Bob Novak in 2008: ‘Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is the best of them’

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Timothy P. Carney

Saturday was third anniversary of the day my old boss, Bob Novak, passed away. As I have done the past two years on the day, I re-read this interview he gave Barbara Matusow. It’s really a great piece, and you all should read the whole thing. Novak’s words in the interview, like much of his work and words, have helped steer me, professionally, personally, and spiritually.

But, on a lighter note, this exchange (just before the 2008 election) took on added meaning:

>> How do you assess the state of the Republican Party?

In 1957, when I came here, it was all but dead and had been dying for a long time. The Republicans were a permanent minority in Congress. They had never managed to put together an effective response to Roosevelt or his handling of the Depression.

The Republican Party was revived unexpectedly by somebody who was not even a Republican activist—William F. Buckley Jr. Suddenly you had members of Congress in both chambers taking positions, trying to put together programs of action.

The party found its voice in Barry Goldwater—a very ineffective voice, in my opinion. I thought he was limited as a political leader, but he was able to attract millions of people, and it changed the Republican Party.

Then came Ronald Reagan, and suddenly you had a response to Big Government and to liberals and a very effective politician leading it. Reagan took the torch from Goldwater, but nobody took the torch from Reagan.

So the Republican Party in the last few years looks very much like the party I encountered here in 1957. It has no responses, it doesn’t have programs, and it’s quite eager to just get by. Being a congressman in the minority is not all that bad if you are interested in a warm bed and a good salary.

>> Do you see that changing?

I don’t know when they are going to work their way out of this crisis, but I’m sure they will. When you get two Republicans together, the first thing they say is “Who’s our future leader?” The answer is nobody knows.

The most interesting Republicans right now are a few young House members. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin is the best of them. Also Jeff Flake of Arizona and Jeb Hensarling of Texas. They are known in the House as right-wingers. I would describe them as reformers. They think there’s been too much corruption and waste. They are supply-siders. They are very upset with earmarks and very, very upset with the passive leadership we have today. I told them the current leadership reminds me of the get-along, go-along days I found when I got here, with House minority leader Bob Michel playing golf with House majority leader Tip O’Neill.

So, Mitt Romney kind of granted Bob Novak his dying wish.
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