WASHINGTON — When I was a political reporter at The Times, I had an editor who told me never to give anyone a Homeric epithet.
Such epithets denote a permanent trait, the editor explained, and people in the caldron of politics were mutable. So if I called that Republican strategist “savvy” this week, the man might do something dumb the following week. (And that is exactly what happened.)
But I might have to make an exception for William Barr. Homer had a couple of epithets that would suit our attorney general: “crooked-counseling” and “devious-devising” come to mind.
In an interview in Alaska for “CBS This Morning,” Jan Crawford asked Barr — who was doing his best Cheneyesque dour-jowly-outdoorsman under the Big Sky routine — if he was worried about his reputation.
Barr came into the job, Crawford said, with a good reputation on the right and the left and now he stands “accused of protecting the president, enabling the president, lying to Congress.”
In Homer’s epic poems, reputation is more exalted than life itself. But in Donald Trump’s epic reign as the hotheaded, ammonia-haired, serpent-tongued destroyer of worlds, political survival is paramount, no matter the venality involved or the cost to your reputation.
Barr responded to Crawford with fatalism, saying “everyone dies” and he doesn’t believe in “the Homeric idea” that immortality comes by “having odes sung about you over the centuries, you know?”
It’s a good thing, too, because no one will be singing odes about this general being lionhearted in the rosy-fingered dawn.
The twisty saga of Robert Mueller and Bill Barr is a case of an imperfect hero and a perfect villain.