“You don’t hold elected office in this town. You run it because people think you do. They stop thinking it, you stop running it.”
— Tom Reagan in Miller’s Crossing
One of the many things to relish about the political developments of this week — and there’s no shortage, believe me — is the end of Karl Rove’s reputation as some kind of invulnerable Machiavellian puppetmaster.
He was the baleful specter who cast a pall over your every effort. He was the whiff of impending doom than threatened to spoil the taste of every success you’d achieved. Each time you thought you’d managed to get a step ahead, you discovered that he was there waiting for you, that all of your hard work had in fact only succeeded in getting you right where he wanted you.
Toward the end, things had reached the point where the reputation itself was his most formidable weapon. All he had to do to paralyze his opponents, corrode their determination with the poison of doubt, was to stand off to the side of the room and smile.
You could see it the run-up to the election, even as the numbers pointed to a fairly resounding Democratic victory and Rove was testily informing Robert Siegel that he was in possession of the math. It was like watching the climactic scene in a third-rate monster movie, where terrified Democrats have barricaded themselves inside a dilapidated shack while Something
with leaden gait
makes its way
ponderously, yet inexorably
up the stairs
to the front door.
“Oh, dear sweet Jesus God! It’s Karl Rove!”
“He’s not human! He’s unstoppable!”
“He’s coming through the door! He’s going to kill us all!”
And then the monster shambles into the room, the audience gets to see it clearly for the first time, and the tension the movie has been carefully crafting leaks out of the theater like a sigh from a punctured balloon, as it dawns on everyone watching that the thing with the insatiable appetite for human flesh is really just a guy in a cheesy rubber suit.
Or, in this case, a pudgy little bastard with no chin and a receding line of ridiculously wispy hair. The guy in the rubber suit has the consolation of not having to keep it on after the shoot has wrapped. Karl Rove, on the other hand, has to spend the rest of his life looking like that.
But making cheap sport of Karl Rove’s looks, fun though it might be, is not the point here. The point is that the most lethal arrow in his quiver was just shattered into splinters, and neither he nor anyone else is going to be able to patch it together again. Once someone manages to take you down, however briefly, you lose the “unbeatable” label, and you can never win it back.
While that does not, unfortunately, mean that we’ve likely seen the last of him — it’s hard to lastingly humble a man who seems to have had his sense of shame surgically removed years ago, if indeed he ever possessed one — it does mean that he’s going to have to actually work to defeat his opponents, instead of counting on them to defeat themselves as they scramble out of his fearsome shadow.