Now we say good-bye to Robert Novak, who passed away early Tuesday morning at the age of 78. Yet another conservative icon has left us. He was a good friend, and an amazing reporter. In fact, I believe he was the best reporter of his generation, which spans all the way back to the Eisenhower years.
Bob had a lot of opinions -- conservative opinions; Reaganesque opinions. But his pursuit of journalistic detail, facts, scoops, and stories that no one else got was remarkable. He was “old school” in this respect, which is why he was so esteemed by political allies and critics alike.
Shoe leather is a term that comes to mind, and doggedness, and very hard work. Bob had a deep distrust of government. But even during the Reagan years, when I confess to being a source, Bob would write tough stories about the administration he supported. That was the thing about Bob: He was both a conservative icon in terms of his unswerving political beliefs, and a journalistic icon in terms of his unyielding tradecraft.
His last book, The Prince of Darkness, is a phenomenal account of Washington over the last 50-some-odd years. And it is a brilliant account of politics by a guy who refused to trust politicians, even the ones he favored. I can’t think of anybody today who writes the way Bob Novak wrote.
I knew him well, from tons of television work. We actually had a show together for a year back in 1990. It was called Money Politics. It was produced by Neal Freeman and it ran every Sunday until the deep recession turned it off.
Down through the years I had many an encounter with Bob on CNN’s Crossfire. Even though we agreed on most issues, he’d still come after me for one thing or another. You had to be on guard. Bob was a hoot.
He also was an anti-communist hawk on foreign policy and a supply-sider on the economy. In The Prince of Darkness he wrote that Jude Wanniski’s The Way the World Works was the most influential book he ever read.
Down through the years Bob proselytized the work of Wanniski, Art Laffer, Bob Mundell, Jack Kemp, and many of us lesser lights in the movement. He believed in low tax rates to grow the economy and a gold-backed dollar to keep prices stable. Sounds almost quaint today, in Obama’s very-big-government Washington. But it really was the heart of the successful Reagan economic revolution.
Back in July 2007, after the publication of The Prince of Darkness, I interviewed Bob once again on CNBC. He was as sharp as a tack and remarkably conversant on everything. We had him on for almost the whole show. It was a real treat.
One of the great things about Bob was how he stood by his friends through thick and thin. I know this from personal experience. Though I first met him in the late 1970s, our friendship became much closer after I crashed and burned over alcohol and drug abuse in the mid-1990s. He congratulated me for moving on, and he exhorted and encouraged me in my new full-time career in broadcast journalism and column-writing. I loved him for that. Bob was a tough guy, but not with his friends. He was loyal. So am I.
Over the past twelve years Bob became a strong and devout traditional Catholic. He converted at the age of 66 as he came to grips with faith and embraced Jesus Christ. He did so on very personal terms, without any drama, but his belief was strong and deep. He came to believe that Christ died for us and our sins and for our salvation. As he looked back on his own life, and his several brushes with death, he came to understand that Jesus saved him and had a purpose for him.
As a Catholic convert myself, I often spoke with Bob as he neared his final decision. I had been received into the Church a few years earlier, and Bob would call me not so much for advice, but to talk about my decision. I always told him to follow his heart and his instincts. He did, with enormous grace.
In the past year and a half, conservative giants Bill Buckley, Jack Kemp, and now Robert Novak have departed. These were very different people, but they were all phenomenal leaders. They dedicated their lives to faith, freedom, and free-enterprise. I was blessed to know all three men very well. They had an immeasurable influence on my life.
But for today I am saddened by the passing of my friend Bob Novak. May he rest in peace.