Thursday, December 27, 2012

Gil Troy's "Moynihan's Moment"

Gil Troy is Professor of History at McGill University. His writings have appeared in the New York Times, The New Republic, and other major media outlets. His books include The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction, Leading from the Center, Morning in America, and Why I am a Zionist.

Here Troy dreamcasts an adaptation of his latest book, Moynihan's Moment: America's Fight Against Zionism as Racism:
Funny you should ask about my book the movie, because from the start I have been convinced this book has Broadway and Hollywood potential. Daniel Patrick Moynihan was a larger than life character. He viewed every letter he wrote, every interaction he had, every move he made, as a performance. To bring this performance artist back to life would be a great public service – especially at this time, when we need a Moynihan to inspire us, to stir us, to stand for great ideals.

Smart money would say cast Daniel Day Lewis, so he can keep himself busy for another two years studying a character with fascinating verbal tics and a love of language – but my first thought, even though it is an act of ethnic cross-dressing, is Al Pacino, because his manic energy could be channeled and become Moynihanesque.

One of my fantasies is a two-man Frost-Nixon type Broadway show, capturing the elaborate dance between Henry Kissinger – played by Anthony Hopkins or Jeremy Irons recreating his Claus von Bülow, just a little more Teutonic. The Moynihan-Kissinger two step was fascinating. Both were Harvard professors used to being the smartest man in the room. They had this mixture of mutual respect and loathing that made every interaction fraught. Initially, Moynihan defeated Kissinger when, as America’s Irish Catholic UN Ambassador, he parlayed his ardent defense of Israel and democracy into rock star status to a nation hungering for inspiration. “We are conducting foreign policy, this is not a synagogue,” Kissinger, the first Jewish Secretary of State grumbled. Round one, Moynihan. But within months, despite this star turn, Moynihan was out, felled by Kissinger’s bureaucratic maneuverings. Round two, Kissinger. And although Kissinger has so far outlived Moynihan by ten years, Moynihan probably got the last word. Moynihan publicized State Department Counselor Helmut Sonnenfeldt’s devastating line about his boss and friend. “You do not understand,” Sonnenfeldt would say when Moynihan insisted he would not serve if the Secretary of State lied to him. “Henry does not lie because it is in his interest. He lies because it is in his nature.” Moynihan by a knockout.

But here is where I am torn. Much as I can see this as an extraordinary, delightfully excruciating, two-man-duel, maybe the movie version would have to go more sweeping. And here, despite my historian training, I would be tempted to fudge – I wouldn’t but it doesn’t cost to dream, so here goes. Moynihan’s Moment, when Daniel Patrick Moynihan says grandly that the United States “does not acknowledge, will not abide by, will never acquiesce in this infamous act” – meaning passing the Zionism is racism resolution of 1975 -- takes place in the staid UN General Assembly. And it would in the movie too. But the next day, 100,000 Americans, Jews and non-Jews, blacks and whites, liberals and conservatives, massed downtown to denounce the UN and the resolution at a rally. It would be so tempting to put Moynihan in front of that crowd and give him an Evita moment.

Instead, we will have to have Morgan Freeman playing the aging but heroic civil rights pioneer Bayard Rustin, a mentor to Martin Luther King, Jr., who rose up, denounced this new tendency to use the word “racism” so broadly it basically means any SOB you dislike, and then, overwhelmed by the crowd’s energy, burst into song. “When Israel was in Egypt’s land….” Rustin thundered – and a hundred thousand replied as one “LET MY PEOPLE GO!”
Learn more about the book and author at Gil Troy's website and blog.

Writers Read: Gil Troy.

The Page 99 Test: Moynihan's Moment.

--Marshal Zeringue