Saturday, November 22, 2008

 

Novak Wisdom

From an interview with Robert Novak (via Advance Indiana) comes a lot of interesting things. This is important to history.

The most interesting Republicans right now are a few young House members. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is the best of them. Also Jeff Flake of Arizona and Jeb Hensarling of Texas. They are known in the House as right-wingers. I would describe them as reformers. They think there's been too much corruption and waste. They are supply-siders. They are very upset with earmarks and very, very upset with the passive leadership we have today....

Q: You've had some unparalleled sources. How does one go about cultivating them?

A: What I'm going to say may come as a shock, because I'm not a terribly likable person, but you gotta get a source to like you. There's very little that I or any other journalist can really do for a politician. A favorable column is not all that much, so there's not much payback. It's gotta be "I want to help Novak because I like him." That may sound naive, but it's true.

Senator Pat Moynihan was one of my great sources. I don't believe he said, "Boy, if Novak writes this column, I'm going to really be in much better shape." He thought I was an interesting guy and had interesting ideas, and he liked to talk about things with me. ...

I was just a Midwestern country boy when I came here. Rowly (Evans) was an elite Philadelphian. I didn't realize how much a lunch was part of the whole source/reporter equation. Rowly learned that from Joseph and Stewart Alsop. If Rowly didn't have a meal with a source, it was a bad day. Quite often he would have two sources for the same meal, usually breakfast....

Q: In your memoir, you describe an early meeting in the Oval Office with Reagan in which he quoted a couple of obscure 19th-century British free-trade advocates and some little-known modern Austrian economists. How underrated intellectually do you think Reagan was?

A: He was extremely underrated, particularly by the press. The press was very derisive. They were derisive of Eisenhower, too -- they thought he was just another Army officer -- but the attacks on Reagan were harsher. He was portrayed as stupid, uneducated, out of his element. I think he was very well educated and understood a lot of things. He was also very flexible in his policies -- too flexible for my taste.

Q: How do you feel about Dick Cheney?

A: I think he's the most forceful, effective vice president in history.

I like some of the things he's done. I think he was instrumental in getting the tax cuts through, which I approve of. I'm at odds with his aggressive military policy, but he's put a new dimension on the vice presidency that I don't think will be continued and maybe shouldn't be continued. ...

I think Dean Rusk, for example, was totally the president's man. Colin Powell leaned heavily the other way, maybe too much, trying to protect the Foreign Service....

Q: Who do you think were the best legislators?

A: Legislators are funny. One of the best-equipped legislators was Wilbur Mills, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee. He really knew trade, taxes -- he really knew the field. He was very smart and came across as a shrewd bargainer. But he never got anything done.

A more recent chair of the Ways and Means committee was Bill Thomas, who was considered by his colleagues to be the smartest guy in town. I think Bill considered himself the smartest guy in the world. But he was very meager in terms of accomplishments. It's hard to get things passed.

If you go by accomplishments, the best was Lyndon Johnson. There's not even a close second in terms of getting bills passed. The reason: He was a trader, and he never took no for an answer. He could bargain into the night. ...

Q: What about Newt Gingrich?

A: I thought he was a failure as speaker and a great success as a political manager in getting a Republican majority in the House....

Q: What's the most helpful thing someone can say to a person who's gravely ill?

A: There's not much you can say. A lot of people say: "You're a tough guy and a fighter. You're gonna beat this." Well, I don't know if I will beat it. Being tough and a fighter have nothing to do with it. I guess the most helpful thing they can say, if they're a man or woman of faith, is to tell me they're praying for me.

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