What Did Daniel Patrick Moynihan Actually Think About Race? Historians Discuss in the Atlantic

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tags: The Atlantic, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, Race, Nixon, Ronald Regan

John Hoberman is a professor at the University of Texas.

Tim Naftali is a clinical associate professor of history at NYU.

Many thanks to Professor Naftali for bringing Ronald Reagan’s explicit racism to public attention.

As I am currently writing a book on Daniel Patrick Moynihan, I would like to point out one inaccuracy in Naftali’s narrative. Regarding the secretly taped conversation on racial aptitudes between Richard Nixon and Daniel Patrick Moynihan, which took place on October 7, 1971, Naftali describes “a quiet Moynihan” listening to Nixon’s rambling lecture on racial abilities. While it is true that Nixon dominated this conversation—indeed, Moynihan could hardly get a word in edgewise—Moynihan did make a few brief comments. He joined Nixon in depicting African leaders as “children.” Later in the conversation, he agreed with Nixon that black people are at an intellectual disadvantage “when you get to some of the more, shall we say, some of the more profound, rigid disciplines, basically,” as Nixon put it. When asked about this conversation years later, Moynihan claimed that he could not recall it.

This is a significant omission because it continues, inadvertently, the decades-long practice of not examining how Moynihan actually thought about race.

Professor John Hoberman
University of Texas
Austin, Texas



Tim Naftali replies:

I agree with John Hoberman that Daniel Patrick Moynihan’s role in the conversations with Richard Nixon about IQ and race needs scrutiny. In seeming to elide Moynihan’s comments in the October 7, 1971, phone call (one of two recorded conversations he had with Nixon on this matter), I may have suggested that he wasn’t complicit in this troubling exchange. I am glad that Hoberman pointed out the omission and that I have the opportunity to make clear my understanding of Moynihan’s role in this disturbing presidential seminar.

Read entire article at The Atlantic

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