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Moynihan, Senator and Scholar, Dies at 76

Former U.S. Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who died Wednesday at 76, spent half a century at the heart of American politics, first as a social critic, then as an influential politician himself.

Moynihan served in the administrations of four U.S. presidents and spent four terms in the Senate representing New York. At the time of his death he was still at work in Washington, as the head of a White House commission on Social Security, and as a scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center.

Before reaching the Senate as a Democrat in 1976, Moynihan served Republican presidents as U.S. ambassador to India under President Nixon, and as U.S. representative to the United Nations in the Ford administration.

He was born in Tulsa, Okla., but grew up in New York City during the Depression, an experience that profoundly shaped his view of the world. In public life, he affected the bow-tied bearing and mien of a perfect Ivory Tower intellectual, which in some ways he was. But as John Rudolph of member station WNYC reports for All Things Considered, Moynihan never considered politics a secondary occupation.

"I didn't wander into politics," the senator once said. "I wandered into academics having been defeated in politics."

But a remarkable gift for scholarship informed his politics. He was an acknowledged authority on Social Security issues and foreign policy during his Senate career, and he took a leading role in welfare reform. He successfully sponsored legislation on a broad range of issues such as reducing acid rain, providing increased federal funding for public transportation, and guaranteeing the solvency of Social Security.

He wrote many books. Beyond the Melting Pot, published in 1964, explored New York City's cultural diversity and the plight of minorities. Family and Nation, in 1986, arrived 20 years after he served as an architect of President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty, and revisited that territory. Came the Revolution: Argument in the Reagan Era, tracked Moynihan's role as the "loyal opposition" during the nation's dramatic swing toward more conservative leadership.

Rudolph quotes Moynihan's parting words after leaving the Nixon White House in 1970:

"I am of those who believe that America is the hope of the world. And for that time given him, the president is the hope of America. Serve him well, pray for his success, understand how much depends on you... And now goodbye, it really has been good to know you."

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