Today I had the opportunity to listen to Robert 'Prince of Darkness' Novak talk about his new book, and his assorted observations on Washington culled from 50 years of reporting. Novak is entertaining and informative, and he ditched his reputation for negativity long enough to report that his book will be number eight on the New York Times best seller list next week. Novak devoted some time to his disappointment at modern news coverage--observing that few reporters develop good contacts with members of Congress, and that no one covers the day-to-day happenings on the floor of the House and Senate. While few journalists had college degrees when he started (Joliet Herald, 1948), Novak says all the education that today's reporters have has not made them better newsmen. When asked about the 2008 Presidential race, Novak compared the GOP to a Rotary Club--which doesn't like uncertainty or contested elections. By tradition, John McCain was to be the next president of the Rotary. But a combination of the war, McCain-Feingold, and immigration brought him down. Now that Giuliani, Romney, and Thompson form the Republican top tier, Novak was reluctant to make a prediction--but he did say that if he was forced to bet, he'd bet on Thompson. I asked Novak how he would grade the performance of Speaker Pelosi and Majority Leader Reid at this point. He said that Pelosi was holding her caucus together pretty well and listening to the range of views within her caucus. But of Reid, Novak said "he's the worst Majority Leader since Frist." He later clarified that Reid was worse, saying "he's erratic, he's unpleasant, and he doesn't get anything done." When I asked whom Novak admired and respected most among those he'd covered, he said that he had admired Ronald Reagan before it became fashionable to do so. He said that Reagan's strength was that he realized that the presidency is not a management position, but a leadership position. He worried about a few big things--reviving the economy, restoring the military, and defeating Communism--and delegated the rest to his team. He said that Reagan was mocked by the press corps and others, but that he understood what mattered better than those who covered him. Novak donned his 'Prince of Darkness' costume again when asked about the 2008 race. He's not optimistic about the GOP regaining control of Congress because he doesn't see what issues they can run on. He said there must be a message--beyond process complaints. At the same time, he said that while some Republicans seem convinced that the party needs another electoral beating to come back stronger after 2008, "things don't always work that way." He expressed tremendous concern about the possible expansion of government under a second President Clinton, working with Democratic majorities in Congress. And who would he like to see as president? He expressed a fondness for Ron Paul. "Can you imagine what he'd do about the UN?" Also see Michael Barone's review of Novak's book in this week's issue of THE WEEKLY STANDARD.
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