When Muhammad Ali retired, he explained his decision by stating that "there are more pleasant things to do than beat up people." But for Ali, there weren't; he retired and unretired many times because hitting people was his great skill.
Today, Karl Rove retired, under the auspices of wanting to spend more time with his family.
I recall Michael Jordan retiring from the NBA with the same explanation. A few months later, he was so desperate to get out of the house that he started playing professional baseball. He needed a new challenge.
Frank Sinatra retired in 1971 to spend more time with his family. Two years later, he was recording music for his next album, Ol' Blue Eyes is Back.
Karl Rove is a political strategist who oversaw an incredible victory, and then took the lemons from that victory and turned them into, well, shitade.
Ali went out on top. MJ went out on top. Sinatra went out on top. They all were so good when they left their profession, so used to the applause, they needed to make a comeback.
Karl Rove fancies himself a great one, too. As he put it so inaptly today, "I've seen a man of far-sighted courage put America on a war footing and protect us against a brutal enemy in a dangerous conflict that will shape this new century." By stating how great the president is, his closest advisor gives testimony to his own self-misperception of his own greatness.
Rove goes out at the bottom. He goes out as a punchline. He was the champ, the chairman of the board, a few years ago. Like Jordan, Ali, and Sinatra, he should have retired on top.
But the longer he stayed around, the more it became clear that his ideas were good for winning an election, but ruinous for the Republican Party and the nation in the long term.
And yet, like the aforementioned stars, he will return. Retirement will bore him. He will want to be seen as the architect once again.
He will want to hear the accolades, soak in the applause, and feel the pats on the back.
But they'll never come again.
Karl Rove walks away a tragic figure, more Mike Tyson than Ali, more Dennis Rodman than Jordan, more Michael Jackson than Sinatra.
If he steps out in the real world, he will only hear derision, jeering, and snickers behind his back.
Nothing he does will ever change that.
And he shouldn't try. He should just go away.