Former Senator Moynihan Dies At Age 76

His successor, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, made the announcement on the Senate floor.

“We have lost a great American, an extraordinary senator, an intellectual and a man of passion and understanding for what really makes the country work,” Senator Clinton continued.

“There isn’t any way that anyone will ever fill his place in this Senate … in the intellectual power, the passion, the love of this extraordinary body and our country. He will be so missed,” she added.

Moynihan had battled several health problems over recent months. He was hospitalized in January for an intestinal disorder, and subsequently hospitalized again for a back injury. Earlier this month he underwent an emergency appendectomy at the Washington Hospital Center, and developed an infection following the surgery.

Remembered as a dynamic lawmaker and one of the modern Senate’s sharpest intellects, Moynihan focused his efforts on welfare reform, family legislation and transportation initiatives, as well as Social Security and foreign policy issues. He championed public jobs programs, and in 1988 introduced the Family Support Act, which overhauled the country’s welfare laws, blending work incentives and child support in a precursor to broader welfare reform.

“There are hundreds of millions of human beings in this country, they don’t know it, but he made their lives better. There are billions of people in the world and through his work he made their lives better,” fellow New York Democrat Senator Charles Schumer said Wednesday.

Senator Moynihan, the eldest of three children, was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and spent his early childhood in Indiana before moving to New York City. From his humble beginnings, he went on to work for four presidents, starting with a post in Presidents Kennedy and Johnson’s Department of Labor from 1961-65.

His office sent “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” also known as the Moynihan Report, to President Johnson in 1965. The report, which blamed black urban poverty on the breakdown of the family structure, received wide criticism from civil rights leaders and would remain a sore spot for Moynihan throughout his career.

In an interview with PBS’s Ben Wattenberg, Moynihan spoke of the controversial report, saying, “We won’t understand it until we can get less emotional about it and more analytic. It’s a bigger problem than I could handle. I’ll tell you this: I ran into it. I bumped into it. I wasn’t looking for it, had no preconceived notions, and what, 35 years have gone by, and I’m no closer to understanding it.”

Moynihan went on to teach at Harvard University for several years, returning to Washington as special adviser to President Nixon. He later served as the U.S. ambassador to India from 1973-75, and to the United Nations from 1975-76.

Moynihan joined the Senate in 1976, defeating incumbent Republican James Buckley by portraying himself as someone who would guide New York City through its fiscal crisis.

“He spoke up for America. He’d speak up for New York,” Moynihan’s campaign ads promised at the time.

The senator won reelection three times, and his illustrious career led the Almanac of American Politics to describe him as “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and the best politician among thinkers since Jefferson.”

After retiring from the Senate in 2001, he joined the faculty of Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. His numerous books include Family and Nation (1986), Came the Revolution (1988), On the Law of Nations (1990), and Secrecy (1998).

A U.S. Navy veteran, he will be buried Monday at Arlington National Cemetery just outside Washington.

“This is a giant of a man, a giant of a senator, a noble man in many respects. I have missed him since he left the Senate and we’ll all miss him now that he’s gone on to his great reward,” Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., said on the Senate floor.