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Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

RIP Robert Novak

Robert Novak, who died today of brain cancer at the age of 78, had such a long and varied journalistic career that different people probably remember him in different ways. Some younger readers may completely associate him with the Plame saga, or with his career as a conservative gabber on cable. Others may recall the many years in which his syndicated newspaper column was (as David Stockman once put it) a “bulletin board” for movement conservatives who wanted to make their views known to members of the Washington establishment–or sometimes, vice versa. And a few of us oldsters will remember his earlier days, when he was actually a Democrat and an old-fashioned shoe-leather muckraking reporter, in association with his Odd Couple co-columnist (and co-participant in his pioneering cable television show) Rowland Evans.
The book Evans and Novak wrote about LBJ, Lyndon Johnson: The Exercise of Power, remains one of the best political biographies around, particularly if you are interested in the arcane operations of either the U.S. Senate or the White House. I haven’t read his recent autobiography (entitled, in a reference to his longtime nickname in Washington, The Prince of Darkness) but through other obituaries I am hearing that it’s a fascinating book even if you deplore the author’s politics, and intend to go out and buy it directly.
I only met Novak once, just a few years ago, when I had the strange experience of being on a political panel seated between the Prince and another right-wing legend, Paul Weyrich. I found Novak to be smart, cynical, and appropriately scary. By then he had undergone a late-life conversion to Catholicism, reportedly via the agency of the mysterious conservative organization Opus Dei. That, too, was fitting, given his long association with the Cultural Right. I gather his final illness was characterized by excrutiating pain. Much as I dislike large elements of the man’s journalistic and political legacy, I hope his faith gave him comfort, and may he rest in peace.

2 comments on “RIP Robert Novak

  1. Poltargyst on

    dov, without a President Bush, there would have been no Iraq War for Novak to oppose. Novak helped us get a President Bush, so forgive me if I’m not impressed by his opposition to the war. Too little too late.
    I’m really shocked by the death of Novak. I thought he died decades ago and was only walking the Earth as one of the undead, surviving by sucking the life out of good people. What happened, did Satan finally come for his soul?
    I remember Novak on one of these Capitol Gang type shows sitting there lying his ass off and saying horrible things about Democrats and liberals. I have no idea how many people he convinced to vote Republican through these efforts. I have no idea how much power Republicans gained through his efforts. I have no idea how many people suffered thanks to his efforts. I’m not in the mood to be charitable just because he’s dead.

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  2. dov on

    Robert Novak dug deeply. He was a thorough going professional. Evans and Novak’s 1965 book on Johnson deserves to be reprinted. His early reporting on the Senate as a Wall St. Journal reporter and columnist provide rich examples on how power is exercised and abused.
    I know that he angered my liberal allies but he could surprise us as well in ways that we appreciate. His opposition to the Iraq war was certainly welcome as he added his probing reporting to the ongoing discussion.
    Davud Cohen

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