William L. Yancey

  • The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy

    Lee Rainwater and William L. Yancey

    In March of 1965, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, then Assistant Secretary of Labor, wrote a report on the condition of the American Negro entitled The Negro Family: The Case for national Action, otherwise known as the Moynihan Report. It gave voice to views that Moynihan had been considering for over a year and reflected his belief that policy making in the government should make greater use of the social sciences for problem diagnosis and description. This book is an inquiry into the political stir caused by the appearance of the Moynihan Report.

    The authors begin with two observations: first, the content of the Report was neither new nor startling; and second, it was instantly the focus of intense political debate, with presidential endorsement on one hand and important administration and academic objection on the other. How does “nothing new” generate such heat? The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Controversy deals with the complexities of formulating national policy on our most sensitive domestic issue and with what can happen to social science information as it makes its way through the political system.

    The Moynihan Report signaled a change in governmental thinking on the civil rights movement, shifting the emphasis from law to living conditions. Moynihan's central point – the absence of a strong male figure in the Negro family and the consequent loss in family stability – was an outgrowth of considerable accumulated social science research dating from as long as thirty years ago. The authors view the Report as a political stimulus that provided an opportunity to examine both the complexity of controversy and the political context in which it appears. They rely primarily on face-to-face interviews with the principal participants in the controversy, with the additional aid of an extensive file of press clippings and their own experiences in the events described.

    After giving an introductory examination of the problem, the authors consider the political situation at the time the Report was submitted and the intricate composition of current political attitudes on the civil rights movement. Moynihan's strategy and the Report itself are then treated, followed by discussions of reactions to the Report in the government and in the press, and finally, the apotheosis of the controversy and the publicity about it. The Report itself is included, as well as the documents pertaining to the controversy.

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