August 18, 2009

R.I.P. Robert Novak

In the lead-up to the War in Iraq, I had a conversation with my very liberal grandfather, who told me “No sane person wants this war.” Nodding in agreement, I noted that conservatives were “warmongers.” He quickly cut me off. “That’s not true! Real conservatives oppose this war. Look at Pat Buchanan! Look at Robert Novak! They know madness when they see it.”

Though I am always cynical about anyone who “makes it” in the world of mainstream media, Robert Novak was one of the exceptions. Sure, I disagreed with Novak often, but I have long suspected those differences of opinion were largely a circumstance of political typecasting. Television producers wanted the former Crossfire star to be just another mindless “conservative” talking head, taking up the mantle of the GOP without question and endlessly blathering about “those damn liberals.” At times he played along, but his eventual outright refusal to continue as a caricature of what liberals think conservatives are supposed to be spelled his end at CNN.

Despite how many liberals perceived him after the Valerie Plame affair, the neocons were always uncomfortable with him. David Frum had no qualms including Robert Novak in his infamous “Unpatriotic Conservatives” essay, despite the fact that lumping the “Prince of Darkness” in with men like Lew Rockwell or Justin Raimondo was transparently bizarre to anyone even vaguely familiar with their respective careers. Novak himself was deeply puzzled by this as reflected in a charmingly clueless passage in his aforementioned biography where he confuses his fellow “Unpatriotic Conservative,” and Chronicles Magazine editor Thomas Fleming, with the more well known historian of the same name.

I’ve always believed this aversion to all things Novak was because of his willingness to criticize Israel. Though the more popular narrative assumes that the neocons are primarily Wilsonian globalists, my personal view has always been that the neocons are above all else Israel-firsters. Novak rightfully saw the submission of U.S. national interests to the whims of a professional class of “victimized” Zionists as a totally unreasonable way for a great power to conduct foreign policy and wasn’t afraid to say so.

The death of Robert Novak is sad for conservatives of all stripes, but the news is especially sad in a world where actual reporting has been replaced by non-stop infotainment and vapid Ken Dolls demanding “yes or no” answers to complex questions.

Whatever one wants to say about the late Bob Novak, he was tough to fit into any box, and he wasn’t afraid to ruffle the feathers of the establishment. To that end, he was on our side.

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