Chicago Sun-Times columnist Robert Novak is white-hot news this week for his alleged role in "leaking" the name of a CIA analyst's identity. The "Prince of Darkness" was in a far more jovial mood when he spoke at the Phoenix Ritz Carlton as the guest of the Goldwater Institute on Sept. 11.
Novak charmed the crowded ballroom with his Washington insider stories, toothy grin and candor. His most-asked question from conservative audiences is how he can stand to work with James Carville, the Ragin' Cajun. "I get paid very well to do it," he says. Then he adds, "And besides, I just sit across from him; Mary Matalin has to sleep with him!"
Clarifying that he wears a 3-piece suit, not pompoms, and is no cheerleader for President George W. Bush, the CNN commentator stated that he "worships the very quicksand that Bush walks on." As to the 2004 election, Novak forecasts that if the deaths of our soldiers in Iraq continue or our nation's industrial jobs keep going sour, any one of 5 candidates could beat Bush. Even though all our troops are professional soldiers and everybody volunteered to be there, Novak correctly notes, "We have a very low tolerance in this country for casualties."
Ronald Reagan and Calvin Coolidge are his two favorite Presidents. "They're the only two who thought that government was the problem and not the solution," he explained. He never minded Reagan's relatively short workday. "The three hardest-working Presidents were Johnson, Nixon and Carter, and between the three of them they almost ruined the country," he charged.
You would have thought he was referring to our U.S. Rep. Jeff Flake when he observed that a term-limited member of Congress acts differently from career politicians. The problem as Novak sees it is that the country is now evenly divided: 50 percent of people want more government and 50 percent want less.
Novak's visit came just two days after the state of Alabama resoundingly defeated their Governor's big tax increase package. "Poor Bob Riley," he said. "Riley's a fundamentalist Christian and says Jesus would want this tax increase. I thought Jesus was down on the tax collectors," Novak joked.
As to whether Sen. Hillary Clinton will run for President in 2004, Novak has been told she released her supporters to go make donations and commitments elsewhere. "Are journalists liberal?" someone then asked. Novak shot back, "Is the Pope Catholic?"
The man of the hour with a half century of political observation under his wool vest closed with his oft-repeated sentiment that the Republican Party "was put on this earth to cut taxes and, without that, it doesn't have a function." Creme brulee included, this function was quite a party.
Becky Fenger can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.