"It's not FAIR!"
Ah, the scorpion sting of injustice. Alas, no parent can protect his child for very long. The first pangs can be felt as early as infancy. If you doubt this, you've never seen a woman try to breastfeed twins at Target. Stumbling on this brutal tableau a few months ago, I was never so grateful to have been spared the blessing of multiple births. Or functioning nipples.
Take it from my eyewitness account, sucklings: fair play goes flying out the window when your brother's the alpha twin and his boob just ran dry. As I watched this bully boy forcibly unlatch his bawling sister from her rightful tit, I wanted nothing more than to shout over to the wounded child: "Scream out, Louise! I know things seem hopeless now, but justice will prevail. There's a little thing called karma, and that little areola thief is gonna get his comeuppance in the end, I guarantee you, child. Everybody does."
Until I remembered Karl Rove, the Teflon exception to this rule.
In fact, the evil baby-boy Target twin, with his bloated, bulbous, beet-red face and ruthless booby-bandit ways, reminded me a lot of Rove. Which, given what was going on in the Republican campaign at the time, made me want to warn his twin sister to watch out for her reproductive rights.
But the last thing that milk-deprived child needed was something else to worry about, so I held my tongue. Instead, I flashed back to my own daughter's first run-in with the cold, cruel world.
Elizabeth had spent most of her first year in the solitary queendom of her nursery, until we were convinced to enroll her in something called a toddler class. For most of the kids who showed up, it was the first experience they'd had with "socializing outside the home." There's nothing quite like watching seven wide-eyed, Dreft-scented diaper-jockeys realize in the same awful moment they're not the center of the universe.
Things got ugly fast. A dark-haired, beefy kid sidled up to my sweet young daughter, looked her dead in the eye and, with the ruthless efficiency of a Mafia hit man, yanked the ring of plastic keys she was gnawing right out of her mouth, pushed her to the floor and cracked a smile that could have frozen mercury.
I had to restrain myself from stabbing his fat little Rovian hand to the teeter-totter. But it wasn't that kind of class. We'd been instructed not to intervene, only to observe. "Let them work this out," whispered the teacher. "Respect their process." My daughter is barely one, I thought. She doesn't have a process.
Turns out she did. Elizabeth's tears quickly dried to rage as her eyes swiveled from ineffective, observing me and narrowed like lasers on the Corleone princeling who'd snatched her plastic keys. And that was the day my daughter learned the screaming tackle.
My guess is that Karl Rove swiped lots of keys in his toddler class, early training for what seems to be his life's ambition: swiping the keys to the country. It's not for nothing George W. Bush, the most famous beneficiary of Rove's dark arts, called him the Architect, a word I suspect Karl had to teach him phonetically.
For decades Karl Rove has made a career of winning elections by employing a rulebook devoid of rules. Or petty distractions like scruples or truth. It's stunning how low a man can sink without a moral compass; you'd think a dungeon could only have so many basements. But this year the Architect excavated even further, bottoming even himself. In exchange for huge infusions of cash, he guaranteed his lip-smacking billionaire backers not only the Presidency, but both houses of Congress and a Supreme Court so right-wing the statue of Justice would have to be re-chiseled as a granite Ann Coulter.
Overloaded with so many Republicans, naturally the District of Columbia would begin to sink, deeper, deeper and deeper below ground until it settled with a thunk in Karl's favorite neighborhood: Hell-adjacent.
Rove's hubris was made possible, of course, by the Supreme Court's stunning Citizens United decision, a ruling so flagrantly partisan he could have written it himself. In it, the court reversed a hundred-year rule forbidding political contributions by corporations, flooding an unprecedented tsunami of cash into Republican coffers.
The political implications of Citizens United were so dire I started having nightmares. In them a hundred-foot-tall Shirley Temple devil doll lumbered through the streets of America, crushing voters beneath her size-70 tap shoes, crowing "I'm not a corporation! I'm just a really big girl who poos cash!"
Thanks to Shirley United, it was easy for Karl to convince so many of America's corporate billionaires to back him like the Triple Crown champion he imagined himself to be. All he needed was their money to deliver the one thing they'd never been able to buy: a national election. Which is how they came to entrust him with over $300 million on a bet he assured them he couldn't lose.
I'm typically not one to bask in the misfortune of others. Still, I must admit that on election night 2012, for a few brief moments, I did allow myself to chew like taffy on the the sweet schadenfreude of Karl Rove puffing up like a blowfish on Fox News, only to sputter and flail, protesting that it couldn't possibly be true, then sort of dying before America's eyes as it was confirmed that Barack Obama had indeed won reelection. That Republicans had not only lost seats in both the House and Senate, but the Senate had gained its first lesbian. And the Supreme Court... well, Ruth Bader Ginsberg could finally retire with no fear of being replaced by Donald Trump.
Karl's immortal crap-your-pants moment.
Karl Rove had been tackled from behind. By voters. African-American voters, Latino voters, young voters, gay voters. Men and women happy to stand in line for nine hours to prove no one could suppress their vote. Auto workers, believers in climate change and affordable care, accused "sluts" and seniors who want their Medicare to stay exactly as it is. Americans who couldn't be bought by Karl's $300 million lie. It was kind of fun towering over him and grabbing our keys back.
Full disclosure: There's a personal reason I find it difficult to feel bad for Karl's public humiliation and downgrading to political junk bond status.
It all started back in 2004. That was the year Karl realized that in order to get George W. Bush reelected he really had his work cut out for him. After four years, even Republicans were beginning to smell the stink on W. What to do? Realizing the election would be very close, he knew he needed a surefire wedge issue. A primal fear he could exploit to scare the bejesus out of voters. And that's when Lucifer's handmaiden came up with his masterstroke. Us.
Using families like mine as bait, Rove saw to it that 11 states put constitutional amendments on their ballots banning gay marriage. Across America, Karl made sure airwaves and billboards were blanketed with the kinds of images that made our families feel a little... unsafe.
Here's a fun one to explain to your kids. Thanks, Karl!
Now, as any of our extended families, or neighbors, or those folks whose kids go to school with ours will tell you, we're not very scary on our own. We tend to be tax-paying, law-abiding citizens who don't dress nearly as well as we're given credit for. Karl had a plan to fix that. Using his time-tested toolkit of fabrication and deceit, he made sure television ads began to run in those 11 states. Ads that shape-shifted boring families like mine into a nightmare vision of ghouls in minivans, flesh-eaters fresh from the zombie apocalypse, pulling into your town to destroy your marriage and ruin your children.
Proposed state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage increased the turnout of socially conservative voters in many of the 11 states where the measures appeared on the ballot on Tuesday, political analysts say, providing crucial assistance to Republican candidates including President Bush in Ohio.
The amendments, which define marriage as between only a man and a woman, passed overwhelmingly in all 11 states.... [T]he ballot measures also appear to have acted like magnets for thousands of socially conservative voters in rural and suburban communities who might not otherwise have voted, even in this heated campaign.
-- The New York Times, November 3, 2004
Even I have to admit that, from a purely political standpoint, it was a brilliant move on Karl's part. He got exactly what he wanted -- the reelection of one of the worst presidents in American history, tens of thousands of dead and wounded in a war with the wrong country, a seal of approval on torture and an unregulated economy that blew up and blew up until it went "pop!" like a big balloon. All for the low, low price of throwing families like mine under the campaign bus.
Never ones to abandon a successful gambit no matter how cynical, four years later Republican strategists made sure to pull Rove's chestnut of a wedge issue out of mothballs just in time for the 2008 election. As a result, only five months after our children joyfully watched their parents exchange legal marriage vows in front of a priest and all their friends and family, the Yes on Prop 8 campaign, using a Rove-tested blueprint of lies and distortions, somehow scared the voters of the most liberal state in the nation into believing that our family is evil.
One of the hardest jobs I've ever had was breaking the news to my second-grade daughter the day after the election, in the car on the way to school. Until then, as it is for most kids, our daughter's definition of family could be distilled into one simple word: us. That day, she learned how easily a nasty election campaign could convince voters we were something to be feared: "them."
"It's not fair!" Elizabeth cried. "They can't take away your marriage."
Though Kelly and I assured her we were still a family and that such a thing could never happen, we weren't sure about that at all. In briefs filed with the California Supreme Court defending Prop 8, Maggie Gallagher and her National Organization for Marriage made it perfectly clear that they wanted those marriages stripped from the books immediately. Forcibly annulled. "To protect the children."
Four months after the election Elizabeth was unable to shake her devastation over Prop 8. She had scary memories of the airplane flying over her school, filling the blue sky with smoky writing urging voters to annul her dad's marriage. Her best friend had recently moved away and, having trouble making new ones, she somehow convinced herself it was because of Prop 8. I urged her to see if she could get her feelings out on paper. Having never written anything longer than a poem, she fired up the computer. Here's what came out of the printer:
Since prop 8 has started it was giving me bad dreams about loosing our house like peeple Putting torches with fire and putting the fire on our house. Also, nobody wanting to be my friend and it has realy effected the parents of the same sex and the kids of Gay and Lessbian parents. So just to let you know for people out there who voted YES on prop 8 and don't know what you're doing to my family well here is your story of what you did. When I saw the vote YES on prop 8 signs it sounded like you don't even care about other people. And I half to tell you people about what your doing in the sky. I can't belive you would wright in air plane smoke right over my school where there are 12 same sex family's. And right where kids can see it. How can you do such a mean thing. I mean like your so rude to us. And speeking of rude I think for doing such a bad thing I think you shoudn't be married. Ya that's what feels like to be yeld that sentince right in your face. So please take back what you said and and help keep California fair. And I just know you will meet a person that is same sex one day. Now back to the story. I thought prop 8 would not pass. But it did. Because you mean people voted YES and held up signs right in our fases. And I Know that the Supream Cort is trying to fix it. Ya nthat's right trying to fix it.I have also been having visions of being seporated [from my dads]. And maybe just maybe you are having visions of wanting that to happen. Now my name is Elizabeth and I am the person writing this and I am 8 years old and am a iceskater. So,same sex is just like prop8 except only a women and women or man and man.So just a tiny bit different.And it's know big deal and if you do it everything will be nice and there will be know more yelling I mean think of how peaceful it would be. And know more fighting. Everything will be just fine.
I'm still getting over what a difference one election cycle can make. Now it's our son who's in second grade. This year, on our morning-after-the-election drive to school went a little differently. Not only was I able to tell both my kids that the dude who supports our family got reelected, I was also able to let them know that the tide maybe seems to be turning in America. For the first time ever, in every state where marriage equality was on the ballot, voters chose us.
Pulling up to a stoplight, we all began to cheer. Another family pulled up next to us and couldn't figure out what was going on. It was almost as if we were a minivan full of zombies turning human again.
I lied. I didn't just enjoy that footage of Karl Rove twisting in the wind for a few minutes on election night. I've permanently bookmarked it on YouTube. Now I can watch it whenever I need a lift. Of even if I'm just feeling hungry, or tired, or sad.
Best of all, I've been able to employ it as a teaching tool, using Karl as a visual aid in explaining to my children the concept of karma.
I confess the guy used to scare me. Not so much anymore. Rove seems as harmless to me now as a cartoon Disney villain -- Karma Karl, as the kids have taken to calling him, finally getting his just desserts.
Now, whenever I find myself back on YouTube, replaying The Komeuppance of Karma Karl, I like to freeze-frame the footage at my favorite part -- the moment that bulbous, beet-red face realizes it's all gone horribly, horribly wrong. The split-second you can see in Karma Karl's beady eyes exactly what he does -- his own zombie apocalypse.
I don't even want to think what happens when the Walking Republican Dead -- whose millions you just blew -- corner you behind a woodshed, ready to exact their revenge.
I lied again. I do.
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This post is the eleventh in a series of Spilled Milk columns by William Lucas Walker chronicling his misadventures in Daddyland.
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