Robert Novak
Robert Novak
Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000
ISBN: 0684827468
Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000
As the presidential primary season nears, one of America's foremost conservative columnists maps out a plan for winning back the White House in 2000—and restoring the office of the presidency to its previous high station.
—from the publisher's website
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TRANSCRIPT
Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000
Program Air Date: January 30, 2000

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 doing fine.
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 years?
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 it then?
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 is--is reported.
LAMB: How?
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 complete it.
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 sessions.
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 defense.'
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 these issues.

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 media?
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 television.'
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 point.
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 Congress again?
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 hated them.

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 kill him.

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 to win?

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 advantage.
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 book.
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 employ.
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 Books.
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...
LAMB: Why?
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 than driving...
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 the time.
Mr. NOVAK: Well, I spend a lot of time at basketball games, too. Yes.
LAMB: And why that?
Mr. NOVAK: Well, that's my hobby. You gotta ha--you got to have some hobby.
LAMB: Which--what's your--what's your big team? I mean, what--who does...
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 those points.
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, enlightening...
LAMB: Equal rights is number five. Equal rights--what do you mean by that?
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 another change.
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 for--at all.
LAMB: $59,567.
Mr. NOVAK: That's right, my whole lifetime. That's ridiculous.
LAMB: $59,567.
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 Republican.

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 crowd.
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, that's a--that...
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 rooms?
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 me.
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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