Robert Novak, a giant in political reporting and punditry who crossed swords with people across the entire political spectrum, has passed away today at 78. Kenneth Tomlinson eulogizes his former colleague at Human Events this morning, in a column that must be read in full:
Throughout my life, I followed Bob Novak journalism like I followed the careers of my favorite sports figures. Later, as editor-in-chief of Reader’s Digest, I would become one of Novak’s nominal bosses, though the fact was that every time I worked with him or was associated with him in any way, it was I who felt privileged. Few journalists have ever affected this country like Bob Novak. …
The fact is that Novak, as he would disclose in his autobiography, actually admired very few politicians. He wrote that he found the first politicians he covered less impressive than the athletic coaches he had covered as a young reporter — “an impression of the political class that did not change appreciably in a half-century of sustained contact.”
But then, many big-time politicians didn’t like Novak. Pat Buchanan relates a priceless story of being with Richard Nixon in the mid-’60s in a high-school gym in Indiana. Nixon peeked through the stage curtain, finding Novak in the first row of the press section. “Look at him,” Nixon commanded. “That’s Bob Novak. That’s the enemy.”
One of the few exceptions would be New York Congressman Jack Kemp, a close relationship that would grow from Novak’s magnificent obsession about supply-side economics that one day would have profound influence on the American economy. They genuinely liked each other.
Novak was the journalistic godfather of the supply-side movement, and his columns gave political legitimacy to Kemp’s 30% tax-rate cut proposal that would, at the 11th hour, make it into Ronald Reagan’s 1980 campaign offerings.
Novak was an unapologetic warrior for his beliefs as a pundit, having spent decades building his credibility as a journalist. Nicknamed “the Prince of Darkness”, a title he proudly used for his memoirs, Novak did not mince words or suffer fools lightly. He became one of the premier conservative pundits in the US, but did not hesitate to criticize the Right — or to do so with brutal honesty — when he felt it was running off the rails. He blasted the McCain campaign for misleading him on the running-mate selection process last summer, for instance. A couple of months before that, he ripped the GOP for feeding at the public trough on ag subsidies while claiming the mantle of fiscal discipline.
It was just a little over a year ago that Novak announced that he had inoperable and terminal brain cancer. He retired from most of his work, but that lasted only a few weeks before he began penning columns once again. Novak had an indefatigable spirit and a drive that would have shamed men in perfect health half his age. Unfortunately, Novak didn’t have much time left.
RIP, Mr. Novak, and thank you.