BRIAN LAMB, HOST: Robert D. Novak, after 34 years of not writing your own book, wh--why
a book on "Completing the Revolution"?
Mr. ROBERT D. NOVAK, AUTHOR, "COMPLETING THE REVOLUTION: A VISION FOR VICTORY IN 2000": Didn't start that way. It--when the
Republicans won the Congress for the first time in 40th ye--40 years
in the 1994 election, I came up with an idea that this--a--a book on
the great triumph--I thought they were really going to put Bill
Clinton to rout. And a p--the--a ticktock book, as we call it in the
trade--what happened in the--in the 104th Congress would be a terrific
book, and that's when I signed up with--with The Free Press, which is
a division of Simon & Schuster.
Now it very quickly became clear that this was not going to be a
triumph, and to write a book about just two years of catastrophe
seemed an awful waste of time. So with my editor, Paul Gollub of Free
Press, who's one of the--I think one of the great editors; he's a real
old-fashioned editor--we decided that we would come up with a totally
different concept on the idea of why--why the--the Republicans went
wrong, in my opinion, and what they could do to right themselves. And
so it becomes less of a typical Novak book in the past, which was a
reporter's book, and more of a thoughts of Chairman Bob, a little red
book, except it's--it's not red, it's yellow.
LAMB: It seems like in the early part of the book you put your finger
on a $4.5 million book contract of Newt Gingrich. Tell us why you
think that was important.
Mr. NOVAK: I think that had a--a--a climate-changing quality to it.
You've got to remember that there was a great deal of excitement
about--about Gingrich by the people who supported him and people who
didn't support him. He--he really looked like he was the--the next
major figure in America. And suddenly he has got--he's the
most--arguably the most important new figure in American politics in
years, and he signs a $4.5 million book contract with HarperCollins,
which is owned by the--by Rupert Murdoch. Nothing wrong with Rupert
Murdoch. I've done a lot of--I like him. I've done a lot of work for
him. But the idea of the speaker of the House doing that, it just
took the gauze off of it.
Now was that--was that the end of the Gingrich revolution? Of course
not, but it was a--a terrible jolt and a sign that this man was
capable of really bad decisions.
LAMB: Why do you think he did it?
Mr. NOVAK: Money. And that's one of the things I--I talk about in
the book, that one of the changes that there's been in Wa--in the time
I've been in Washington--this is my--I'm going to my 43rd anniversary
in--in Washington, and one of the changes is that this has become much
like New York, a money town. And the--the i--I--believe me, the
report--the members of Congress when I first came here were not that
interested in becoming rich. They wanted to become powerful, but with
some exceptions. Lyndon Johnson was a great exception, of course.
They weren't that much interested in money. But he did it--Newt did
it because he wanted to be rich. He wanted to be rich--as rich as the
very rich people he took money from to run his campaigns.
LAMB: When did that start here?
Mr. NOVAK: I think it started gradually in the--in the last 20
years, accelerating in the--in the '80s that it became a money town.
The--the big--as the government grew, the big law firms grew. They
throw off tremendous amounts of money. They contribute money.
The--the members of--of Congress--they used to say that Hubert
Humphrey and George McGovern used to live in tract housing out--out in
the suburbs, never--never minded it. As--as--as the members of--as
the politicians see the--the affluence of the people they deal with,
they say, `I want that, too.' And so it's--it--it's a question
of--of--of people who, the minute they walk out the door, of course,
they've got to spend a year not lobbying, but they immediately sign up
for the lobbying contracts.
LAMB: You even quote Jack Kemp in here as saying, "Can think of
nothing but making money."
Mr. NOVAK: Yes. He's--he's--that--I--he's--Jack--one thing about
Jack is he--he--what--what you see is what you get, and what you get
is what you see. He--he makes it very clear that that's--that's his
main interest in life, is--is making lots of money. That's why he
didn't run f--didn't run for president. I have great admiration for
him, but that--I think that's a problem in--in--in this--in this city.
LAMB: What has the money gotten them? What's--what's--you know,
what's--is it better? They--are their lives better?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, that--that's almost beyond my pay grade, Brian.
It's--it's a--it's a--it's a question of--of whether they're happier
or not or whether in the older--olden times they were happier. But
th--that is--that is almost, without exception, the goal. I--I don't
know if you hear it, but you--I hear p--so many politicians say, `I'd
like to get out of this business as soon as I can, make a little
money.' That's the phrase, `make a little money.' I don't--I'm sure
you've heard it, too. And you didn't used to hear that.
LAMB: What impact is it having on the whole city?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, I think it--it coarsens the city, it cheapens it
and it--and it makes it very difficult to pursue programs,
particularly, I think, for conservatives, that I think are necessary
for--for the republic. And that's what this book is about. I lay out
things that I think they should do, and--and they--and they don't have
the courage to do it because when you--when you come out--when you
have a vision, when you want to do the right thing by your standards,
you have to accept the possibility of loss, the possibility of
failure. And if you're really interested in--in the comfortable life,
you like to minimize failure and maximize success.
LAMB: Did it all start in Joliet, Illinois?
Mr. NOVAK: That's where I was born.
LAMB: What--what were you born into? What was the family like?
Mr. NOVAK: My father was a--my--well, my grandfather was a Russian
immigrant from the Ukraine, who served eight years in the--Russia's
czarist army, came to this country and went to New York; didn't like
New York very much and got a job almost as an indentured servant
as--on--on the--on the assembly line of the John Deere factory in
Moline, Illinois, making John Deere tractors. Luckily, he came to
Illinois. He had four sons, all graduates of the University of
Illinois, which is a great American story.
And my father was a chemical engineer. He was a middle--lower-,
middle-level executive. He was the superintendent--when I was growing
up, he was the superintendent at the gas plant in Joliet. I thought
we were rich. He was making about 25 bucks a week, I guess. But he
had a company car, and we had servants and that sort of things--no
money, but it was a different world. So I grew up in--in middle class
in a time when, in Joliet, the unemployment rate was about 25 percent
in the Depression. So if you made 25 bucks a week, you were--you were
LAMB: No brothers and sisters?
Mr. NOVAK: No, I was the only child. I was spoiled and pampered,
and I'm very grateful for that.
LAMB: And your mother was--what was she like?
Mr. NOVAK: She was a very dynamic, interesting woman. She loved her
family, loved me, loved her husband. She had been a secretary, and in
those days you quit work when you get married. And she--my father
thought there was a lot of--left in me to be--left to be desired, but
I--with my mother, I could do very little wrong.
LAMB: And what were their politics?
Mr. NOVAK: My father--they were Republicans. My father was a--a
liberal Republican. He was a leader in the Wilke campaign in '40
because, if you remember, Wilke was a--a public utilities executive;
my father was in the public utilities, and they had a little network.
But that was the last campaign he really took much part in. But he
was a--he liked Eisenhower, and he--he was--before that, he was a
Stassen man, and he was always pretty much of a--a liberal Republican
Party s--often--usually voted a split ticket. But I grew up--my--the
first campaign I can remember was the Wilke campaign in 1940, and I
said, `Boy, this is--this is even more fun than baseball.' And our
guys win. The Cubs won the pennant in '38 and--and Wilke was
nominated in 1940, coming from nowhere.
LAMB: What year did you graduate from the University of Illinois?
Mr. NOVAK: 1952.
LAMB: Studying what there?
Mr. NOVAK: I was an English major, but I always knew I was going to
be a newspaper man. I didn't go to journalism school because I--I'd
been working on newspapers in my hometown since I was in high school,
and I knew how to write headlines and write stories and make up pages.
So I didn't think I had to go to trade school, so I--I was--I studied
English literature and history.
LAMB: Where did you get your interest in journalism?
Mr. NOVAK: I--I can't remember, Brian, when I--when I wasn't
interested in--in--in journalism. We used to have a little
neighborhood paper that--that I--that I ran and my mother typed out
for me, and I was a sports nut and so I--I got to be a stringer on
sports for the local newspaper, and then that developed into working
summers at the Joliet Herald News.
LAMB: Now along the way, your--you say your parents were interested
in politics. Were you a committed partisan of any kind in those early
Mr. NOVAK: Yeah, I--I f--generally followed my father's course. He
liked Wilke, and I liked him. He liked Eisenhower, and I liked
Ei--Eisen--Eisenhower. But he was never--he was never a--a party--a
regular. He was never somebody who said, `Boy, my party--right or
wrong, it's still my party.' But I considered--I considered myself
a--a Republican and voted for Eisenhower in my first election.
LAMB: First job out of college?
Mr. NOVAK: First job out of college was a second lieutenant in the
United States Army. I was the--that was--the Korean War was winding
down. I didn't see combat, but I came in at the--near the end of the
war, served two years in the military, and my first job out of the
military--I was out--I got commissions for ROTC. My first job out of
the military was Associated Press in Nebraska, where I was lucky
enough to cover the Nebraska Legislature. Then I covered the--for the
AP, I covered the Indiana Legislature, and then I went to Washington
to help to work on the Midwestern regional staff at the age of 26 in
Washington. So I...
LAMB: You know, you hear it all the time and we get it on our call-in
show--you've done the call-in shows--that a lot of conservative people
in this country think the press is liberal. Do you think it is?
Mr. NOVAK: Very, and getting more so.
LAMB: When you were in it--and you say you were a Republican and
are--you know, explained what you thought, did--did you--did you know
Mr. NOVAK: Yes. Yeah. I was a--I was--after I left the AP, I went
to work for The Wall Street Journal, and we--we had a much smaller
bureau then than there is now. It was about 17; now they've got 50 or
60, I guess, maybe more. But I--there was about two or three
conservatives in the whole bureau. The rest were all--all liberals.
Almost--the difference--the difference was--in those days, was
the--the middle-level management and the editorial opinion of many
papers was quite conservative in those days, and you al--and you also
had a little coterie, a clique of bureau chiefs, of conservative
papers here in Washington who were quite conservative, but that's all
gone now. The--the--there's a--there's very--very few conservatives,
particularly in the day-to-day grungy business of reporting. You have
quite a few talking heads and commentators and columnists who are
quite conservative, but the--the people who do the--the real work
are--are quite liberal, and--and it does affect the way that the city
Mr. NOVAK: Well, it's biased. It's biased against--it's not
s--biased ag--so much for the Democrats as against conservative ideas,
against--against a lot of the principles I have in this book.
LAMB: One of the things you point out in the book about Newt Gingrich
is that--and I--you--you explain whether I'm putting words in your
mouth--that when he went on television, right after he got to be
speaker, that that hurt him in the news conferences that he had?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, he had--he--those really--those news conferences,
he couldn't take it. He couldn't take the--the pummeling he was
getting from the press. He wa--and so he completely closed up. I
think he might have been better to--to--to stick it out, if he--if he
could, or maybe to have it a little less frequent, but he was--he was
very thin-skinned. I find very few thick-skinned politicians, as a
matter of fact. It's a--it's a--it's a--a vocational defect of being
thin-skinned, but he is--he is--or was particularly so.
LAMB: The revolution--"Completing the Revolution"--what--what's the
need for a revolution?
Mr. NOVAK: The need for the revolution is that, despite the--the
economy and the--the go-go stock market, there's just a lot of things
that are--that are wrong about the--in my opinion, the way this
country is governed. I think a lot of people feel this
gov--government is too big, the tax system is intrusive, the--there's
a--the campaign-finance system is--is--is--tends towards corruption.
There--there's--there's a great desire, I think, from the American
people--I think American people like--like the p--the economy, but I
don't think they like their government.
And the--the imp--indication that there was going to be a conservative
revolution when Newt Gingrich came in, completing the--the--the
intimations of an int--of a revolution by Ronald Reagan, that all went
by the boards by--by Christmas of the first year of the--of the
Republican Congress. And so this book is a--is a--is a--is some
gratuitous, this means unasked for, recommendations by me on how to
LAMB: You talk about a--I think it was a breakfast you had with Newt
Gingrich back in 1995, and you quote him as saying, "Well, don't you
think I've done all I can do here?"
Mr. NOVAK: I was--I was th--that was when a rumor was--was coming up
that, would he run for president in 1996? And so I spent a lot of
time with Newt in those days, and I--I put that to him and thought he
would dismiss it, and that was the answer he gave. I was stunned. I
almost fainted because he hadn't done anything. And--and that
was--that was one of the problems with--not only with Speaker
Gingrich, but with so many of these politicians. It's all illusion.
It's--it's not what you do. It's what the impression is, what
the--what the image is. They hadn't done anything, but they had
gotten at that time a lot of good publicity for having the Contract
for America and having these all-night sessions and these midnight
LAMB: W--by the way, we see you on "Crossfire," we see you on your
own program on the weekend. You do a program for America's Voice.
Mr. NOVAK: America's Voice.
LAMB: Your column--how many days a week on the column?
Mr. NOVAK: I write a column as--three days a week. It's two full
columns which run in The Washington Post here in--you see, and then
there's also a--a item column which runs on the weekends, which is
very popular around the country The Post doesn't run.
LAMB: Where do you have time to write a book? How'd you do the book?
Mr. NOVAK: It was very hard to do it, and I wouldn't have done it if
it hadn't been for Paul Gollub. And he was a--I said in the foreword
he was almost a collaborator, that he just--he just forced me to do
it. I was ready to give it up on many occasions. Obviously I
couldn't do any--all the reporting for the book. It's out of my whole
work product, which I'm--I'm reporting constantly. So there
wasn't--there wasn't special reporting for it, but it was a lot
of--had to be a lot of special thinking. And--and Paul, talking to me
got me to--to crystalize my thoughts. I couldn't have done the book
wi--without him. And I did--I didn't think I could do it. I'm amazed
there's a book.
LAMB: Well, let me read you--early in the book you say, `What agenda?
Going into the 2000 presidential election, this is the state of the
Republican agenda as crafted on Capitol Hill'--and I should read them
all quickly. `No consensus and no relaxing on tax reform; tax
reduction scaled down with only a small portion of the projected
budget surplus dedicated to lower taxes and legislation cluttered with
special interest plums; dismantling of government agencies set aside;
acceptance of the federal government's current scope and power;
abandonment of the term limits cause; the movement against abortion
and racial quotas set aside; a leading federal role in--in education
and health care accepted; an uncertain trumpet on foreign affairs and
Mr. NOVAK: I stand by that.
LAMB: Explain more on why you think this is important.
Mr. NOVAK: Because that's--those are the things that, from
conservative--I think this is a conservative country--I think that's
a--those are things I think the people would accept if they had
leadership, I think they would want them, and I think it would be good
for America. And I think at least one party ought to be advocating it
and trying to do it.
But at another point in the book I say that the Republican Party has
been Clintonized, and that is Clinton has had a--just a terrible
effect on the Republican Party because they--they have--they
have--they had been preoccupied in trying to bring him down on--on--on
the--on the Lewinsky matter, but at the same time they had--they have
copied him. They were so stunned and surprised by the government
shutdown in--in 1995, where he proved tougher than he--than they were,
that they accepted his use of focus groups, of polls and abandoned all
As I say, for example, one of the points you mentioned, the--the
federalization of--the use of the federal role in education and
health. That's not a Republican position to say that the f--that is,
the main business of the federal government. But they are so
intimidated by Clinton that they must compete with him in those areas.
LAMB: Have you ever met Bill Clinton?
Mr. NOVAK: Oh, yes. I've known him a long time.
LAMB: Have you talked to him...
Mr. NOVAK: Oh, su...
LAMB: ...since he's been president?
Mr. NOVAK: Sure. I was--two years ago I was president of the
Gridiron Club, and you've been to the Gridiron Club dinners, and the
president of the Gridiron Club sits next to the president of the
United States for four hours--four hours. And that's an interesting
experience to be with Bill Clinton for four hours.
LAMB: How did he treat you?
Mr. NOVAK: He treated me like he wanted me to be his best friend and
his closest supporter.
LAMB: Did it work?
Mr. NOVAK: No. No. He's a very charming man, though. He did get a
column out of me. I--I asked--we started talking about the--the
payroll tax. That's the tax on--that pays for Social Security and
Medicare. And I said maybe that was something we could agree on. He
said, `Absolutely. That's something that has to be changed.' I said,
`You think you're going to do something about that?' He said, `I think
I might.' And so I wrote a little column about it. Of course, he--he
had no intention of it, but he--he was--he was very happy to make me
happy for that evening.
LAMB: Did you get any sense that he either watches you on television
or the shows that you're on or reads your column?
Mr. NOVAK: Yes, I did. I really did 'cause he--some of the--some of
the remarks he made. Yeah.
LAMB: N--now how do you stay independent? I mean, here you are in a
social setting, sitting right next to the president of the United
States. Do you ever f--want to cave and...
Mr. NOVAK: No, there's not much desire--I--I've been here f--since
1957. I came at the beginning of the--Eisenhower's second term,
not--not Rutherford B. Hayes, but Eisenhower's second term. And
he--and I am--I am--I'm going to be--next month I'm going to be 69
years old. I work as hard as I ever did, but I d--I am--I am not in
the business of people liking me and saying, `Well, isn't he a nice
fellow?' Though some people say that, I don't think they really mean
it because they think that maybe I can be more favorable tow--toward
them. But I--I've reached the point--beyond any point where I--I
really worry whether the politicians like me or not. So it's very
easy for me to be independent.
One thing I--I'd--I mentioned that--in--in the foreword, I mentioned
that I am--I have never been offered a job--in all those 43 years,
I've never been offered a job in politics or government, not once.
And so people look at me and they s--they say, `Why--why borrow
trouble? Why--why hire somebody as unpleasant as that?'
LAMB: Do you think you're an unpleasant person?
Mr. NOVAK: Not an unpleasant person, but I'd be unpleasant in a--in
a--in a--in a--in a framework of a campaign or a--a government office
or something like that. They--they wouldn't want me around.
LAMB: How much of what we see of you on television is an act, and how
much of it do you really believe?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, I believe everything I say. I've never said
anything on the--on the air that I didn't believe. And--and I am--I
am--I'm pretty far to the right. I--and I move--I move a little
farther to the right every year, I think. But--so that--everything I
say--sometimes I go--there's a little theatrics in--in that. It
is--it is a--an offset of--of show business, but I've never said
anything I don't believe in.
LAMB: What do you think of the way these shows have developed over
the years? You know, it's changed dramatically since you were
originally on the--on the John McLaughlin show.
Mr. NOVAK: Yeah. I--we were--we were talking the other day. They
said, `What do you think? Do you think Walter Lippmann would ever do
something like this?' you know. I don't know. I--I--I would like to
think that it's bringing issues in a form that more--more people
can--can listen to and--and--and enjoy. "Capital Gang" and
"Crossfire" both have ratings--cable ratings of a little over one.
That's a very good cable rating, and it's a million people. And--but
it's a tiny fraction of all the people, so it's--I mean, who's
listening? Well, I guess it's an elite listening, and a certain
amount of people listening.
I would say, on balance, it's--it's a good thing in--in--in
making--and those are the highest--along with "Larry King," the
highest-rated shows on--in--on CNN and the CNN--and--and among the
highest rated in all cable television. But I would say that, on
balance, it's probably a good thing.
LAMB: In your career, who do you think--or who--I don't want to ask
you who your heroes are as much as who do you--who were you--who
d--have you admired the most in the--in the news business?
Mr. NOVAK: Who have I--who have I admired the most? I would say
my--my role model--my partner Rowland Evans and my role model when we
first started were the Alsop brothers. And I thought they
were--that's what we tried to do. We--we were never as elegant or
stylish as they were, but it was the idea of expressing your opinions
with facts. And this book is filled with facts; I think you'll agree
with that. And my column is always filled with facts. And the idea
of just exte--blowing off with some high-flown opinion is not my
i--my--my model of a ca--of a calm. And the Alsop brothers--most
people never even heard now--were my ideals of--of the way--of the way
that could be done.
LAMB: Where did you meet Rowland Evans?
Mr. NOVAK: I had known Rollie when I was working for The Wall Street
Journal covering the Hill and politics. He was working for the Herald
Tribune, and we competed against each other. And they gave him a--we
didn't know each other very well. And in 1960, as the great New York
newspaper strike of 1962-'63 was coming to an end, they gave him a--an
offer of writing a--a--at that time, a six-a-week news co--news
column. He said, `I can't write six news columns a week.' And they
said, `Well, get a partner.' And he came to me.
LAMB: And how did you split it up?
Mr. NOVAK: We--we a--we used a double byline on every column, and it
kind of evolved that he did more foreign policy than I did. I did
almost all the economic stuff. And we both did a lot of politics.
But what we would do is--the style was that one of us would write the
column; the other would tear it up, edit it, rewrite it.
LAMB: Did you agree politically?
Mr. NOVAK: Yeah, for the most part. When we--when we started the
column, it was sort of moderate--slightly right of center, sort of
moderate Republican was the--was the out--was the framework, although
we were--we were not a Republican column by any means. And, of
course, Rollie was very close to President Kennedy. He was president
when that column started. But as the years went by, it--because of
certain events, it became more conservative.
LAMB: Is the country well-served, no matter where your politics is,
from the media? I mean, can you find everything you need in the
Mr. NOVAK: No, I don't think so. I think--I think the--I think
newspaper writing has changed remarkably. Many of the stories that go
out--that pass for news stories would not have--would have been thrown
back in a reporter's face 30, 40 years ago because they're--they're
analyses, they're c--they're columns. They're--they're really opinion
pieces. And a lot of stuff is not covered in the--in the major
newspapers because they're very much into--into the big picture,
analyzing this candidate, analyzing that and not telling what happened
yesterday. That sounds like a ana--cantankerous old man saying that,
but--but I do--really do believe that that is a problem.
And I also worry about fewer and fewer p--people reading newspapers
and relying on this medium for all t--all their facts. For
every--every person who stops me at an airport and says, `I like your
column,' or, `I don't like your column,' 100 say, `I see you on
LAMB: In your book you mention a congressman by the name of Tom
Coburn and even suggests maybe he should run for president at one
Mr. NOVAK: A little tongue in cheek, but...
LAMB: Who is he?
Mr. NOVAK: Tom Coburn is a--is my--is my ideal of today's
politicians. He is a obstetrician-gynecologist from Muskogee,
Oklahoma, never ran for office before. He was elected in the tide of
1994, said he was going to serve just three terms, tr--first
Demo--first Republican ever to serve from that Democratic district.
And he's true to his word. He's not--he's getting out after three
terms. The Republicans may not hold that district.
What he has done in those three terms, he has made himself a hair
shirt to the establishment because he has discovered that the
Republicans on the Appropriations Committee are not Republicans at
all; they're appropriators. They want to spend and add pork--pork
barrel and add big money, and he--he found that it isn't rocket
science. He discovered how to find out what is buried in those bills,
and he tells the truth and blows the whistle. Sometimes he holds up
the whole House of Representatives, and they hate it.
The problem--there's two problems: To what avail? Because there's
more pork now than there's ever been. There's more--there's more
earmarking of little projects by individuals under the Republicans
than there ever was under the Democrats. And secondly, by--but
because he has done unilateral term limits, he's gone after--after the
end of this--of the 2000 session. And, of course, the establishment,
B--Brian, will say, `Good riddance.'
LAMB: Would the country be better off if the Democrats were running
Mr. NOVAK: Oh, no, I think they'd be worse off. I think they're
even worse than the--than the Republicans. The--the problem is that
the Republicans are not much better. That's--that's--that's
the--the--the--the way to put it. And, of course, term limits is not
a very popular thing anymore. It had its--its day. I still think
it's the silver bullet and the key to what's going on. But, of
course, if only one or two people invoke unilateral term limits--I
admire them for their integrity--but it--it doesn't solve the problem
of these professional politicians who--who get in there for their own
glorification and enrichment.
LAMB: Why did they--you know, the term limit's a big thing with the
contract of America. Why did they all give up on it?
Mr. NOVAK: They never--they were never for it, and that's one of the
points I make. Dick Armey, on the day that they captured the
Congress, let a truth escape his lips. He said the--he said `Maybe we
don't need term limits anymore, since the Republicans are in.' They
were never for it. They--the Republicans pretended to be for it, with
the exception of Tom Coburn and Helen Chenoweth and a few other
people, they weren't sincere. Democrats, at least, were honest. They
And the professional politicians--this is a profession. This is a
job. And they said the--70 percent of the American people want, a--as
I say in the book, they--they want--they said 70 percent of the
American people want term limits, but they don't go to bed every night
thinking about `we gotta have term limits.' These people think about
`we have to kill term limits.' And, of course, they--they found a
5-to-4 majority on the Supreme Court that drove a stake through the
heart of term limits when they found that--that they needed a
constitutional amendment to enact term limits. If you--you can find
that in--in--in the Constitution, you're better than I am, because
they find a lot of things in the Constitution.
LAMB: I know this is not fair, but you do it every day for a living.
I--if you were to--your sense right now of where this election is
going based on the mood of the country today. I'm talking about
Congress and presidency.
Mr. NOVAK: I think the American people are turned off of this
election. I don't think they're interested in it. That's not all
bad. When--when the people are really interested in--in big
government is when I get--I get worried. I think they'd just as soon
let one party or the other win. I think the way the House shapes up,
Democrats have the advantage. But I think the pr--voting for
presidency, particularly when there's not much ideology involved--when
they don't think there's much ideology involved, is a--is a personal
choice. And I think--I think there's a good chance they may find
George W. Bush a much more ingratiating personable person than Al
Gore, if they turn out to be the--the two nominees.
LAMB: How did George W. Bush get to where he is?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, that's--I spent a lot of time in the book on that.
He's been anointed by the p--by the Republican Party. The Republican
Party does not like contests. And the one thing that they could not
bare the thought of was having Al Gore serve the third year of the
Clinton presidency--third term of the--of the Clinton presidency. So
he was anointed by the party e--George W. was anointed by the party
establishment, was confirmed after his landslide in Texas in 1998,
when he--he did so well with constituency groups the Republicans had
been having trouble with: women, Hispanics, African-Americans. And
he was a--his--certain groups that--certain people in Texas that I
mention--Karl Rove, Jim Francis--were developing him for years to run
for governor. And--and it turned out he was able to run without
opposition in the Republican primary for governor, ran a very good
race against Ann Richards, the Democratic governor they thought would
And so this--this plan had been in--in line for a long time. And the
question of an anointment of a presidency has great d--dangers, 'cause
if it's someone who wa--doesn't have a great deal of experience,
doesn't have a--ha--hasn't had, really, a terribly tough primary
fight--we're in the midst of the primary fight now, but I don't see
how he loses it. And the question is when he comes up against
probably Al Gore, a very tough customer, is he going to be able--able
The other question, of course, is that--how much of the--of the Novak
revolutionary agenda does George Bush--George W. Bush sign on to?
Not very much. Parts of it, pieces of it, but it's more of a--of a
business-as-usual than a--than revolutionary.
LAMB: Did you send him a copy of your book?
Mr. NOVAK: No, I gave Karl Rove an autographed copy, though,
his--his good friend, who's a excellent--excellent campaign manager.
You know who Karl Rove's idol is? Marc Hanna.
LAMB: And Marc Hanna is? Was?
Mr. NOVAK: Marc Hanna was the--the manager of the William McKinley
campaign. He was Republican National chairman. He was also a very
shrewd political designer. So a guy who knows a little American
history goes f--pretty far with me.
LAMB: Who do you think George W. Bush talks to besides his immediate
staff? Who are his key friends out there?
Mr. NOVAK: I think--I think he has a lot of close friends, Texas
friends, who he--who he talks to, you know, most people don't--don't
know very well. I think he's brought in some new advisers. Former
Federal Reserve Governor Lawrence Lindsey he talks to. I--I think
he--I think he has a great deal of respect for former Secretary of
State Shultz, George Shultz. But I think the--the people who are very
close to him day to day are his--his campaign manager, Karl Rove,
and--on--on policies, and--and his--his regular governor's staff.
LAMB: How did Al Gore get where he is, in your opinion?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, he was picked vice president by--by Bill Clinton.
And Bill Cl--and had a good relationship with him. And--and Bill
Clinton decided he--that part of his legacy, as I say in the book,
was--was to make Al Gore president of the United States. And the fact
that Gore, when he ran for president, was a very for--poor candidate
in 1988 and has shown some of those failings now, wa--had nothing to
do with it.
It--these--these are s--these are fictitiously open systems. They
seem like they're open systems. There's no incumbent and anybody can
come in, but both Bush and Gore started this year with a huge
LAMB: How much time do you spend on American history?
Mr. NOVAK: I spend a lot of time on it. I--I--you know, I've--as
you--as you mentioned, I do--I do a lot of things, but I try to spend
a lot of time--I enjoyed your "American Presidents" series immensely,
and I try to--try to--I read--I waded through a history of the--of the
Whig Party this year, which taught me a lot of things; wasn't very
easy reading, but--so I try to--try to keep up on that.
LAMB: Do you a--a--wh--what about history? Does history--biased?
Mr. NOVAK: Oh, yes. History is a--I--I--I said in--I say in the--in
the book that the yo--the ...(…. is the history is--is
written by the--by the victors was--it's written by the professors in
this country, the liberal professors and it's--it's quite biased.
Calvin Coolidge is not considered a--a good president and--and Andrew
Jackson, who was a racist and a--a murderer and a man of great defects
is a--is the--is an icon of the Democratic Party.
And, of course, the--any Democratic president--Jimmy Carter may be the
exception--gets a revival and--which usually doesn't happen to
Republicans. And so Harry Truman has been transmogrified from a
mediocre president into a hero. He was a fine man, but he was--I
think he was a very mediocre president and--but he's had some--David
McCullough's book and other factors, he's--he's--he's been made out
heroic. So I--I worry a lot about the way history is written.
And it's--it's written i--in favor of big government. And someone who
spent his--his presidency trying to control the--the size of
government, like Calvin Coolidge, is--is--and, for that matter, for
Ronald Reagan, is--is not going to do very well.
LAMB: How often would we find you reading a book?
Mr. NOVAK: I'm always reading a book. I mean, every night, I read a
LAMB: How many--how many hours did you s--put in a night?
Mr. NOVAK: Oh--oh, I don't--quite--I--I don't sleep that much, so I
put quite a bit of night...
LAMB: And is it more often than not history?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, a lot of times, I'm reviewing a book. Right a--as
we're talking now, I'm reading George Weigel's biography of--massive
biography of John Paul II, which is not--it's not--but it's
usually--it's almost always non-fiction and politics or history.
LAMB: Would the country be different if the historians were
conservative and the journalists were conservative?
Mr. NOVAK: The short answer is yes, but I don't think that's the
point. The point is that the culture war, as Pat Buchanan said, and
as Irvin Kristol said, has been--has been fought and has largely been
lost to the left, so that the--the left controls journalism, history,
the academy, the--almost all the intellectual pursuits, and mostly, of
course, show business, where the--the entertainment programs
are--are--are--more often than not, the businessman is a villain,
where the--there are very few traditional values, which are--which are
applauded. So, yes, the country would be differently, but I don't
think you can limit it to journalists and historians. I think it's
a--it's the--it's the whole struggle for culture.
LAMB: When did you marry?
Mr. NOVAK: I got married to Lyndon Johnson's secretary in
1960--November, 1962. I was 31 years old.
LAMB: What was her name then?
Mr. NOVAK: Geraldine Williams from Texas.
LAMB: How'd you meet her?
Mr. NOVAK: She was--I was covering the Senate and she was
Senator--one of Sen--worked for Senator Johnson. And she was George
Reeves' secretary. He was his press--he didn't have the title, but he
was his press secretary. And then when he became president, she was
Vice President Johnson--when he became vice president, she was Vice
President Johnson's secretary. She--when we got married, she left his
LAMB: Did she know that you were a conservative?
Mr. NOVAK: Oh, I think so.
LAMB: Has she changed her politics si--since that time?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, I--I have to li--live with her. If I start telling
her--about her politics, I may not have a home to go home to when this
is over with.
LAMB: How many children have you had?
Mr. NOVAK: I have--I have two children, four grandchildren and a
fifth on the way.
LAMB: And your two children are w--girls and boys?
Mr. NOVAK: A boy and a girl.
LAMB: Because you mention Christopher Caldwell in here, who you say
is your son-in-law.
Mr. NOVAK: Yes.
LAMB: 'Cause I see his copy, I think, in The Weekly Standard.
Mr. NOVAK: That's right. Mm-hmm. He--he married my daughter Zelda,
who had worked for four years for Dan Quayle. She worked for Jack
Kemp, Alan Keyes, and then Dan Quayle for four years. And then she
worked for me for three years till she started having babies.
LAMB: Oh. And what's your son do?
Mr. NOVAK: He worked on the Hill as a congressional aide for several
years, four years. And then he got an MBA from the University of
Maryland, and he's now in marketing for Regnery Publications, Regnery
LAMB: Somewhere in here, there's an il--and I don't this for a fact,
but there's an illusion that--a--a Corvette.
Mr. NOVAK: Yes.
LAMB: I don't--a--a little parenthetical expression. I don't
remember what it was, but it...
Mr. NOVAK: I remember--I remember what it was.
LAMB: What was it?
Mr. NOVAK: We were talking about the--I have the Corvette test for
politicians. The question is should--when you're having a tax cut,
should you tell Mr. Rash--Mr. Lamb--should you tell Mr. Lamb
that--what--how he should spend his tax money? He has to do it for
this or for that? Or should Mr. Lamb, if he wants to buy a--a
Corvette, should he be able to buy a Corvette? That's the Corvette
test. 'Cause I drive a Corvette. It's a--it's a very impractical
car. It's--it's--burns gas, it--it--it's uncomfortable, it doesn't
have luggage space, but it--freedom is to be able to waste your money
on a Corvette.
LAMB: Why do--why do you do it?
Mr. NOVAK: I love it. I love the car. It...
Mr. NOVAK: Well, it's fun. You know, it--driving a--if you--driving
a sport car around Washington is just a lot of fun. It's more fun
LAMB: How long have you dro--driven a Corvette?
Mr. NOVAK: Off and on since 1960. I've--I've driven other--I've
al--I've always had convertibles, but I've had other cars off and on.
LAMB: Also, I think I've read where they can find you courtside half
Mr. NOVAK: Well, I spend a lot of time at basketball games, too.
LAMB: And why that?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, that's my hobby. You gotta ha--you got to have
LAMB: Which--what's your--what's your big team? I mean, what--who
Mr. NOVAK: University of Maryland.
LAMB: And you're always there for all the games?
Mr. NOVAK: I--I can't make every game, but I--I try to get as many
as I can.
LAMB: In your book, you have nine points that you think would be a
good platform for the Republicans. I assume you wouldn't care
who--which party did this.
Mr. NOVAK: No, but, obviously, the Democrats aren't going to take
LAMB: Tax reform; diminish government; enlighten nationalism. What
do you mean by that?
Mr. NOVAK: It means that you don't go interfering in--in--in
the--in--in things that are not our business, like the war in Kosovo,
like the--the Balkans, like Somalia, like--trying to be the policemen
for the world. That's--that's what I call nationalism,
LAMB: Equal rights is number five. Equal rights--what do you mean by
Mr. NOVAK: Equal rights is that--that you--that you do not give
advantages to somebody because of the color of their skin. And that
means that you don't have racial quotas in the--in the interest
of--of--of--of trying to achi--achieve affirmative action.
LAMB: Government reform.
Mr. NOVAK: That means less government. It means decentralized
government. By the way, Pat Moynihan, Democrat, who I greatly admire,
said to me on television the other day that it's--it's time for
decentralization. With--60 years after the New Deal, we ought to have
LAMB: Well, you said earlier in the book--you say, `And so the most
important thing in their world'--meaning the Republicans--`was not
getting rid of the National Endowment for the Arts, or even scrapping
the Internal Revenue code. It was enjoying the fruits of being in the
majority. They didn't keep their eye on the ball.' What is it about
the National Endowment for the Arts or the Corporation for Public
Broadcasting that gets conservatives most excited?
Mr. NOVAK: It's none of the government's business. It--and--and the
idea that--that the taxpayers' money should--should go to the--to--to
fund some kind of a play or some kind of a art exhibit--it isn't--it
isn't the content that's--that's the problem, it's doing it at all--or
should--or should be--should go for television. Television--public
television, or--or public-interest television should be handled by
the--by the cable companies, as they do with C-SPAN. It should be
handled by the profit-making companies. It is not the
government's--it's not the government's business at all. That's what
gets them mad.
Tho--but those are symbolic. There was--there was many other
departments that they were going to get rid of: Education, Energy,
Commerce, Housing and Urban Development. They're all still there.
LAMB: Privatize Social Security. And you say that you went out and
looked at your own Social Security file. What'd you find?
Mr. NOVAK: I found that there's not enough money to take care of me
Mr. NOVAK: That's right, my whole lifetime. That's ridiculous.
Mr. NOVAK: But that's not even in a file. That's all--all they feel
that--that's in 1948 dollars, that's in 1968 dollars, that's in 1978
dollars and--and they don't know how much money there is now. If--if
you would use--if you would--if you would use the--the system, if you
would privatize it and people could take the money out of their own
income and--and invest it--they could invest it in a--a risky
investment, they could invest it in a safe investment. Most people
would invest it in a safe investment, but the--the most--the s--the
safest investment is going to do better than $58,000.
LAMB: Number eight on your list, right to life.
Mr. NOVAK: Yeah, I--I believe that--that the American people don't
want abortion for--on demand. I believe that they are--they are
opposed to it. I believe that I am--I am opposed to it, as a--as a
matter of principle. I have been all--all my life. I--I think it's
an appalling practice, but I know there are some people who say that
women should have the right to choose. But I believe that,
politically speaking, that the--the right to choose, in the opinion of
most American people, should be limited; limited to the late term--I
mean, to the early term of the abortion. And, really, you even ask
American people should they ever be able to have abortion just--just
for choice and they're--and they're doubtful about that.
LAMB: Your last point on the agenda, number nine, is individual
freedom. Don't have enough of it now?
Mr. NOVAK: I don't believe so. I think--I think there's a--I think
that the government bears down on us. I think that it--it--they take
our money, they tell us what we can do, they tell us what we can say.
I don't think there's enough freedom in this--in this country and I
think that that is a--is a--freedom is a--a question. A freedom to
buy a Corvette, Mr. Lamb--Corvette is something that the politicians
don't like to talk about. Freedom is the--is the missing word even
with the Republicans they seldom--they seldom talk about it.
LAMB: You set up, in the back of your book, a little scenario between
Theodore Roosevelt and Thomas Reed. Who are these two?
Mr. NOVAK: Theodore Roosevelt is the icon now next to Abraham
Lincoln of the Republican Party. But there's something very
suspicious. You ever notice the Democrats are always
talking--invoking him, too. Did you notice that? Very much.
Theodore Roosevelt was--believed in big government. He believed in
intrusive government. He was the father of the antitrust laws which
are so inappropriate right now. He was the--the author--he didn't get
it done--he was the author of the estate tax, which is a horrible
anti-American tax. He was the person who started setting aside vast
amounts of land that couldn't be used for private development. He
developed the--the beginning of a p--of a federal police state which
is growing all the time with his--beginning of the Bureau of
Investigation against Republican wishes. He was a big government
Thomas Brackett Reed--and also, I forgot to say that he was a
tremendous imperialist. He wanted--he wanted the United States
butting in all around the world with the great white--white fleet, and
he wanted the United States teaching--I mean, he--he instigated the
Spanish American War. He supported the terrible United States
operation in quelling the insurrection in the Philippines. And he
wanted the United States active all over the world.
Thomas Brackett Reed was a conservative Republican from Maine and was
speaker of the House of Representatives, a man of great wit and great
integrity. And he opposed the Spanish American War and he opposed
imperialism. He was a man of--of great honor and at the height of his
power--he was one of the--they called Czar Reed but he was the most
powerful man in--in Congress. He would--he--he resigned from
Congress. He ended his political career because he could not tolerate
the ... … thought of his country, which he loved so
deeply, as a imperialist country.
And so the--the model of the--of Teddy Roosevelt or Tom Reed, I think,
are--are choices for the Republican Party to take. Regrettably, I
think they're taking the Teddy Roosevelt course. I think they should
look at Tom Reed of limited government. And by limited government, I
mean restraint in activism around the world.
LAMB: In--including today's politicians, since you've been doing
this, you say 43 years?
Mr. NOVAK: Mm-hmm. In Washington.
LAMB: How many years as a column?
Mr. NOVAK: Column started in--a columnist 36 years.
LAMB: Who are the politicians...
Mr. NOVAK: It would be in its 37th year.
LAMB: ...all--all sides that you think over the years truly believed
what they were saying?
Mr. NOVAK: Truly believed what they were saying.
LAMB: Truly believed what they were saying. They weren't talking out
of both sides of their mouths. They weren't, you know, playing to the
Mr. NOVAK: Well, Tom--Tom--Tom Coburn was one of them. I--I greatly
admire him. I--I--I'm going to say some--a name that's going to
surprise you because he gets--he gets very bad marks but I do--and I
didn't always agree with him and that's Jack Kemp. I think Jack Kemp
was an extraordinary politician. Finally did not have the--the
stomach to--to--to go all the way, but he--I think he believed
what--what he was saying. I believe that--that most of them--some of
them I admire very greatly, though, were--were very much
transactional. They--they--they were interested in the transaction
they were--they were involved in. They were very much tactical, what
is--what tactics we're going to have today.
I loved Everett McKinley Dirksen. He was a--a--a--a great--he was
very nice to me as a young reporter. And he was a brilliant
legislator. He was--was in every bill. But he was totally a
tactician. I don't think he had many basic core beliefs at all.
And--and that I think is the--is the--is--is the--is the typical
politician in any country. That's why you can't--that kind--you can't
put your faith in politicians and that's why I believe that the--you
have to have systems which are--take the power out of the politician
and give it to the people, of--of tax reform, Social Security reform,
trim down government, limited US role abroad so you don't have to rely
on politicians who believe in everything.
LAMB: How much longer do you want to do all this?
Mr. NOVAK: Oh, I don't know. What--what do you want me to do? See,
LAMB: I mean, is this the kind of job you can do until you're 85?
Mr. NOVAK: No. It's very...
LAMB: Are you having as much fun today as you've always had?
Mr. NOVAK: Yeah. I am. So I guess--I guess when you stop having
fun, you stop--you stop doing it. I used to say that when I get to be
70, I'll probably have a major change and not do it as much. But I'm
almost 70 and so--so it's getting--it's scary. So I don't know. I--I
guess the answer is I'll do it as long as it's fun.
LAMB: How do you know you're having an impact? When do you feel it?
Mr. NOVAK: I don't know that I am having an impact. I mean, if you
want to be a--a coldly logical person, I'm not having an impact
because Republican Party's going the opposite direction. The--all the
things I believe in they're not--they're not really doing very much.
So I'm not having much impact. But I don't really worry about that.
I--I didn't--I never s--I never set out to say, `Gee, I'm going to
accomplish this.' I'm just giving them my opinion on the thing. I
said very early I'm not even a registered Republican. I'm a
registered Democrat because I live in the District of Columbia. So
I'm not a party person. They don't owe me anything. They don't have
to read my book. But I think I have some interesting ideas in there,
but whether I have an impact--I wish I had an impact but it doesn't
bother me that I don't.
LAMB: If you had your choice, would you go back to the smoke-filled
Mr. NOVAK: Well, when I compare the caliber of the p--of the people
that came out of the smoke-filled rooms with these I think by and
large they were better. But by and large, you know, I--as I watch
your president series and I'm--I try to be an amateur s--s--student of
history, they weren't a very impressive bunch, the presidents, you
know, at--were they? They were--they were pretty ordinary. And the
system doesn't need great men. And as long as you don't have too much
government--when you have this much government,
you--you--you--the--the people th--in--in charge are--are more to
worry about. So that's a long round-about way of saying that I wish
perhaps the smoke-filled room wo--would be better but that isn't my
big concern. My bi--big concern is that the--the law firms of 300,
400 lawyers in this town all making fortunes dealing with these huge
bureaucracies and the campaign finance and the government getting
bigger and bigger and bigger and more intrusive. That's what bothers
LAMB: Is there any way you see your formula for the revolution being
enacted in the next 10 years? And if...
Mr. NOVAK: Oh.
LAMB: ...and if--if it could be enacted, ho--what will have to happen
to have it enacted?
Mr. NOVAK: I think it's unlikely but it's possible. A lot of things
have happened that I never thought would have happened. I never
thought I'd s--I'd see a h--a Republican House of Representatives. I
never thought I'd see Ronald Reagan as--as--as president. I think--I
think that probably, the economy will have to slip a little bit and
people will worry about what the--what they're having and have to make
some harsh choices. But more likely, it's--it's going to take
somebody--somebody as--as John Paul II revived the--the--the cl--the
Catholic Church and the Christian faith in the world, it's going to
take somebody just coming out of--out of--out of nowhere to--to
h--not--not the Novak agenda, but an agenda something like that of
less government and--and--and--and to tr--and to reform the system, to
revolutionize the system. It's going to take some individual and I
don't see that individual right now in--on--on the horizon. It's
going to take a--a Tom Coburn, who is not a n--a doctor from Muskogee,
Oklahoma, but is--is somebody who is on an upward path to power;
somebody with the--with the tenacity of a Lyndon Johnson but the
ideals of a Jack Kemp.
LAMB: Our guest has been Robert D. Novak. And this is the book,
"Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000." Thank you
very much, sir.
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