Compassion for Karl

by Bob Schwartz

In the movie Runaway Jury, based on the John Grisham novel, a gun company is being sued for the death of a man in an office shooting. Gene Hackman plays Fitch, a jury consultant who specializes in using dirty tricks to extort the “correct” verdict out of jury members. The chief executive of the gun company has paid Fitch big bucks to “buy” a verdict. But the trial doesn’t seem to be going well:

Mr. Fitch, I looked into the faces of those jurors. I didn’t see any friends sitting there. Now where the hell are we with securing my verdict?

It’s a cat-and-mouse game. We’re about to change all that…

You just be a little more cat, a little less mouse.

That’s Karl Rove above, honored by fellow conservative and conceptual artist Stephen Colbert with the sculpture “Ham Rove.”

Like Fitch, Rove promised some very rich men a verdict. And like Fitch, he ultimately didn’t deliver. A little too much mouse.

Unlike the scripted moment above, we don’t know what the conversations have been like in the aftermath of the election. We would like to know, and are sure that is much, much more dramatic than the Grisham book or film.

Rove’s anticipation of that moment is probably what explains his now-legendary appearance on Fox News last night, immediately after Fox called Ohio and the election for Barack Obama. Rove simply refused to believe it, babbling and furiously calculating in a scene worthy of a tragic absurdist mathematical drama. He was undoubtedly imagining the conversations he would soon have to have with some very powerful and disappointed people, and he genuinely appeared on the verge of a breakdown. Having questioned the capability and integrity of the very news channel that has served him, the decision desk at Fox was brought in to assure him that they were right to call the race.

This led—and this is completely earnest—to feeling a little sorry for Karl Rove. Strategists lose, whether in business, war or politics, and there is always a price to pay. Some learn from it, some don’t. There is no indication of what, if anything, Karl Rove has learned. But when the stakes are very high, that loss can leave “the smartest people in the room” as the loneliest people in the world. And that’s sad.

Of course, Rove’s response to such sentiment might be that he doesn’t need anyone’s pity and that there’s no crying in politics. Okay then, but for a moment, it did look like that was exactly what was about to happen on Fox last night. Or maybe not.

This closes with good news. Maybe juries can be bought, maybe they have been. After Citizens United, we have been right to worry that maybe elections were now going to be regularly bought. We still have to fix that, but in the meantime, the result of this particular election is that floating on oceans of money, democracy is alive and well.