Atlantic reader Greg Weiner, who teaches political science at Assumption College and wrote American Burke: The Uncommon Liberalism of Daniel Patrick Moynihan, emails a long and comprehensive defense of Moynihan:
Ta-Nehisi Coates in his cover story makes a powerful case against what he calls the “carceral state” but virtually none linking his foil—Daniel Patrick Moynihan—to it. Coates neither claims Moynihan’s 1965 report on the African-American family was responsible for subsequent incarceration policies nor accuses Moynihan of orchestrating them. Instead, he locates one issue aside the other, inviting, all but goading, the reader to draw the causal inference he does not explicitly make. Coates implies. He generalizes. He kneads anecdotes into impressions. In short, Coates does to Moynihan what he falsely accuses Moynihan of doing to the African-American family.
This irony is compounded by the fact that Moynihan preceded Coates to this criticism of incarceration policy. His 1993 essay “Defining Deviancy Down” warned that “[w]e are building new prisons at a prodigious rate” and that there was “something of a competition in Congress to think up new offenses for which the death penalty seemed the only available deterrent.” He fought tirelessly for treatment over criminalization at the height of the incarceration craze, including authoring a 1988 law on the subject.
On some points, Coates is simply mistaken.