The gentleman from New York

April 03, 2003|By Bob Dole

WASHINGTON - Amid the war and nonstop media coverage of the past two weeks, our country lost a giant figure in American politics.

Pat Moynihan was a close friend and former colleague. He was a member of my generation, now a disappearing generation, who possessed perhaps the most respected mind of anyone I have known in public life. The former senator and U.N. ambassador from New York was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday afternoon in a relatively quiet ceremony.

As has been noted in the many tributes this past week, Pat was an American original - one-of-a-kind.

That he was elected made him an anomaly in and of itself. An intellectual with his integrity is especially rare in public office. That he was re-elected to four terms, that was probably some tribute to our system and to the people of New York. The way he did it - with little to no fund raising - is likely never to be repeated.

To my knowledge, Pat Moynihan never had an unkind word about any of his colleagues on either side of the aisle. In Washington, that says enough about his remarkable character. While others rose by knocking others down, Pat rose by building upon his own ideas, his unmatched intellect and his solid moral compass. He could never be accused of falling to conventional wisdom. Pat set conventional wisdom for decades to come.

I was privileged to work with Pat on many issues, most importantly rescuing Social Security in 1983 when it was in danger of insolvency. Although he was a Democrat, and at times a partisan, his principles came first. He thought nothing of contradicting his own leaders when his sound reasoning was at odds with their own.

In politics, we are quite accustomed to intellectual plagiarism. It is an epidemic. But anyone who knew Pat or listened to him knew his thoughts came from his core. His brand of individualism, with its intellectual independence, integrity and fortitude, must be recognized and cherished for any vibrant democracy to survive.

Like many in our generation, Pat served in the military. He was a Navy man. He served his country for many years as a member of the Reserves. He was also a diplomat and a scholar and, more importantly, a gentleman.

Raised by a single mom, he became our strongest voice on the role of the family in our collective culture. He was prescient in international affairs. He contributed to our debate on Social Security until the end.

I admired Pat's brilliance and independence. When he challenged our ideas, and he did so often, we knew we'd better rethink them, because his ideas came from strong intellectual foundations. They were not tested in the polls or finessed for constituent interests. They were purer than most anything we find in a noble yet sometimes tainted field of politics.

It is a gross understatement to say we will miss the contributions of this one great mind and even greater human being. We are indebted as a country. God bless him.

Bob Dole, a former Senate majority leader and the 1996 Republican candidate for president, was a close friend of Daniel Patrick Moynihan's.

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