The Public Interest

The paranoid style in American politics revisited

Daniel P. Moynihan

Fall 1985

Of continuity and change. It happens I wrote the opening article in the first issue of The Public Interest, and there I am to be found, then as ever since, quoting Nathan Glazer. Congress, Glazer reported, had in 1965 “been painfully and hesitantly trying to deal with two great measures—tax reform and a civil rights bill—and its deliberations on both have been closely covered by the mass media .... “ Twenty years later Congress is working from much the same agenda, though this time around it is the “Civil Rights Restoration Act” being debated, while tax reform, of course, is back with us for what I believe is the ninth time in the intervening two decades. For my part, twenty years ago I was welcoming developments in the social sciences and the professions which raised the prospect that “the more primitive social issues of American politics are at last to be resolved” so that “’we may now turn to issues more demanding of human ingenuity than that of how to put an end to poverty in the richest nation in the world.” Twenty years later I have just delivered the Godkin Lectures at Harvard wherein it is proposed that, having all but eliminated poverty among the aged, we surely could do something about its extraordinary relative rise among children. The fact that certain difficulties persist, some indeed worsening, makes a claim on our sensibilities.

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