The Professor and the President

Daniel Patrick Moynihan in the Nixon White House

Stephen Hess
Release Date: March 28, 2017

What happens when a conservative president makes a liberal professor from the Ivy League his top urban affairs adviser? The president is Richard Nixon, the professor is Harvard’s Daniel Patrick...

What happens when a conservative president makes a liberal professor from the Ivy League his top urban affairs adviser? The president is Richard Nixon, the professor is Harvard’s Daniel Patrick Moynihan. Of all the odd couples in American public life, they are probably the oddest. Add another Ivy League professor to the White House staff when Nixon appoints Columbia’s Arthur Burns, a conservative economist, as domestic policy adviser. The year is 1969, and what follows behind closed doors is a passionate debate of conflicting ideologies and personalities.

Who won? How? Why? Now nearly a half-century later, Stephen Hess, who was Nixon’s biographer and Moynihan’s deputy, recounts this fascinating story as if from his office in the West Wing.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan (1927–2003), described in the Almanac of American Politics as “the nation’s best thinker among politicians since Lincoln and its best politician among thinkers since Jefferson,” served in the administrations of four presidents, was ambassador to India, and U.S. representative to the United Nations, and was four times elected to the U.S. Senate from New York.

Praise for The Professor and the President

“The Professor and the President is the story of a real friendship between two intriguing figures. Richard Nixon really liked Pat Moynihan, liked him for his wit, his ebullience, his camaraderie, most of all his loyalty. Pat returned the affection, showing the socially awkward president the two gifts most regularly denied him: an academic’s respect and a good pal’s company. What a joy to read Stephen Hess’s close-up account of the West Wing action when history and mutual need threw this odd pair together. Politics has rarely had such lively bedfellows.”
―Chris Matthews, MSNBC Hardball

“Imagine two policy intellectuals waging an intense, yet civil, debate in the White House over important national matters. Imagine again it was in the Nixon White House. Mind-boggling; also true. It’s a compelling story, captured brilliantly by Stephen Hess, one of America’s most gifted political scientists, and Moynihan’s chief deputy in the Nixon White House. He tells this fascinating story with extraordinary political and policy acumen. It also offers a side of Nixon that was overwhelmed by the Vietnam and Watergate tragedies. If only government could recapture the spirit of Pat Moynihan―as Steve Hess has.”
―Albert Hunt, Bloomberg View

“Steve Hess has written a delightful book about the unlikely relationship between Daniel Patrick Moynihan and Richard Nixon. The work is filled with entertaining details and insightful commentary about the prominent and sometimes controversial role that the Harvard intellectual played in service to a Republican president. It is also a reminder that there was a time when politicians in both parties worried about and talked about urban policy, a topic most now try to avoid.”
―Dan Balz, Washington Post

“Mr Hess’s delightful small book tells the story of this unlikely political partnership. It is full of inside gossip about life in the basement of the West Wing, where a man could find himself side by side with Henry Kissinger at the urinal and buy a very decent sandwich at the mess for $0.75. It is also a classic text in the art of political manoeuvre and a subtle miniature of the Nixon administration in the days before Watergate, when Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney were liberals. Mr Hess has left a diamond-cut vignette of the last intellectual in American politics.”
―The Economist



Stephen Hess, senior fellow emeritus in Governance Studies at Brookings, began his career in Washington as a young speechwriter for President Eisenhower (1958–1961). He was Distinguished Research Professor of Media and Public Affairs at the George Washington University (2004–09). His numerous books, now translated into thirty languages, include the acclaimed seven-volume Newswork series (1981–2012).

Media Coverage

Stephen Hess on Moynihan and Nixon, the oddest of Washington’s odd couples

Nixon and Moynihan: ‘The oddest couple in American politics?’

A Holiday Must-Read from Stephen Hess

Richard Nixon’s favorite liberal: Secrets of the strangest political marriage

The Nixon Sightings, Part I: The 1952 Republican Convention

The Nixon Sightings, Part II: The 1960 Campaign

The Nixon Sightings, Part III: November 22, 1963

The Nixon Sightings, Part IV: Lincoln Week 1965

The Nixon Sightings, Part V: The Goodbye 1972