To his occasional regret, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Daniel Patrick Moynihan, has never found himself at a loss for words. A garrulous Irishman, full of breezy candor and simmering righteousness, Pat Moynihan has turned U.S. diplomatic protocol head over heels this year. First, there was his decorum-shattering denunciation of Uganda’s president Idi Amin as a “racist murderer,” and, later on, his roughhouse assaults against the tender-toed Third World majority. But if the cheeky ex-Harvard professor has drawn flak from some American allies—and even from his own anxious State Department—to the U.S. public he has emerged as the most forthright U.N. ambassador this country has ever had. Following Moynihan’s impassioned battle against a U.N. resolution equating Zionism with racism, the U.S. mission received more than 3,700 letters in one week alone, almost all lauding the ambassador. “There were so many bravos,” one official reported, “that I got tired of counting them.”
Such is Moynihan’s popularity, in fact, that the White House hastily headed off his resignation last month after a rift developed between Moynihan and his immediate boss, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. (“The ambassador makes so many remarks in the course of a day that it’s not easy to keep up with him,” says Kissinger.) Ironically, it was Kissinger who picked Moynihan for the job after reading a magazine article in which Moynihan urged a more outspoken U.S. role at the U.N. With the ambassadorship, in Moynihan’s view, went a certain license in interpreting policy. “I would assume I was sent up here to think about this [job] and handle it as best I could,” he observed tartly. “I was not sent up here to wait for Washington to think about it.” His bluntness is uncommon in diplomacy, especially so at the U.N. When a U.N. committee proposed to investigate U.S. “oppression” in Puerto Rico, Moynihan exerted such pressure to defeat the motion that one foreign official asked incredulously: “Are you threatening us?” The question was brought to him by an aide. “I said, ‘Tell him yes,’ ” Moynihan recalls.
Curiously, though almost no one in government maintains a higher profile than Moynihan, he is among the hardiest of political survivors. A lifelong Democrat and contentious maverick liberal, he was an adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson. Yet Moynihan was one of the few New Frontiersmen to find a niche in the Nixon White House, and later served as ambassador to India. Paradoxically, because of his aggressiveness at the U.N., he enjoys a cachet among hard-core conservatives, although he recently observed that “in the main, the conservatives tend to partake of what the British used to refer to as the Stupid Party.” (There has been speculation, hotly denied by Moynihan, that he will seek the New York Senate seat now held by Conservative James Buckley.)
A prolific writer, author of four books and countless articles, Moynihan at 48 enjoys a restless undergraduate’s energy. He rarely sleeps—his nights are a series of naps. “He’s happiest when he writes every day,” says his wife, Liz, whom he married in 1955 (they have two sons, Timothy, 20, and John, 15, and a daughter, Maura, 18). Some of his writing is done at his 600-acre dairy farm in Delaware County, N.Y., 200 miles from his 10-room living quarters in New York’s swank Waldorf Towers.
Although his departure from the U.N. is anticipated almost daily, no one who has seen the 6’6″ ambassador exuberantly striding the U.N. corridors would think him unhappy in his role. Even some of his detractors consider him remarkably equipped for the work. “The job needs blarney, balls and brains,” sighs one. “And those are Pat’s strong points—in that order.”