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How to Govern a Divided Country

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Moynihan giving his boss a tour of one of his pet projects, a refurbishment of Pennsylvania Avenue.   

… At the great risk of using a term of clinical psychiatry to describe a crisis in the culture, I would offer the thought that American society is becoming more and more schizophrenic. Two opposite and increasingly equal tendencies, often as not united in individuals, are splitting the nation. Norman Podhoretz, editor of Commentary, cites as illustration the fact that just about the two leading box-office attractions of 1968 were The Graduate and The Green Berets. This is, in ways, a continuance of the old “pale face red skin” dichotomy of American culture, but it has now reached massive proportions.

To a degree that no one could have anticipated even three or four years ago, the educated elite of the American middle classes have come to detest their society, and their detestation is rapidly diffusing to youth in general. The effects of this profound movement of opinion will be with us for generations. It will, for example, drastically limit the role that the United States can play in world affairs—in contrast with the past three decades or so during which the national government has been really extraordinarily free to do what it thought best. There will be indirect effects. The movement of the American youth away from business will almost surely affect business. If it continues, I would imagine it almost certain, for example, that by the year 2000 the Japanese will have a higher per capita income than do the Americans. In one way or another, we are involved in a change of cultural dimensions that will be pervasive in its consequences …


August 20, 1969
Memorandum for the President

Predicting the future is never an especially productive enterprise in politics. But when seemingly unmistakable signs of an emergent political force begin to appear on every hand, and yet are somehow ignored, it is worth the slight risk to one’s reputation to try to point them out. … I do not wish to burden you with details. The essential fact is that we have educated women for equality in America, but have not really given it to them. Not at all. Inequality is so great that the dominant group either doesn’t notice it, or assumes the dominated group likes it that way. (An old story!) Did you happen to note, for example, Erik Erikson’s comment that there were no women present at our meeting of educators. He might well have commented on the general absence of women from higher education in America. It is considered too important for them. They teach kindergarten. (Which, I might add, may indeed be too important for them!) I would bet there are proportionately more women in the Marine Corps than on most university faculties. Thus higher education subtly perpetuates the notion that women have equal rights, but not really equal potentialities, etc.

I am no great fancier of India or Ceylon. But consider the apparent ease with which those countries have accepted female heads of state. Consider how odd the idea of a lady president would be to us. I repeat: Male dominance is so deeply a part of American life that males don’t even notice it.

I would suggest you could take advantage of this. In your appointments (as you have begun to do), but perhaps especially in your pronouncements. This is a subject ripe for creative political leadership and initiative.


September 17, 1969
For John Ehrlichman

As with so many of the more interesting environmental questions, we really don’t have very satisfactory measurements of the carbon-dioxide problem. On the other hand, this very clearly is a problem, and, perhaps most particularly, is one that can seize the imagination of persons normally indifferent to projects of apocalyptic change.

The process is a simple one. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the effect of a pane of glass in a greenhouse. The CO2 content is normally in a stable cycle, but recently man has begun to introduce instability through the burning of fossil fuels. At the turn of the century, several persons raised the question whether this would change the temperature of the atmosphere. Over the years, the hypothesis has been refined, and more evidence has come along to support it. It is now pretty clearly agreed that the CO2 content will rise 25 percent by 2000. This could increase the average temperature near the Earth’s surface by 7 degrees Fahrenheit. This in turn could raise the level of the sea by ten feet. Good-bye, New York. Good-bye, Washington, for that matter. We have no data on Seattle.

It is entirely possible that there will be countervailing effects. For example, an increase of dust in the atmosphere would tend to lower temperatures, and might offset the CO2 effect. Similarly, it is possible to conceive fairly mammoth man-made efforts to countervail the CO2 rise (e.g., stop burning fossil fuels). In any event, I would think this is a subject that the administration ought to get involved with …



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