The 1970s was a decade of acute existential crisis for the Democratic party, as ‘New Politics’ insurgents challenged the old guard for control of both the party apparatus and the right to define who a true ‘liberal’ was. Those Democrats who opposed New Politics reformism often found themselves dubbed ‘neoconservatives’. The fact that so many ‘neoconservatives’ eventually made their home in the Grand Old Party (GOP) has led historians to view them as a Republican bloc in embryo. The apostasy of the neoconservatives fits neatly into the political historiography of the 1970s, which is dominated by the rise of the New Right and its takeover of the Republican party. Yet this narrative, though seductive, overlooks the essentially protean character of politics in that decade. This article uses the 1976 Senate campaign mounted by Daniel Patrick Moynihan – the dandyish Harvard academic, official in four presidential administrations, and twice US ambassador – to demonstrate that many ‘neoconservatives’ were advancing a recognizably liberal agenda and seeking to define a new ‘vital center’ against the twin poles of the New Politics and the New Right. A microcosm of a wider struggle to define liberalism, Moynihan's candidacy complicates our understanding of the 1970s as an era of rightward drift.
This article was written with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Rothermere American Institute, St Anne's College, and the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. A previous version was presented at the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States annual conference in Middelburg, the Netherlands. The bulk of the research was undertaken at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, where I was a British Research Council Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center. I am grateful to the staff and fellows of the Kluge Center and the archivists in the LOC's various reading rooms for their support and forbearance. I am also grateful to my doctoral supervisor, Dr Gareth Davies, and to the editors and anonymous reviewers of the Historical Journal for their insightful comments on earlier drafts.
1 Brinkley, Alan, ‘The problem of American conservatism’, American Historical Review, 99 (Apr. 1994), pp. 409–29.
2 For the best syntheses, see Carroll, Peter N., It seemed like nothing happened: America in the 1970s (New Brunswick, NJ, and London, 1990); Schulman, Bruce, The seventies: the great shift in American culture, society, and politics (New York, NY, 2001); Berkowitz, Edward D., Something happened: a political and cultural overview of the seventies (New York, NY, 2006); and Borstelmann, Thomas, The 1970s: a new global history from civil rights to economic inequality (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, 2012).
3 Schulman, Bruce J. and Zelizer, Julian E., eds., Rightward bound: making America conservative in the 1970s (Cambridge, MA, and London, 2008), p. 3. See also, among others, Wilentz, Sean, The age of Reagan: a history, 1974–2008 (New York, NY, 2008); Perlstein, Rick, Nixonland: the rise of a president and the fracturing of America (New York, NY, and London, 2008); Sandbrook, Dominic, Mad as hell: the crisis of the 1970s and the rise of the populist right (New York, NY, 2011); Schoenwald, Jonathan, A time for choosing: the rise of modern American conservatism (New York, NY, 2001); McGirr, Lisa, Suburban warriors: the origins of the new American right (Princeton, NJ, and Oxford, 2001); Berman, William C., America's right turn: from Nixon to Bush (Baltimore, MD, and London, 1994); Kalman, Laura, Right star rising: a new politics, 1974–1980 (New York, NY, and London, 2010). For a fine, critical review of this historiography, see Zelizer, Julian E., ‘Rethinking the history of American conservatism’, Reviews in American History, 38 (2010), pp. 367–92.
4 Phillips, Kevin, The emerging Republican majority (New Rochelle, N. Y., 1969).
5 Mieczkowski, Yanek, Gerald Ford and the challenges of the 1970s (Lexington, KY, 2005), p. 65.
6 Author interview with Bruce Wolpe, Washington, DC, 20 Jan. 2012.
7 An exhaustive account of the commission's deliberations and their consequences can be found in Shafer, Byron E., Quiet revolution: the struggle for the Democratic party and the future of post-reform politics (New York, NY, 1983).
8 A useful account of the schism within the Democratic party over the place of the labour movement can be found in Judith Stein's deeply researched and forcefully argued Pivotal decade: how the United States traded factories for finance in the seventies (New Haven, CT, and London, 2010), esp. ch. 3. See also Dark, Taylor E., The unions and the Democrats: an enduring alliance (Ithaca, NY, and London, 1999), ch. 4; and Lichtenstein, Nelson, State of the union: a century of American labor (rev. edn, Princeton, NJ, 2013), chs. 5–6.
9 Newfield quoted in Chester, Lewis, Hodgson, Godfrey, and Page, Bruce, An American melodrama: the presidential campaign of 1968 (New York, NY, 1969), p. 376.
10 Miroff, Bruce, The liberals' moment: the McGovern insurgency and the identity crisis of the Democratic party (Lawrence, KS, 2007).
11 The refrain of McGovern's acceptance speech at the 1972 convention had been ‘Come Home, America.’ CDM ad, New York Times (NYT), 7 Dec. 1972 and Washington Post-Times Herald (WP-TH), 7 Dec. 1972.
12 Harrington, Michael, ‘The welfare state and its neoconservative critics’, Dissent (autumn 1973).
13 Erhman, John, The rise of neoconservatism: intellectuals and foreign affairs, 1945–1994 (New Haven, CT, 1995), p. 34.
14 Many who would go on to support Moynihan's 1976 campaign were signatories to the ad, including journalist Michael Novak, businessman Richard Ravitch, Bayard Rustin, A. Philip Randolph, Norman Podhoretz, Midge Decter, Albert Shanker, and Max Kampelman.
15 Evans, Rowland and Novak, Robert, ‘Anti-New Politics Liberals’, WP-TH, 12 Nov. 1972.
16 The foregoing potted biography is based principally on Hodgson, Godfrey, The gentleman from New York: Daniel Patrick Moynihan: a biography (Boston, MA, 2000), and Schoen, Douglas E., Pat: a biography of Daniel Patrick Moynihan (New York, NY, 1979).
17 Moynihan, Daniel P., The Negro family: the case for national action (Washington, DC, 1965); see also Patterson, James T., Freedom is not enough: the Moynihan report and America's struggle over black family life from LBJ to Obama (New York, NY, 2010).
18 For more on FAP, see Davies, Gareth, From opportunity to entitlement: the transformation and decline of Great Society liberalism (Lawrence, KS, 1996), pp. 211–33.
19 Memo, Daniel P. Moynihan (DPM) to Richard Nixon, 16 Jan. 1970, papers of Daniel P. Moynihan, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress, part i, box 255.
20 Moynihan, Daniel P., ‘The United States in opposition’, Commentary (Mar. 1975).
21 As anthropologist St Clair Drake pointed out, this was a dramatic oversimplification of the political cultures of these post-colonial nations, only a small minority of which could be said to have been influenced by Fabianism. Drake, St Clair, ‘Moynihan and the Third World’, Nation, 5 July 1975.
22 ‘Moynihan says U.N. must bar resolution condemning Zionism’, NYT, 22 Oct. 1975.
23 Paul Hofmann, ‘U.N. unit endorses draft linking Zionism to racism’, NYT, 18 Oct. 1975.
24 Moynihan discusses his tenure at the UN in A dangerous place (with Suzanne Weaver) (Boston, MA, 1978). For a detailed and sympathetic account of the battle over Resolution 3379, see Troy, Gil, Moynihan's moment: America's fight against Zionism as racism (New York, NY, and Oxford, 2013).
25 Fritchley, Clayton, ‘Moynihan–Kissinger split: a matter of style’, Washington Post (WP), 6 Dec. 1975; Troy, Moynihan's moment, p. 9.
26 ‘A fighting Irishman at the U.N.’, Time, 26 Jan. 1976.
27 ‘Moynihan sees U. N. assembly voting anti-Zionism resolution’, NYT, 27 Oct. 1975; Hodgson, Gentleman from New York, p. 259.
28 See Wilson, James Q., The amateur Democrat: club politics in three cities (Chicago, IL, and London, 1966); Moscow, Warren, The last of the big-time bosses: the life and times of Carmine de Sapio and the rise and fall of Tammany Hall (New York, NY, 1971).
29 Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, Coping: essays on the practice of government (New York, NY, 1973), pp. 8–11.
30 Biles, Roger, The fate of the cities: urban America and the federal government, 1945–2000 (Lawrence, KS, 2011), p. 201; Cannato, Vincent J., The ungovernable city: John Lindsay and his struggle to save New York (New York, NY, 2002), pp. 548–53.
31 Tolchin, Martin, ‘Ford again denies fiscal aid to city’, NYT, 18 Oct. 1975.
32 Biles, Fate of the cities, pp. 210–12. See also Lachlan, Seymour P. and Polner, Robert, The man who saved New York: Hugh Carey and the great fiscal crisis of 1975 (Albany, NY, 1975).
33 Tolchin, Martin, ‘Buckley opposes U. S. intervention in city's crisis’, NYT, 24 Sept. 1975.
34 Claibourne, William, ‘Moynihan “open” to Senate race’, WP, 4 Feb. 1976.
35 Letter, Rauh to DPM, undated, papers of Joseph L. Rauh, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress, box 3.
36 ‘Final(?) questions on Moynihan’, Nation, 14 Feb. 1976.
37 Lynn, Frank, ‘Black politicians oppose Moynihan’, NYT, 18 Feb. 1976.
38 Evans, Rowland and Novak, Robert, ‘Obstacles for Moynihan’, WP, 2 Mar. 1976; Gersham, Carl, ‘Blacks and Daniel P. Moynihan: a bum rap?’ New Republic, 10 Apr. 1976.
39 Letter, Edward I. Koch to DPM, 14 Jan. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 383.
40 Letter, Crangle to DPM, 18 Feb. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 383; ‘Moynihan is open to a Senate race’, NYT, 3 Feb. 1976.
41 Bode, Ken and Straus, William, ‘The New York Senate race: five is a crowd’, New Republic, 21–8 Aug. 1976.
42 ‘A.F. L.-C.I. O. aide backs Moynihan’, NYT, 25 Mar. 1976.
43 ‘Moynihan for Senate run favored’, Daily News, 1 Mar. 1976, clipping in the papers of Norman Podhoretz, Manuscript Reading Room, Library of Congress, box 2.
44 The other candidates in the race included Paul O'Dwyer, a lawyer who had established his progressive bona fides defending striking workers and civil rights activists, and who was on his fourth bid for a Senate seat; Ramsey Clark, US attorney-general under Lyndon Johnson, who had pulled off an upset victory in the 1974 Democratic Senate primary, losing to Senator Jacob Javits in November; and Abraham Hirschfield, a businessman who had made millions constructing parking garages. None of these candidates proved able to disrupt the Moynihan–Abzug duel, however.
45 Soffer, Jonathan, Ed Koch and the rebuilding of New York City (New York, NY, 2010), p. 98.
46 Hodgson, Gentleman from New York, p. 265.
47 Levine, Suzanne Braun and Thom, Mary, Bella Abzug: how one tough broad from the Bronx fought Jim Crow and Joe McCarthy, pissed off Jimmy Carter, battled for the rights of women and workers, rallied against war and for the planet, and shook up politics along the way (New York, NY, 2007), p. 171.
48 Alongside his campaigns as a Jackson delegate, in the Democratic senatorial primary, and in the Senate election itself, Moynihan also ‘ran’ for a place on the Convention's Platform Committee and then membership of the drafting committee for the party's platform. Moynihan, Daniel Patrick, ‘The liberal's dilemma’, New Republic, 22 Jan. 1977.
49 Kaufman, Robert G., Henry M. Jackson (Seattle, WA. and London, 2000), pp. 315, 332; Bloodworth, Jeff, ‘Senator Henry Jackson, the Solzhenitsyn affair, and American liberalism’, Pacific Northwest Quarterly (spring 2006), pp. 69–77.
50 Apple, R. W. Jr, ‘Moynihan tests political winds’, NYT, 5 Apr. 1976; Schoen, Pat, p. 248.
51 Headline: ‘Moynihan’, ABC News, 10 June 1976, Vanderbilt Television News Archive (VTNA), http://tvnews.vanderbilt.edu/; Claiborne, William, ‘Moynihan enters New York Senate race’, WP, 11 June 1976; Schoen, Pat, p. 251.
52 Schoen, Pat, pp. 250, 253–4; Bode and Straus, ‘The New York Senate race’.
53 Moynihan for Senate ad, NYT, 27 June 1976; Schoen, Pat, p. 254.
54 The note to editors and correspondents attached to this first speech, from communications director Richard T. Stout, announced that the four upcoming statements would ‘form the centerpiece of [Moynihan's] campaign’. Richard T. Stout, ‘Note to editors and correspondents’, 25 Aug. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 493.
55 DPM, ‘A nation worth defending’, 25 Aug. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 493.
56 DPM, ‘New York State and the liberal tradition’, 28 Aug. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 493.
57 Press release, ‘Moynihan criticizes Abzug house votes’, 27 Aug. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 384.
58 DPM, ‘Saving New York City’, 30 Aug. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 493.
59 DPM, ‘In defense of the family’, 1 Sept. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 393.
60 Press release, ‘Moynihan criticizes Abzug house votes’.
61 Carroll, Maurice, ‘Aspirants for the Senate profess little concern about Moynihan’, NYT, 4 Feb. 1976.
62 Lynn, Frank, ‘Democrats in Senate race wooing New York's Jews’, NYT, 9 Aug. 1976.
63 Moynihan for Senate press release, ‘Moynihan urges international anti-terrorist campaign’, 7 July 1976; DPM papers, part i, box 384; DPM, ‘The totalitarian terrorists’, New York, 26 July 1976, offprint in the DPM papers, part i, box 221.
64 Ronan, Thomas P., ‘Moynihan is a sparkler on diamond district visit’, NYT, 17 July 1976.
65 Lynn, ‘Democrats in Senate race wooing New York's Jews’.
66 Ronan, Thomas P., ‘Labor leaders form a group to elect Moynihan’, NYT, 22 July 1976.
67 Stetson, Damon, ‘Shanker assails Mrs. Abzug; she denies his scab charge’, NYT, 3 Sept. 1976.
68 ‘A.F. L.-C.I. O. aide backs Moynihan’, NYT, 25 Mar. 1976; Ruskin, A. H., ‘Shanker's great leap’, NYT, 9 Sept. 1973. For more on Shanker, see Kahlenberg, Richard D.'s superb biography Tough liberal: Albert Shanker and the battles over schools, unions, race, and democracy (New York, NY, 2007).
69 Press release, ‘Unradical, unchic Brooklyn brunch bash for Moynihan’, 13 Aug. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 492.
70 Ronald Smothers, ‘Abzug Labor Panel’, NYT, 25 Aug. 1976.
71 ‘Mrs. Abzug says she won't back Moynihan if he wins primary’, NYT, 29 Aug. 1976; ‘Moynihan accuses Abzug of “Rule-or-Ruin” stance’, NYT, 30 Aug. 1976.
72 Twenty-six of the signatories were Moynihan supporters, six were uncommitted, and one had endorsed Abzug. Smothers, Ronald, ‘Mrs. Abzug urged to retract repudiation of Moynihan’, NYT, 1 Sept. 1976.
73 Levine and Thom, Bella Abzug, p. 178.
74 Hodgson, Gentleman from New York, pp. 268–70; ‘Moynihan for Senate’, NYT, 10 Sept. 1976; letters to the editor, NYT, 11 Sept. 1976.
75 Levine and Thom, Bella Abzug, p. 176.
76 Schoen, Pat, pp. 256–7.
77 Carroll, Maurice, ‘Mrs. Abzug offers to aid winner; Buckley calls Moynihan “to the left”’, NYT, 16 Sept. 1976.
78 Headline: ‘Campaign 1976/Senate elections/New York race’, CBS News Report, 18 Oct. 1976, VTNA.
79 Hunt, Albert R., ‘In this Senate race, one campaign issue is FDR's “New Deal”’, Wall Street Journal (WSJ), 15 Oct. 1976; Schoen, Pat, 260; headline: ‘Campaign 1976/New York Senate race/Moynihan/Buckley’, ABC News Report, 14 Oct. 1976, VTNA.
80 Lynn, Frank, ‘The Moynihan–Buckley race: breeding gives way to brawling’, NYT, 29 Oct. 1976; Smothers, Ronald, ‘Buckley, campaigning in heavily Republican area, labels Moynihan “undiluted liberal”’, NYT, 21 Oct. 1976.
81 Rosen, Jane, ‘Why Moynihan may thank his old enemies’, Guardian, 27 Oct. 1976.
82 Coyne, Patricia S., ‘A Conservative senator in New York’, National Review, 29 Oct. 1976.
83 Hodgson, Gentleman from New York, p. 272.
84 Schoen, Pat, p. 258; Levine and Thom, Bella Abzug, p. 182.
85 ‘Dr. Kenneth Clark blasts Moynihan – backs Buckley’, New York Amsterdam News (NYAN), 16 Oct. 1976.
86 Hodgson, Gentleman from New York, p. 266.
87 ‘Pat Moynihan, liberal’, New Republic, 30 Oct. 1976.
88 Press release, statement by Rep. Shirley Chisholm endorsing Moynihan, 26 Oct. 1976, DPM papers, part i, box 489.
89 ‘A difficult decision’, NYAN, 30 Oct. 1976.
90 Stanley, Timothy, Kennedy vs. Carter: the 1980 battle for the Democratic party's soul (Lawrence, KS, 2010), pp. 29–30; CQ: guide to U. S. elections (6th edn, Washington, DC, 2010), i–ii, pp. 793, 1457.
91 Carroll, Maurice, ‘Moynihan defeats Buckley for New York Senate seat’, NYT, 3 Nov. 1976.
92 Levine and Thom, Bella Abzug, p. 176.
93 Moynihan, ‘The liberals’ dilemma’, New Republic, 22 Jan. 1977.
94 Hunt, ‘In this Senate race, one campaign issue is FDR's “New Deal”’.
95 Kondracke, Morton, ‘The Moynihan movement’, New Republic, 22 July 1978.
96 Ibid.; Buckley, William F., ‘Why not Moynihan?’ National Review, 22 Feb. 1979.
97 Nation, 22 Sept. 1979.
98 Roberts, Steven V., ‘Democrats assail Reagan's Tax Bill’, NYT, 28 July 1981.
99 Baer, Kenneth, Reinventing Democrats: the politics of liberalism from Reagan to Clinton (Lawrence, KS, 2000), pp. 31–2, 60.
100 Letter, DPM to Peter Steinfels, 20 Feb. 1979, DPM papers, part ii, box 1.
101 Letters, DPM to Bill Kovach, Daniel Bell, James Q. Wilson, Irving Kristol, and Nathan Glazer, 25 Feb. 1984. Enc. letter, Michael Harrington to DPM, 31 Jan. 1984, DPM papers, part ii, box 8; solidarity ad, NYT, 18. Mar. 1984.
* This article was written with support from the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the Rothermere American Institute, St Anne's College, and the Faculty of History at the University of Oxford. A previous version was presented at the Historians of the Twentieth Century United States annual conference in Middelburg, the Netherlands. The bulk of the research was undertaken at the Library of Congress, Washington DC, where I was a British Research Council Fellow at the John W. Kluge Center. I am grateful to the staff and fellows of the Kluge Center and the archivists in the LOC's various reading rooms for their support and forbearance. I am also grateful to my doctoral supervisor, Dr Gareth Davies, and to the editors and anonymous reviewers of the Historical Journal for their insightful comments on earlier drafts.
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