Was Daniel Patrick Moynihan Right About America? And Other Letters to the Editor

No Easy Answers To the Editor: Joe Klein’s essay about Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (May 23) will have done the country a great de...

To the Editor:

Joe Klein’s essay about Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (May 23) will have done the country a great deal of good if Klein manages to ignite a renewed interest in this most visionary thinker of the mid- and late 20th century.

The essay appeared just as I am in the middle of “Daniel Patrick Moynihan: A Portrait in Letters of an American Visionary,” edited by Steven R. Weisman and first published in 2010. Moynihan saw deeply into the currents of the day-to-day scrum of politics in his day and was able to articulate the largest themes.

His typewritten memorandums to the presidents he served read like elaborate essays of the highest intellectual caliber. His largest theme was the collapsing moral authority of government, fed by the increasingly authoritarian and anti-American character of the far liberal left and (no less) by the reactionary extremism of the right. He saw where it was headed and where it was headed is where we are today.

Mark Moran

To the Editor:

In his essay, Joe Klein pays tribute to the complexity and prescience of Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s thought. However, in “The Negro Family: The Case for National Action,” often referred to as the Moynihan Report, the future senator drew this sweeping, undocumented conclusion: “Unless this damage [to the Negro family] is repaired, all the efforts to end discrimination and poverty and injustice will come to little.” Without serious, sustained efforts to end those ills, how could one possibly know?

According to Klein, the research of William Julius Wilson in “The Truly Disadvantaged” resurrected Moynihan’s pronouncements regarding the Black family. Actually, Wilson and his colleagues attributed high and rising rates of Black single parenthood to declining Black male “marriageability,” defined as employed and between the ages of 15 and 44. In short, the injustice of Black male unemployment — consistently double the rate of white unemployment since the mid-1950s — was a cause of the family structure that Moynihan saw as the barrier to Black advancement.

A government guarantee of living-wage work — the first of Franklin Roosevelt’s Second Bill of Rights — is one way to reduce discrimination, poverty, injustice and the devastating effects of unemployment on Black families.

Gertrude Schaffner Goldberg
New Canaan, Conn.

To the Editor:

The review of Robert Kanigel’s “Hearing Homer’s Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry” (May 16) is misleading. Milman Parry did not show that the Homeric epics were orally composed or that there was no “Homer,” but that a long and rich oral tradition lay behind them, and that the practice of composition-in-performance explains much that was previously puzzling.

Many followers of Parry believe that the two great epics were oral compositions, but others call them “oral-derived.” Not all our questions have been answered.

Ruth Scodel
Ann Arbor, Mich.

To the Editor:

Robert Cioffi’s review raises the issue of who actually composed Homer’s great epics (and how it was done).

A way to decide this question is to utilize the Book Review’s frequent By the Book question: “You’re organizing a literary dinner party. Which three writers, living or dead, do you invite?”

My answer: I would invite one name — Homer. If one person showed up, I would know that one person wrote both the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey.” If two appeared, I would know that one person wrote the “Iliad” and another the “Odyssey” (or that they were co-authors). If tens, hundreds or even thousands of people came, I would know that the works were composed orally over many years. Of course, in that case I would probably need to rent a hotel ballroom for the dinner or maybe even an athletic arena.

Kenneth Pearlman
Silver Spring, Md.

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Newsrust - US Top News: Was Daniel Patrick Moynihan Right About America? And Other Letters to the Editor
Was Daniel Patrick Moynihan Right About America? And Other Letters to the Editor
Newsrust - US Top News
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