Timothy Carney of the Washington Examiner, once Robert Novak’s deputy, writes on Twitter: “Conservatives, if Toomey loses, Reid and Murkowski win, this is a bad night.” This is, not to put too fine a point on it, insane: A 65 seat pickup by the GOP in the House and six or seven seats in the Senate is a bad night?
Topic: Robert Novak
Robert Novak spots two signals from the McCain camp: they will come out blazing about Barack Obama’s odd associations(Bill Ayers specifically) and they aren’t going to spend time on “health care mandates and home foreclosures.”
As to the first, this may come as a relief to conservatives who were dismayed that McCain seemed queasy about taking on his foe on issues which it turns out the public cares about. Noteworthy in its absence, however, is any mention of Reverend Wright. One wonders then if we will face some Byzantine rules about which anti-American, hate mangers are fair game and which are not.
The second, if an accurate representation of the McCain camp thinking, is potentially disastrous. There seems no surer formula for electoral calamity than for him than to live up to the Democrats’ favorite cartoonish portrait of an out-of-touch and indifferent Republican. By ignoring two top issues on most voters’ minds–health care and economic insecurity–he will surely forfeit whatever chances he has to pull in independent voters and even some of those disaffected Hillary Clinton supporters.
McCain’s hopes lie not replaying George H.W. Bush, who was dinged as oblivious to the recession (which in retrospect was mild) and bored with a domestic agenda, but in a reform-minded vision which offers some real alternatives to Barack Obama’s standard-fare liberalism. While some might like to encourage his natural predilection to ignore domestic matters, it is one entreaty he should ignore.
• Say what you will about Robert Novak—and some contributors to COMMENTARY have said plenty—he remains one of America’s most important newspaper columnists. In addition, Novak is also one of the the last of a dying breed of opinionmongers whose columns are reported rather than merely spun out of the parchment-thin air of their prejudices (which doesn’t mean he’s not prejudiced!). Thus, The Prince of Darkness: 50 Years Reporting in Washington, despite its monstrous length and penny-plain prose style, is significant by definition, just as a candid memoir by Walter Lippmann or Drew Pearson would have been similarly significant. Henceforth anyone who writes about journalism in postwar Washington will have to cite The Prince of Darkness as a primary source, just as anyone who reads it will learn from it—though certain of its revelations are, like those of most memoirists, unintended.
One of the things that has already struck many reviewers of The Prince of Darkness is the way in which its author has coddled his resentments throughout the course of a long, busy life. It seems to me noteworthy that a man as successful as Novak should still be capable of writing with such raw resentment of having been passed over as sports editor of his college newspaper, or that he should go out of his way repeatedly to make glowering mention of his unpopularity in Washington. Some anonymous wag once called John O’Hara “the master of the fancied slight.” I doubt that many of Novak’s slights are fancied, but they give much the same impression when consumed in bulk.
Reading Pat Buchanan’s superb appreciation of Robert Novak and his new memoir, Prince of Darkness, one is reminded of what a great writer and historian of Republican politics Buchanan can be. What a pity that, fifteen years ago, he headed off to the fever swamps of the conservative movement as he pursued a series of failed presidential runs. Although today he remains a staple of talking-head TV, his presidential campaigns, loaded with xenophobic, anti-Semitic, and protectionist messages, make him impossible to take seriously.
But I’m also reminded of something I witnessed, involving Novak, in 1996. I was in Des Moines, on the eve of the 1996 Iowa caucuses. Although there were many semi-viable Republican candidates that year, in the final few days before caucus day, the contest had suddenly become a hot three-way race among Bob Dole, Pat Buchanan, and Lamar Alexander (I was Lamar’s policy director that year). I was at a high-spirited Alexander rally that night and found myself talking with Novak and Weekly Standard editor Fred Barnes. As the three of us left the rally to go to dinner, Novak, apropos of nothing, suddenly declared: “Wouldn’t it be great if Pat won this whole thing.” Fred and I chuckled at this—until suddenly there was an awkward silence. The two of us had realized that Novak was dead serious.
How serious a candidate for the GOP presidential nomination is Fred Thompson?
Apparently quite serious indeed. Last week GOP insider pundit Robert Novak assured readers that Thompson isn’t just toying with running—he will declare his candidacy early next month. This rumor has generated outsized buzz, including a highly negative column by George Will. But a great many conservatives, dissatisfied with a field in which none of the three leading contenders is a down-the-line conservative, seem to be fans.
The former Senator’s most salient attribute is his persona. He has a large, comforting, commanding presence that Hollywood directors have seen fit to cast as an admiral, the director of the CIA, and even the President. His slow drawl, big eyes, and wrinkles make him the very image of the respected Southern lawyer. He is an excellent communicator, sympathetic, easy to watch, and never grating (which is not true of, say, Rudy). Some go so far as to call his qualities “Reaganesque.”
But what about substance?
Back during the cold war, there was a joke about the New York Times that I believe antedated the coining of the term “political correctness.” A U.S.-Soviet exchange of nuclear missiles occurs and the next morning’s Times headline reads:
“Third World War Breaks Out: Minorities and Women to Suffer Most.”
As if determined not to allow parody to outdo self-parody, the Times on Sunday (April 1, appropriately) ran this headline: “Poorest Nations Will Bear Brunt as World Warms.” For my part, I would settle for being able to rely on the accuracy of the paper’s version of yesterday’s events, never mind tomorrow’s.
Is Hillary inevitable? Another day, another answer: Robert Novak says no. Her fundraising is slipping a little, due in equal parts to Barack Obama’s fresh face and to the distaste many Democrats feel about her prospective coronation. And, of course, the anti-war Democratic primary base in New Hampshire really, really hates that she voted for the war and won’t repudiate her vote. This raises the interesting question for Hillary-hating war supporters on the Right: who to root for should it turn out that she really is the farthest rightward Democratic candidate in an election in which Democrats are presumed by many strategists to have the advantage.
Meanwhile, Noemie Emery, a Weekly Standard writer who has an amazing ability to put her finger on the political pulse, has a piece in the current issue making the argument that in this election cycle, the GOP is evolving in a significant way, with its urban/ethnic/non-”country” candidates John McCain, Rudy Giuliani, and Mitt Romney:
None hails from the South, none looks or sounds country, none is conspicuous for traditional piety, and none is linked closely to social conservatives. At the same time, none is exactly at odds with social conservatives either. None is a moderate, in the sense of being a centrist on anything or wary of conservatives; rather, each is a strong conservative on many key issues, while having a dissident streak on a few.
Upshot? These candidates have the potential to override the current locked-in-place map of red vs. blue states. (Which is why Rudy was in California this past weekend . . .)