Thomas Sowell

Many, if not most, college commencement addresses are essentially special interest advertising.

Politicians, political activists, judges and bureaucrats tell the graduating students how it is nobler to go into "public service" -- that is, to become a politician, political activist, judge or bureaucrat, instead of going into the private sector and producing goods and services that people want enough to spend their own money for them.

Would anyone invite someone from McDonald's to be a commencement speaker and tell the students how it is nobler to eat hamburgers or to sell hamburgers?

Parents who want to counteract politically correct commencement speeches -- often after four years of politically correct indoctrination on campus -- might include among the things they give their graduate a new book titled "The Prince of Darkness" by columnist Robert Novak.

This book gives Novak's eyewitness accounts of the numerous Washington politicians and bureaucrats he has dealt with as a journalist for more than half a century.

There is no way you can come away from this book thinking that there is something nobler about "public service," as it actually exists, rather than the pretty picture painted by those who want to puff themselves up as members of a high-toned profession.

Even those of us who never had any grand illusions about politicians can come away from this book shedding any remaining illusions we might have had about some of our political heroes in both parties.

Novak covers not only what they said and did in public but also what they said and did in private -- and why. He turns over a lot of rocks and shows what has been crawling underneath.

Novak became a Washington journalist back in the days of John F. Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. But neither they nor the political leaders of today escape his unsentimental scrutiny.

Most of these big political figures turn out to be very petty, self-centered, spiteful, shallow, deceitful and incompetent. Novak spells it out in eyewitness detail from behind the scenes.

Nor does he let the media off the hook, including himself. Novak notes how often his own judgments and predictions proved to be wide of the mark, and how his drinking and other shortcomings led to bad results for himself and those around him.

This is history as it happened, without spin or an agenda.

The term "prince of darkness" was one that some applied to Novak himself because of his unsentimental view of politics and his detached and reserved personality.

Thomas Sowell

Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institute and author of The Housing Boom and Bust.

Creators Syndicate