.S. representative to the United Nations, and was four times elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.

    Praise for the works of Stephen Hess

    Organzing the Presidency

    Any president would benefit from reading Mr. Hess's analysis and any reader will enjoy the elegance with which it is written and the author's wide knowledge and good sense. -The Economist

    The Presidential Campaign

    Hess brings not only first-rate credentials, but a cool, dispassionate perspective, an incisive analytical approach, and a willingness to stick his neck out in making judgments. -American Political Science Review

    From the Newswork Series

    It is not much in vogue to speak of things like the public trust, but thankfully Stephen Hess is old fashioned. He reminds us in this valuable and provocative book that journalism is a public trust, providing the basic information on which citizens in a democracy vote, or tune out. - Ken Auletta, The New Yorker

    eISBN: 978-0-8157-2616-6
    Subjects: Political Science, Business, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xviii)

    Many years ago in Washington I invented a Valentine’s Day game that I called “Politics Makes Strange Bedfellows.” A bowl filled with 50 names—male, female, living, dead, real, fictional—circles the table as the players draw names from it. The objective is to stop when you believe you have constructed the most outrageous or unique couple. Winning is always by consensus. The Marquis de Sade paired with Mother Teresa might be a contender, but would probably be rejected as too obvious. My friends were into subtlety and nuance.

    Had we played our game on Valentine’s Day 1969, Richard Milhous...


      (pp. 3-6)

      On December 10, 1968, at Nixon’s transition headquarters at the Pierre Hotel on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the president-elect announces that Daniel Patrick Moynihan, 41, will join his White House staff as assistant to the president for urban affairs. Professor Moynihan will take a two-year leave from his position as director of the Joint Center for Urban Studies at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Nixon says that he will create by executive order a new council that will serve as a “domestic counterpart of the National Security Council.”

      In the next day’sWashington Post,Bernard Nossiter describes...

      (pp. 7-9)

      If Nixon choosing Pat is a politically difficult decision, Pat joining Nixon is a psychologically vexing one. For a coming-of-age East Coast liberal, the defining image of Nixon—immortalized in a 1954 Herblock cartoon—is a swarthy, bare knuckle campaigner coming up from the sewer.

      Pat is the young man seeking a career in public service: first work for a candidate—W. Averell Harriman for governor of New York—and when Harriman wins in 1954, Pat goes to Albany as assistant to the secretary to the governor. He is successful, moving up to assistant secretary and, later, acting secretary to...

      (pp. 10-14)

      The first step in Nixon’s courtship of Pat Moynihan comes when his inner circle turns to thinking of possibilities for the cabinet. Pat’s most enthusiastic advocate is Bob Finch, whom Nixon is going to make secretary of health, education, and welfare. Another supporter, Len Garment, recalls the success of Moynihan’s ideas in Nixon’s speech on the failures of 1960s liberalism. Bob Haldeman, the president-elect’s chief of staff, tells Garment, “Nixon wants you to sound out Moynihan to see if he’s interested in coming into the administration. But if so, doing what, where?” Garment calls him and they agree to meet...

      (pp. 15-18)

      Nixon has barely finished announcing the Moynihan appointment when Pat’s memoranda begin cascading onto his desk. The standard internal “Memorandum for the President,” as I remember from my days in the Eisenhower White House, is kept to a page, if possible. The president is a busy man, as are his staffers.

      But Pat’s memos are long, at times very long, complicated, often convoluted. His style borders on the literary, more like essays, with a tad of the Britishisms he acquired when studying at the London School of Economics, filled with tasty quotations and arcane references. They are often about subjects,...

      (pp. 19-22)

      How could Richard Nixon have become president with a domestic policy that is primarily a collection of boiler-plate statements put out by the campaign, usually not even spoken by the candidate himself?

      For example, consider this statement released by the Nixon-Agnew Campaign Committee on July 6, 1968: “Before new economic resources are committed to the cities, they must receive an infusion of the nation’s best intellectual resources, drawn not only from the government and the academic community, but also from the relatively untapped business and financial community. In the last century, men of action built the cities. In the next...

  7. Part II A YEAR OF TURMOIL:: 1969

      (pp. 25-29)

      Preparing his new boss to be president of the United States, Pat sends a memo on January 3 outlining “the two most conspicuous” policy challenges the president will be confronting in the new year: “the Negro revolution and the war in Vietnam.” Pat is a fervent critic of the war, yet his understanding with Nixon is to refrain from public comment while in the White House. However, he cannot resist privately reminding him from time to time that the war is a “disaster,” and how much the money could be better spent.

      Pat writes Nixon, “Fifteen blocks or so from...

      (pp. 30-33)

      The day, writesNew York Timescolumnist Russell Baker, is “out of Edgar Allan Poe, dun and drear, with a chilling northeast wind that cut to the marrow, and a gray ugly overcast that turned the city the color of wet cement.” The president-elect is wearing a morning coat and striped pants, his right hand is on the family Bible, open to Isaiah 2:4: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.”

      His friend Arthur Burns writes in his diary,...

      (pp. 34-39)

      On January 21, Nixon’s first full day on the job, Dr. Arthur Burns, a trusted friend of the president from their years together in the Eisenhower administration, arrives in the Oval Office. He is there to give the president a report on proposed actions he has culled from the volunteer task forces he supervised during the transition. According to his diary, “The Pres. glanced over it, then proceeded to describe my new job. I just gasped. I had expressed disinclination previously to a W.H. post. I still felt that way, and wanted to protest—to plead a misunderstanding. But the...

      (pp. 40-47)

      The West Wing administration of TV’s Josiah Bartlet is in perpetual motion, staffers racing through the halls, shouting at each other along the way. Richard Nixon’s West Wing is different, at least on the first floor: Oval Office, Cabinet Room, Roosevelt Room, President’s Study, rooms for his personal secretaries, chief of staff, chief of staff’s staff. Very quiet, almost without sound, as if the director, Bob Haldeman, is holding up a sign on set: “Shush, the President is working.”

      But a floor below, in the basement, where the two Harvard professors work, the tone is more like the West Wing...

      (pp. 48-59)

      On January 23, the president’s first Thursday in office, I enter the Cabinet Room at 9:30 a.m., a half hour before he is to sign Executive Order No. 11452. With a few pen strokes, Nixon will create the Council for Urban Affairs. On the table in front of where he will sit is a box of Pentel felt-tipped pens. Presidents do not sign historic documents with Pentel felt-tipped pens. We search the innards of the White House for pens that use ink and look presidential. The president must spell R-I-C-H-A-R-D N-I-X-O-N, one letter at a time, handing off pens to...

      (pp. 60-69)

      When Richard Nixon accepted the presidential nomination at the Republican National Convention in Miami Beach, he told the cheering delegates, “For the past five years we have been deluged by government programs for the unemployed, programs for the cities, programs for the poor. And we have reaped from these programs an ugly harvest of frustration, violence, and failure across the land.” It is time, he promised, “to quit pouring billions of dollars into programs that have failed in the United States.”

      If elected, presumably this means that the days are numbered for the Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO), the nerve...

      (pp. 70-72)

      “The Boss is in love,” speechwriter Bill Safire reports. Safire means “politically ‘in love,’ a process that happened periodically, and often in the spring” when Nixon becomes “entranced by a new face, captivated by a new subject matter.” This had happened with John Mitchell in 1967. Now “Nixon was in love again, we could tell by a look at the log—there was Moynihan in there for long hours, taking Nixon to the mountaintop of social psychology and showing him vistas of Rooseveltian glories.”

      The president asks Pat for his favorite political biographies. “As you know, I do quite a...

      (pp. 73-83)

      Imagine that a president can wave a magic wand: I will give you anything you want as long as it doesn’t cost much money or embarrass me. This is essentially what Richard Nixon does for Pat Moynihan in the spring of 1969.

      “It should be becoming obvious that he, as a liberal Democrat, has been playing it very straight with the Republican President,” I write in my notes on April 1. “He has refrained from speaking out in public and has never opposed publicly anything the Administration has done.” This includes Nixon’s decision, which Pat vigorously opposes in a private...

    • THE 75-DAY MARK: APRIL 14
      (pp. 84-87)

      On an early day in the life of the Nixon administration, speechwriter Ray Price sends the president a memo urging that he not play by “the old rules . . . of measuring progress according to the standards established by Roosevelt in his first 100 days. . . . The fact of the matter is that the nation still is suffering from the first 100 days of Johnson, from the first 100 days of Kennedy, and even, lingeringly, from the first 100 days of Roosevelt. It should be neither our plan nor our style to repeat those 100 days stunts.”...

      (pp. 88-91)

      Our lunch in the White House Mess on April 9 with Father Theodore Hesburgh, the president of Notre Dame, is a delight. Ted Hesburgh rates among the world’s most charming men, notable, like Pat, for being quoted. (“All of us are experts at practicing virtue at a distance.”) He agrees to remain on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights for a year and to assume the chairmanship from John Hannah. The president will be indebted to him. Pat, in turn, agrees to be his commencement speaker in June.

      After Pat goes off to other business, Hesburgh and I go to...

      (pp. 92-95)

      Throughout 1967 and 1968, Richard Nixon explained his idea of the presidency to interviewers like Theodore H. White: “I’ve always thought the country could run itself domestically without a president. All you need is a competent Cabinet to run the country at home. You need a president for foreign policy.”

      Nixon says this because he wants it to be true, and he thinks it can be true from watching Dwight Eisenhower for eight years. But Eisenhower’s experience in cabinet making is wildly exceptional in presidential history. As a five-star general who had been a popular hero in a popular war,...

      (pp. 96-103)

      One of Pat’s first memos “For the President,” on January 31, sets out the importance of promptly addressing the explosion in urban welfare. Using New York City as his example, he began, “Like the girl and the book about crocodiles, I fear that I may end up telling you more about welfare in New York City than you want to know. . . . Estimates are that one out of every eight New Yorkers, over one million people, will receive public assistance in 1969, at a total cost of two billion dollars.”

      With capitalization and underlining, Pat arrived at a...

      (pp. 104-108)

      The president is anxious to find a name for his new domestic program. Other presidents have done well with New Deal, Fair Deal, Great Society. Three times in his address Nixon calls for a “New Federalism,” but it instantly falls into the bin of forgotten brands. “There wasn’t an easy label” for summing up the various parts of Nixon’s domestic program, recalls White House speechwriter Lee Huebner. “They’re terribly important significant and individual actions, but they’re all bits and pieces in a way.”

      In a nationally televised address from the Oval Office on Friday, August 8, Nixon outlined the program’s...

      (pp. 109-111)

      The president finally has his domestic policy. Arthur Burns and Pat Moynihan sheathe their weapons. Their war over Nixon is over. Nixon is fond of Burns and fascinated by Moynihan, but he longs for quiet to return to the offices of the president. Moreover, as with all presidencies, there is a time when their needs change. Those who have been at the White House to provide ideas have provided the ideas, and now the need is to legislate and administer. Rarely are the idea people also the best people to legislate and administer.

      On October 17, Nixon announces the nomination...

      (pp. 112-115)

      Presidents are forced to make key decisions more often than acting of their own free will. They are pushed or pulled by world events, by the courts, by Congress, by their political party, by interest groups, by public opinion. Yet none of these forces accounts for Richard Nixon’s welfare reform proposal: quite the contrary, a majority of Republicans oppose his plan, as his vice president keeps reminding him, and the voters that would be most aided by the Family Assistance Plan are not his voters, nor are they likely to be.

      Why then does Nixon propose a policy that Michael...

      (pp. 116-118)

      Unknown at the time, at least to me, is the degree to which Pat recognizes that Nixon’s childhood would be fertile ground on which to plant welfare reform. Both Pat and Nixon had known poverty in childhood. It was a very different kind of poverty, in different places and at different times—but poverty all the same. Some very successful men love to tell Dickensian tales of hard times as kids. But this is not the way of either Pat or Nixon, and I doubt it was ever a subject of prolonged conversation between them. When he is profiled by...


      (pp. 121-132)

      With the unveiling of the Family Assistance Plan, Pat can finally turn his focus to unfinished business. On the morning of November 22, 1963, he had been at the White House to discuss his proposal for turning Pennsylvania Avenue between the Capitol and the White House into a grand thoroughfare. President Kennedy had planned to present it to congressional leaders on his return from Dallas.

      Following President Kennedy’s assassination, honoring him with a redesigned Pennsylvania Avenue becomes Pat’s obsession.

      On May 29, 1970, on what would have been President Kennedy’s 53rd birthday, Pat writes to Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: “On behalf...

      (pp. 133-138)

      On Saturday, June 6, while at Camp David with his family, Nixon has what seems to be a random thought in that it doesn’t appear to emerge from any need or desire. He calls Haldeman: “Consider Moynihan for UN!” Haldeman replies, “Good idea.” Nixon’s ambassador to the United Nations is a distinguished diplomat, Charles Yost. There is no indication that the administration is displeased with Yost, nor is Yost thought to be displeased with the job.

      Why Moynihan? Why the UN? Why now? Presidents and their inner circles love, for real or just for fun, to strategize moving players around...

    (pp. 139-148)

    So end the years 1969 and 1970 of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s tenure as an aide in Richard Nixon’s White House. For the players in the story, this is their afterword.

    Richard M. Nixon won reelection in 1972, but not by seven-tenths of a percentage point as he had in 1968. He won over 60 percent of the popular vote, losing only Massachusetts and the District of Columbia to Democrat George McGovern. Also in 1972, five men, paid by the Nixon campaign, were arrested while breaking into the Democratic headquarters at a Washington building named Watergate. Nixon denied knowledge until a...

    (pp. 149-156)
    Stephen Hess
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 157-172)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 173-173)