Poof! Goes Mr. Presto.

Just recently (like, three seconds ago) I’ve begun calling Karl Rove “Mr. Presto.” Why? Well, I’ve always enjoyed the word “presto.” Plus, when you apply “mister” to anything, it’s immediately more legitimate. Ask Mr. Clean and Mr. Salty.

But mostly it’s because Karl Rove had a kind of magician’s quality that routinely left me flabbergasted. From thin air, Mr. Presto could conjure facts and statistics that previously did not exist. Always, he and the Bush Administration had supporters among the “core Republicans” who realized a “surrender strategy” would only embolden the terrorists who openly “hate our freedom.”

We believed him because he looks real smart. He spells his name with a “K,” and that’s smart. His middle name is “Christian” so we know he loves Christ, and we know that’s smart. Plus, the press is always telling us that Mr. Presto is smart. Even when he’s not being smart, like leaking identities of CIA operatives, everybody just assumes it’s a brief lapse into non-smartness from a man who is infamously smart.

Mr. Presto has an uncanny ability to seem smart even when he’s dumb.

However, I had just begun to believe, despite the liberal press’ breathless assertions, that Mr. Presto wasn’t very smart after all. Sure, he managed to get George Bush, the world’s most below-average millionaire, elected to the highest office in the land. But despite all the smarts, Bush still rubber-stamped a litany of un-smart policies. At one point, you have to wonder if George, surrounded by his nodding cronies, ever paused and wondered out loud, “Where’s all the smarts?”

Those alleged smarts were on full display during the 2006 congressional elections. With supreme confidence, Mr. Presto insisted that the American people were behind the Republican Party. He coolly referenced a silent and moral majority who fully understood George’s Fight for Freedom. He scoffed at any notion that voters were fed up with violations of civil liberties and escalating failure in Iraq. The Republicans weren’t going to lose seats. They were going to win seats!

It was while enjoying my favorite source of liberal news, NPR, when I was treated to Mr. Presto to full effect. The elections were a week away, and already the liberal press was speculating how the Democrats were going to end the war in Iraq. Among them, NPR correspondent Skip Inskeep had somehow managed to corner Mr. Presto for an interview. I listened as Inskeep jovially prodded Mr. Presto into sharing some smarts. Finally, Inskeep asked Mr. Presto to share his thoughts about a future where the House was under Democratic control.

“That’s not going to happen,” said Mr. Presto cheerfully.

“But all the polls suggest otherwise!” countered Inskeep.

“That’s what your polls say,” explained Mr. Presto, working his magic. “Our polls have us in a dead-heat in some districts, and ahead in others.”

After a brief pause, Inskeep said, “What polls do you have?”

“Listen, you’ve got your polls, and we have our polls,” said Mr. Presto mysteriously.

“But the Gallop poll and the –”

“Those are your polls.”

Inskeep, you could tell, was quietly debating on whether or not to challenge Mr. Presto’s highly credentialed smartness. Mr. Presto, you could also tell, wanted Inskeep to challenge his highly credentialed smartness. Maybe Mr. Presto, unseen to the listening public, was holding in his hand a conspicuous manila envelope containing the results of his secret poll. Maybe Inskeep suddenly found himself surrounded by a mouth-breathing Scooter Libby and Antonio Gonzales. Regardless, Inskeep chose to back-off.

“Smart’in up, or you’re Rummified.”

Of course, the Republican Party endured a public beat down during the election, and Mr. Presto vanished from the podium. Perhaps it was then, after weeks of listening to Mr. Presto telling him that everything was going to be okay, that George began to realize that maybe, just maybe, George really was the smartest guy in the room.

And I’d wager even George found that horrifying.

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