``Professor'' Daniel Patrick Moynihan was back in the classroom the other day. But this time the former Harvard professor-turned-United States senator was testing his theories and demonstrating his renowned wit before students at New York University's Graduate School of Public Administration. Students who may some day go into government were treated to the best of Mr. Moynihan (D), New York's senior United States senator and a figure of controversy and original thinking on topics ranging from the plight of black families to how to address a third world often hostile to the US. Moynihan was at NYU as its first Marnold Fellow Scholar.
Charming and challenging students in several classes, Moynihan ventured far and wide in his discourse -- from the rise of the Lyndon LaRouche candidates to the publication last week of former budget director David Stockman's mea culpa memoir of early Reaganomics. In the course of his comments and questions, the senator tested theories on political ``illiteracy'' and the transmogrification of capitalism into an ideology.
The tall, ruddy-cheeked lecturer pounded the podium, queried students about Socrates, and talked mostly about the ideologies -- a kind of secular ``religion'' -- that have been used of late to lay siege to the American republic.
The heart of Moynihan's talks on Monday was that people who are going to be active in government and politics are going to have to learn more about, and be ``literate'' in, ideology. Because, he said, when politicians have not done their homework, they open the door to disaster.
``Start with the Democratic Party and the way we have allowed Lyndon LaRouche to come into our party,'' Moynihan says.
How did that infiltration start? He points to the 1981 mayoral race in New York City, where a LaRouche candidate ran in the Democratic primary.
``What was the response of the New York political leaders?'' Moynihan asks. ``It was the response of illiterates. Basically they didn't know who these people were.'' And consequently the LaRouche candidate, though he lost to incumbent Mayor Edward I. Koch, was permitted to run as a legitimate Democrat.
The next year a LaRouche candidate filed against Moynihan for the Democratic primary. Moynihan fought him tooth and nail. The senator admits that there was little chance he would lose the primary to the challenger, but he was adamant about one thing.
``These people had no place in our party whatever,'' Moynihan says with emphasis. ``Well, out in Illinois, they [the Democratic Party leaders] were out to lunch again.''
Then he veers to the case of David Stockman.
``In the course of the 1960s and '70s, capitalism became an ideology in the United States,'' proposes Moynihan. ``It had never been an ideology. It had been a practice . . . to make money.''
The idea or notion of capitalism as an ideology was almost entirely the property of socialists, he says, who were intent on getting rid of it as a system.
``And indeed the whole 19th century filled up with Marxism and all these various propositions,'' says Moynihan. But a change has crept up during the last couple of decades.
``Capitalism is not just the way you do business here,'' says Moynihan, mimicking its ideological adherents. ``It is a way you ought to live. It has the right virtues. It is the source of republican -- small `r' -- virtue. It makes freedom possible, it makes culture thrive. It is good, and anything that inhibits it is bad.''
``And what most inhibits it is giant government,'' Moynihan thunders in mock indignation. By those who champion this ideology, the federal government is seen as ``the great barbeque. It's welfare, and the Ex-Im bank, housing subsidies, and the farm program, the Synfuels Corporation. SIN!''
Stockman was of that persuasion, says Moynihan. And he and several others seized control of the Republican platform in 1980, and then got Stockman into the Office of Management and Budget. With ``wonderfully ideological'' language, they sought to bring in a ``new order,'' and new American revolution, says Moynihan.
Then, as Stockman describes in his memoir, the budget director realized that as inflation went down, deficits would increase. The initial supply-side plan would not work. But, Moynihan says, Stockman went ahead because ``fear and loathing'' of large deficits would achieve his purpose, which was dismantling what he saw as the current bloated American welfare state.
However, as Stockman describes, Congress had ideas of its own. And his book is titled ``The Triumph of Politics,'' Moynihan points out.
Moynihan says he tried to warn others in 1982 that this is what was going on, but ``nobody in Washington understood me. . . . The idea that you would deliberately create a crisis was just not accessible to the political imagination.''
Again, he tells the students, the politicians were not recognizing the works of ideologues when it stared them in the face.
``I do think we had a coup,'' says Moynihan. ``It aborted. But we doubled the national debt in five years. We had a tremendous shift in wealth, disasters in American industry. I think it was ruinous to the farms. We've hollowed out our corporations. We're a debtor country. And . . . between now and the rest of the century it will require without fail somewhere between a third and a half of the revenue of the personal income tax to pay the service on the debt.''
The NYU students do not entirely rise to his bait. Questions are asked, but no one specifically supports or challenges his premises. After one class of graduate students, the response ranged from ``He's an interesting character'' to disappointment that he controlled give and take from the audience by ``intellectual verbalization.''