Observers have compared him to Jefferson, Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson. Former Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D) of New York, who died on Wednesday, was one of the country's best thinkers.
After starting as an aide to New York Gov. Averell Harriman, he served as assistant secretary of Labor for Presidents Kennedy and Johnson, chief domestic adviser and ambassador to India under President Nixon, and as President Ford's UN ambassador. In 1976, he ran for the Senate from New York and went on to serve four terms, retiring in 2000.
He served in the Navy in World War II and as a Harvard professor. He wrote 18 books; nine while a senator. He was the Republicans' favorite Democrat and was widely viewed as the Democrats' best intellect.
One of his outstanding qualities was prescience. He grasped trends almost before they emerged, and quickly saw their implications. In the mid-1960s, he foresaw the danger to black progress in the increasing number of single-parent African-American families. While he was reviled by liberals then, time has proved him right - the problem has grown and spread to whites. A fierce anticommunist, in the 1970s he was among the first to predict the Soviet Union's collapse.
As ambassador to the UN, he was quick to defend the US and Israel against frequent General Assembly hypocrisy. Most recently he saw the vulnerability of the Social Security system and argued well for its reform.
Senator Moynihan didn't always share what some thought to be the logical conclusions of his positions. For example, he deeply opposed the GOP version of welfare reform.
His passing is a reminder that political discourse needs more of the eloquence and down-to-earth intellectual rigor Moynihan brought to the table.