When RN won the election in 1968, he was interested in populating his cabinet with Democrats so that he would have better rapport with Congress. He created a committee that would oversee domestic policy issues, specifically those that dealt with poverty and income assistance, and appointed a Democratic social scientist to direct the new program and reform the welfare system.
Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a Democratic politician from the state of New York. He held a Ph.D. in Sociology from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts, and over the course of his career served under four different presidents.
He had already worked as an Assistant Secretary of Labor under Presidents Kennedy and Johnson by the time that he was appointed by RN to the position of Counselor to the President for Urban Affairs. The Urban Affairs Council was a new office that RN described as, “the domestic policy equivalent of the National Security Council in foreign affairs.”
Overall, one of the most interesting aspects of his career was the relationship that he had with RN. Moynihan was a liberal Democrat, he was a professor at Harvard, and he was opposed to the Vietnam War; however, and seemingly with three strikes against him, Moynihan developed a relationship with RN that was based on their mutual concern for the welfare of America’s people.
Despite their political differences Moynihan and RN agreed on many issues of domestic policy. In his memoir RN states, “Daniel Patrick Moynihan had one of the most innovative minds for domestic policy in the country.” It appeared that he was the perfect candidate to control the Urban Affairs Council.
RN describes his job offer to Moynihan as a relatively direct process; however, Stephen Hess, a former staff member of Moynihan’s, recalls a more complex situation. Originally it was thought that the position would be given to Arthur Burns, an economist.
Burns was the more convincing candidate. A long-time friend of Nixon’s, he was a graduate of Columbia— far removed from Moynihan’s liberalism. The nod nonetheless went to Moynihan. Hess attributes this to Moynihan’s advantage of being an extremely charismatic and humorous person who could command attention and generally avoided using academic jargon.
Moynihan was interested primarily in overhauling the way welfare programs were implemented in America. This specifically included standardizing the amount of money given in an attempt to reduce the large discrepancies that existed between states. He pursued the goal of reforming welfare into a system that would bring about positive and meaningful change in the lives of those needing it, and was especially motivated by the idea that maintaining a family’s structure would be the key to improving the overall economic situation of the country.
The result was a proposal to replace the existing welfare system with a “Family Assistance Program” which would offer help to families, standardize the amount of money provided to families throughout the country, and encourage members of families in need of assistance to continue working and to retain their structure.
Though the program was more expensive than the existing welfare program, and ultimately did not come into effect, it highlighted the faith that RN had in Moynihan’s insights and abilities, and the respect the two held for each other.