The author's name, so Irish it travels across the tongue like a roll call in Kilkenny, may immediately suggest poetry or politics. Democratic Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan's collection of speeches, articles and newsletters to his New York constituents is, however, as American as a rebuttal on radio or a burst of bipartisan cooperation.
Moynihan rebuts and cooperates in these pages. This is an appendix of opposition to the Reagan revolution, written from 1981 through 1986 by a man who lost arguments but kept perspective.There are kind words here for Barry Goldwater, William French Smith and Bob Dole. There are appreciative notes to conservative columnist George Will. There are congenial pokes at David Stockman, a one-time divinity student when Moynihan taught at Harvard, described as "corn-fed and cowlicked" before he became the would-be hatchet man for the federal budget. And there is a nod of kindness toward Ronald Reagan himself: "The president, against whose policies I contended, was and remains a public figure of rare civility and, well, good cheer. He commanded courtesy in argument because he deserved it and, in the main, returned it.
In Moynihan's world, where substance is no excuse for lack of wit, the enemies are rascals but not scoundrels. The differences between the senator's Democrats and Reagan's Republicans are matters of size and trust. Moynihan believes in big government and relies on government to do for individuals what they cannot do for themselves.
"Mr. Reagan," he told a West Point audience in 1985, "has thought it possible to weaken American government without weakening American influence. It is not (possible)."
The recurring phrase in the book is that "there has been a leakage of reality from our view of the world." In terms of bigness, the Reagan reality belied the Reagan belief. When the president took office, there were 4,966,000 government employees; by the beginning of the 1986 fiscal year, there were 5,210,000. In fiscal 1980 the federal government spent $590.9 billion; in fiscal 1986 the government spent $979.9 billion. The revolution pledged to reduce the bureaucracy doubled the federal debt within five years.
"The problem with debating the Reagan adminstration," writes Moynihan, "was that the White House kept doing exactly what it was understood it would never do." The revolution called for lower taxes, less government and a stronger military. "In each instance," Moynihan complains, "there is a distinction made between decreasing the size of the military-- as if the military were not part of government."
Reaganomics, such as it was, takes a beating in these pages when Moynihan uses Stockman's disillusionment as proof that the administration was practicing more programs than it preached.
Nicaragua policy takes another beating, this time using Barry Goldwater. Then-Sen. Goldwater was the chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and Moynihan the vice chairman when the president authorized the secret mining of Nicaragua's harbors in 1984. Moynihan wrote a column for Newsday: "A commitment to law ought to be understood not as a commitment never to use force, but rather to use force only as an instrument of law."
The Soviet Union, a real threat, became a real obsession. No dove, Moynihan told a New York University commencement audience that the United States, instead of pursuing its own ideals, had begun to imitate the enemy by depending on weapon buildups instead of depending on diplomacy. "The truth," said Moynihan in 1984, "is that the Soviet Union is spent. It commands some influence in the world-- and fear. But it summons no loyalty." He was ahead of the headlines. Before Gorbachev and "glasnost" he was advising, "Our grand strategy should be to wait out the Soviet Union; its time is passing. Let us resolve to...be our old selves."
More apt rhetoric than angry revelation, Moynihan's counterpoint to the Reagan years is a useful reminder that politicians can write, think and be genial as well as negative. Some of the matters he most fretted about- protection of Social Security, resumption of arms-control negotiations - later became part of the Reagan legacy.