Liberal social policy—once regnant, now at bay—is the subject of this loosely organized, often bitterly observant collection of essays and speeches by New York's senior US senator. Moynihan (Pandemonium, 1993; On the Law of Nations, 1990) has carved out a niche as the Paul Revere of the Senate, raising alarms at approaching menaces. In the wake of the Republican takeover of the House and Senate in the 1994 midyear elections, Moynihan, one of the few Democratic survivors of the electoral bloodbath, assessed how fellow Democrats (rarely himself—there's an overwhelming whiff of ``I told you so'' here) lost the old consensus for activist government. Moynihan is in a position to know: He worked as an assistant to presidents Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon, and has served four terms as a Senator. We have, he argues, moved into a postindustrial age in which the economy operates smoothly but social ills proliferate. Our social legislation, largely based on 19th-century European models, is not designed to handle such challenges. We need, he asserts, to rethink the very basis of social legislation. His most heartfelt remarks concern the crisis of illegitimacy, which he first noted in the 1965 Moynihan Report, a paper that sparked such denunciation by various groups as to close off serious discussion for nearly two decades. Now, after left-liberal denials of social problems, we witness punitive welfare legislation (passed over Moynihan's impassioned objections) that verges on ``vengeance against children.'' Other pieces include a dissection of the Clinton administration's bungled attempt at health care reform, an impassioned call to route drug-war funds to programs that can reduce drug use, and an attack on the balanced- budget amendment as a bludgeon that can exacerbate an economic reverse. Hardly a coherent ``history,'' as the subtitle implies, but sobering reflections nonetheless on the cost of precipitous action taken without the benefit of social science research or humane reflection.
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