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Robert D. Novak has been a fixture on the Washington political scene for over four decades now.  As a syndicated columnist and CNN talk show host, both with his recently deceased partner Rowland Evans, and first a member of the McLaughlin Group and then a founding member of CNN's Capital Gang, he has written and spoken volumes on American politics.  But it has been twenty years since he wrote a book, and those prior efforts were mostly journalistic accounts of the presidencies that he and Evans covered.  Completing the Revolution , though it still has its fair share of reporting, particularly on the exhaustion of the Republican Revolution of 1994 and the confrontation with Bill Clinton, is something quite different.  What Bob Novak essentially gives us here is a kind of a throwback to the old campaign biography/manifesto, exemplified by Barry Goldwater's great Conscience of a Conservative, where candidates used to lay out their political philosophy and a rough blueprint for what they intended to do if elected. In fact, in a weird sense, Novak's book is a campaign book in search of a candidate (which seems serendipitous since George W. Bush's campaign bio was widely recognized as the worst book of its kind in modern memory.)

This book was motivated by what Novak saw as a rather massive miscalculation by the Congressional Republicans, their belief that they could govern from the Hill, despite not having the Presidency.  He does an effective job of showing how Bill Clinton and Dick Morris utilized the unique powers of the modern presidency to demonize much of the GOP agenda and of showing how hard it was for the Republicans to respond, because they had a harder time commanding public attention and because, with a large group of individuals whose ideas and interests were often at odds with one another, they naturally hard a harder time deciding on, explaining, and sticking to directions.  The result was two really catastrophic defeats in budget negotiations.  First, in 1995, the GOP blinked first during the government shutdown.  This was disastrous not merely in policy terms, where sticking to their guns would have vindicated party principles and couldn't have done any additional political damage, but also in psychological terms, in that it made them scared of Bill Clinton.  This intimidation led directly to the second budget fiasco, when even though they had Clinton on the impeachment ropes, they cut a budget deal in order to go home and campaign for re-election in 1998.  The cumulative effect of these defeats was that the Revolution lost all of its momentum, Clinton was revived, and subsequent battles ended up being fought, if not on ground of Clinton's choosing, at least on neutral ground.

Novak thus felt it imperative for the Republicans to win the White House in 2000, in order to be able to complete the Revolution.  His premise for how they could achieve that end was simple :

    If the Republican Party is to reach its full potential as an engine of conservative reform, it must
    embrace its own principles--despite the discomfort this may bring the congressional leadership--and
    it needs to articulate a true vision for victory in 2000.

True to this vision, he laid out a program calling for a return to first principles and requiring the Party to demonstrate the courage of its convictions :

    Tax Reform.  The courage to scrap the Internal Revenue Code even though the alternative system
    will be savaged as favoring the rich against the poor.

    Diminished Government.  The courage to cut back on the bloated federal Leviathan, even though
    the popular Education Department and the special-interest favored National Endowment for the Arts
    would be endangered.

    Enlightened Nationalism.  The courage to stand for a strong national defense, free trade, and a
    nonbelligerent foreign policy while averting the temptation to serve as a policeman for the entire

    Equal Rights.  The courage to stand against racial quotas and for educational choice, amid
    accusations of racism.

    Government Reform.  The courage to stand for term limits and campaign finance reform, even
    though in the short run they may seem to be to the disadvantage of the Republican party.

    Privatized Social Security.  The courage to end, not mend, the existing Social Security system
    for the future, so that the protracted Ponzi scheme is replaced by a privatized pension plan.

    Right to Life.  The courage to oppose abortion as a moral question, even at the risk of losing
    Republican supporters.

    Individual Freedom.  The courage to return governmental emphasis to the freedom of the
    individual to do the unwise--to spend his own money as he wishes, to own guns, even to smoke

With the exception of his advocacy of campaign finance reform, this a pretty classic conservative agenda.  What's most interesting is that, other than Novak's failure to include much discussion of school vouchers, it is also pretty much George W. Bush's agenda.  In fact, though it seems that the book was written in part to warn against the nomination of a candidate as moderate as Novak perceived Bush to be, in the end, not only did George W run on much of this agenda, he is governing on it, and as a result has a chance to be the most conservative president since Novak's favorite : Calvin Coolidge.

Near the end of the book, there's a quote from Phil Gramm, a man who in many ways represents the very best of the Republican Party in terms of ideas and the very worst in terms of appealing to Soccer Moms and pundits :

    The longer I live the more convinced I am that there are only two ideas in history: government and
    freedom.  When government is the answer, the Democrats are in the ascendancy.  When freedom is
    the answer, we are in the ascendancy.

He could not be more right.  And what gives Bob Novak's message a sense of urgency is that this is a historical moment when freedom is clearly the answer.  This is a moment when the Republican Party has to act on its core beliefs, even if it means being savaged by the press and by the Democrats.  The opportunities to extend human freedom are too few and far between to let this one slip away while politicians try to stay popular and get re-elected.  The time has come to complete the revolution.  Tis a consummation for which Bob Novak has devoutly wished.


Grade: (B+)


See also:

Book-related and General Links:
    -EXCERPT : Chapter One of Completing the Revolution
    -BOOKNOTES : Author : Robert D. Novak Title : Completing the Revolution (C-SPAN)
    -TRIBUTE : to Rowland Evans :   Man about town, reporter--above all, patriot (Robert D. Novak, Thursday, March 29, 2001)
    -INTRODUCTORY ESSAY : to The Way the World Works by Jude Wanniski (Robert D. Novak, July 30, 1998)
    -ESSAY : Coolidge's Legacy (Robert Novak,
    -ESSAY : I.F. Stone: Red and Dead  (Robert D. Novak, Weekly Standard)
    -RESPONSE : Media Circus: Sleaze, smears and spleen: A Novak way of knowing (ERIC ALTERMAN, Salon)
    -ESSAY : The Expulsion of God : Liberal secularists in the media and academia are thwarting the Constitution and the people's will.  (ROBERT D. NOVAK , American Legion Magazine)
    -ESSAY : The Catholic Vote: Does It Swing? (Robert D. Novak, The Crisis)
    -ESSAY : CAMPAIGN 2000: Bush-Bennett 2000.(Robert D. Novak, National Review,  April 3, 2000)
    -ESSAY : Election 2000: What's at Stake? : A Symposium, with contributions from George Weigel,  Andrew Ferguson, Robert D. Novak, Christopher Caldwell, Kate O'Beirne,  (American Spectator, February 2000)
    -LETTERS : STOCKMAN'S MEMOIRS: A POSTSCRIPT : The following letters from Robert D. Novak, the columnist, and Caspar W. Weinberger, the Secretary of Defense, were received in connection  with a review by Michael Kinsley of David A. Stockman's book (NY Times, June 22, 1986)
    -REVIEW : of  THE TRIUMPH OF POLITICS How the Reagan Revolution Failed. By David A. Stockman (Michael Kinsley, NY Times Book Review, May 11, 1986)
    -REVIEW : of Fat Man in a Middle Seat: Forty Years of Covering Politics, by Jack W. Germond (Robert D. Novak, National Review)
    -ESSAY : Robert Novak On What Buchanan's Book Really Says (Robert Novak Sun-Times Columnist)
    -REVIEW : of Dutch by Edmund Morris (Robert D. Novak, Weekly Standard)
    -REVIEW : of The Secret Life of Bill Clinton: The Unreported Stories by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard (Robert D. Novak , American Spectator)
    -LECTURE (AUDIO) : Media Responsibility in a Democracy (Robert D. Novak, John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs,  March 4, 1987)
    -DEBATE : Cutting Government Down to Size:   Will It Work?  Robert Novak, Evans & Novak's "Inside Report" vs.  Mark Shields, columnist, Washington Post (Imprimis, the monthly Journal of Hillsdale College. April 1991)
    -PROFILE : The Conservative Chronicle - Biography of Robert Novak
    -PROFILE : CNN Anchors & Correspondents (
    -PROFILE : Novak, Inc. : Political commentator and veteran Washington newsman Robert Novak has turned political punditry into a profitable industry (Robert Schmidt, Brill's Content)
    -PROFILE : Robert Novak (Media Transparency)
    -ESSAY : The Friends of Robert Novak : How a pillar of American punditry advocated  for Latin American drug traffickers (Carol Cantor, Allodium)
    -ARCHIVES : "Robert D. Novak" (Chicago Sun-Times)
    -ARCHIVES : "Robert D. Novak" (Townhall)
    -ARCHIVES : "robert d. novak" (Find Articles)
    -ARCHIVES : "robert d. novak" (Mag Portal)
    -LINKS : Robert Novak Research Links (
    -REVIEW : of Completing the Revolution by Robert D. Novak (ADRIAN WOOLDRIDGE, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000 (William McGurn, Crisis)
    -REVIEW : of Completing the Revolution: A Vision for Victory in 2000 by Robert D. Novak (Tracy Robinson, American Spectator)
    -REVIEW : of Completing the Revolution (Steven Martinovich, Enter Stage Right)
    -REVIEW : of Completing the Revolution (Claude Marx, Intellectual Capital)