Robert Novak suspended his column last summer when he learned he had a brain tumor. The long-time Washington observer and uber-reporter arrived in the capital in the latter years of the Eisenhower administration.
In this month’s Washingtonian magazine, he talks at length with Barbara Matusow for her “What I’ve Learned” column.
“The Prince of Darkness” —a persona he calculated and a reputation he cultivated— has lost none of his power to provoke. I couldn’t agree more with his assessment of President Bush; I couldn’t disagree more with his dismissal of RN. The whole wide-ranging piece is recommended reading.
You’ve had a chance to look back on your life and think about what you’ve done that was good and what was bad. What stands out?
Looking back, I tried to find out what the politicians were up to, which is a difficult job. I find that politicians as a class are up to no good. Sometimes they accidentally do the right thing. When I started out, I didn’t have any agenda or tablet of principles at all. But in the course of writing about things and getting exclusive information, I might have helped certain causes. I might have helped the tax-cutting cause, which I’m very much in favor of. That takes away from my mantra that I’m just a simple reporter reporting the facts, doesn’t it?
When we started the column, Rowly [Rowland Evans was Novak’s writing partner in their political report and influential syndicated column from 1967 until his death in 2001] and I were neutral on abortion, maybe leaning toward pro-choice. I began to read, think about it, and by the time I embraced Catholicism, I was adamantly against abortion. I’m happy that I moved in that direction.
Rowly once gave me a very elegant description of what it was we were doing. He said we were trying to intercept the lines of communication. Looking back on my life, I regret I was so determined to do that. I ended up writing a lot of political trivia, which really made my reputation. I think when people stop me now and say they miss my column, what they’re talking about is the behind-the-scenes trivia—the kind of thing that made me acceptable to people who disagreed with me. But I think I would have been better off to write about tax cuts and abortion and less about inside politics.
Only those issues or others?
I was very negative about the invasion of Iraq. That’s another subject I should have written more about, explained more. I thought the war was unjustified. But my stand led to a Novak-hates-his-country piece in the National Review, which caused me a lot of grief and cut me off at the White House. I should have explained more about why I took the position I did. I probably should have written more about foreign policy in general. If I told you I accomplished some huge feat, it wouldn’t be true. But I’m not ashamed of what I’ve written. I stand by it.