In Brief

America lost an influential policy scholar when Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan died on March 26 at the age of 76. During his 24 years as a U.S. senator from New York (1977-2001), Moynihan greatly affected policy related to psychology in the public interest, including welfare reform, social security and the African-American family.

Moynihan also served as an adviser to four consecutive presidents, from John F. Kennedy to Gerald Ford, leaving his stamp on labor, urban affairs and other domestic policy.

In 1963, he co-authored the book "Beyond the Melting Pot," which shattered the idea that ethnic identities inevitably fade over time in the United States. In 1965, Moynihan issued his foremost work, "The Negro Family: The Case for National Action," which predicted the epidemic of out-of-wedlock births among African Americans. Although it drew the ire of liberals at the time, it has since been considered by many to be prophetic. Indeed, in the view of many in the psychological community, Moynihan personified the role of effectively applying science in the public interest by promoting policy grounded in science.

"Sen. Moynihan always remained faithful to the facts related to the formation and implementation of public policies affecting children and their families," says psychologist and Foundation for Child Development President Ruby Takanishi, PhD, who served as assistant director for behavioral and social sciences at the Office of Science and Technology Policy and a Congressional Science Fellow during Moynihan's years in the Senate. "This meant that behavioral and social science research had an important role in providing such facts."

From the start of his service in the U.S. Senate, Moynihan was committed to his principles and did not mince words when he believed politics--whether liberal or conservative--was overriding substance. He opposed the 1996 welfare reform legislation based on its likely adverse impact on poor children. As he argued, "The premise of this legislation is that the behavior of certain adults can be changed by making the lives of their children as wretched as possible. This is a fearsome assumption."

He was known for identifying complex problems and proposing equally complex (and frequently unpopular) solutions on a broad range of issues as diverse as mass transportation, racism and architecturally distinctive federal buildings.

"While everyone did not agree with Sen. Moynihan's interpretation of the facts, he was always provocative, thoughtful and cared deeply about issues of race, class and human dignity," says Takanishi.


Deborah Cotter and Lori Valencia Greene are staff in APA's Public Policy Office.