Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927-2003) did not just live in the twentieth century, he strode across it: a colossus of ideas and a man of deeds. He was a seminal public intellectual and sociologist, policy specialist, ambassador and long serving senator. Moynihan was a moralist in a political world where morality – the urge to do good – is often overcome by the desire to do well. He had, as one friend, recalled, a “mystical belief in public service.” In an age of rigid ideologies and political sloganeering, he was a man who embraced the contradictions and complexity of public policy without ever despairing of the role of government in the lives of its citizens. A decade after his death, the first feature length documentary about his life captures Moynihan, the man, the thinker and the doer as never before.
Over the years, Moynihan’s work has frequently been misinterpreted by both the left and the right. In Moynihan, a remarkable array of figures, including Ta-Nehisi Coates, Eleanor Holmes Norton, George Will, and Henry Kissinger – along with narration by award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright (Westworld) – give insight into this “connoisseur of statistics” who served four presidents, anticipated the breakup of the Soviet Union, and was as comfortable writing about philosophy, ethnicity, and architecture as he was rethinking the Social Security and welfare systems. By clarifying Moynihan’s thought and offering it to a new generation – for whom he largely remains unknown – the film offers an all-too-timely perspective on today’s debates over the issues that Moynihan began tackling over 50 years ago.