One of the greatest obituaries I have ever read -- and I have read a surprising number for someone my age -- is still Hunter S. Thompson's obituary for Richard Nixon. Titled "He Was a Crook," it begins:
MEMO FROM THE NATIONAL AFFAIRS DESK DATE: MAY 1, 1994 FROM: DR. HUNTER S. THOMPSON SUBJECT: THE DEATH OF RICHARD NIXON: NOTES ON THE PASSING OF AN AMERICAN MONSTER.... HE WAS A LIAR AND A QUITTER, AND HE SHOULD HAVE BEEN BURIED AT SEA.... BUT HE WAS, AFTER ALL, THE PRESIDENT.
This is how I feel upon the death of Robert Novak
. Not that he was a monster, necessarily -- though that argument could be made -- but that now is not the time to begin making apologies. Death seems always to be the moment when it becomes OK to gloss over the worst parts of a person's life. That's unfair, not just to those affected by the worst parts of the dead man's character, but also to the dead man himself. Robert Novak did things. He believed in them. They were bad. That should not be forgotten.
It hasn't been, if the coverage is any clue. Even the New York Times
, admittedly a competitor to Novak's Chicago Sun-Times
, couldn't resist a pretty hard kick at the end of its obituary
. So -- am I particularly heartless today? No. He had a family, and I'm sure they loved him, and I am sorry for their loss. I'm also sure that, had we been acquainted, well, Mr. Thompson again said it best:
Nixon had the unique ability to make his enemies seem honorable, and we developed a keen sense of fraternity. Some of my best friends have hated Nixon all their lives. My mother hates Nixon, my son hates Nixon, I hate Nixon, and this hatred has brought us together.
Nixon laughed when I told him this. "Don't worry," he said, "I, too, am a family man, and we feel the same way about you."
Robert Novak championed causes I don't believe in. He helmed political shows and created a style of punditry that helped make our cable TV discourse the shouting, deplorable mess it is today. He outed a C.I.A. agent and he should have gone to jail
makes a kinder case:
Although Novak's incessant championing of supply-side economics and his conservative persona on CNN's Crossfire and Capital Gang typecast him as purveyor of right-wing brain vomit, Novak's politics were more nuanced than those of the average Fox News Channel commentator. He was a dove on both Iraq wars and expressed misgivings about the Afghanistan invasion. He supported liberal immigration, called for a global economy, and backed free trade. He gave Gerald Ford hell during his presidency, later calling him "ill equipped for the job" in his book, and he carved out a critical-of-Israel position that sharply deviated from the conservative line.
Bravo. But who is worse -- the man who supports a president because he deeply believes in his cause, or one who supports him in spite of major differences on issues like war and trade? I think it is the man who sells his support for access. I think it is the man who goes for the scoop over the truth.
I think it is Robert Novak. Thompson:
These are harsh words for a man only recently canonized by President Clinton and my old friend George McGovern -- but I have written worse things about Nixon, many times, and the record will show that I kicked him repeatedly long before he went down. I beat him like a mad dog with mange every time I got a chance, and I am proud of it. He was scum.
Adios, Mr. Novak. Though you will be missed, it will not be by me.