Thursday, March 27, 2003

OLD SCHOOL: I see Senator Moynihan is dead. Years ago I read an interview with him in Leaders magazine. The interviewer noted that Americans did not have long historical memories -- which observation seemed an cue for the famously tweedy Senator to lament our philistine ahistoricism. But Moynihan said, "That's right, and a good thing, too!" He explained with an anecdote: while touring Northern Ireland, he'd seen spray-painted across a wall the words "REMEMBER 1689!" This is the date of the Siege of Londonderry, an event significant in the endless sectarian struggles of Ireland. That some "street urchin," said Moynihan, could call this date to mind was not a sign of enlightenment, but of bondage to ancient grudges, and he for one was glad that this was much less the case with Americans.

I admire the subtlety of his reasoning. I also admire that he came from Hell's Kitchen but did not, as so many politicians do, exploit his proletarian roots by presenting himself as belly-scratching "man of the people." He wore nice suits and bow ties and spoke like a professor, albeit a jolly, bibulous one. It is amazing to contemplate that voters anywhere at any time would approve a candidate so clearly their intellectual superior. At the same time, he was as capable of muscling pork-barrel projects (like the planned Penn Station revival) through Congress as any dirty-fingernails type.

He was of the old school -- self-invented, but to his own specifications, not those of an image consultant. His kind gets rarer every day.

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