Republican Rope a Dope

Barack Obama learned a political trick from Muhammad Ali called Rope a Dope. For you youngsters, this refers to the epic Rumble in the Jungle Heavyweight fight against George Foreman in 1974. Here is the Wikipedia explanation.

The rope-a-dope is performed by a boxer assuming a protected stance, in Ali’s classic pose, lying against the ropes, and allowing his opponent to hit him, toward the end that the opponent will tire and make mistakes which the boxer can exploit in a counter-attack. By leaning against the ropes, much of the punch’s force is absorbed by the ropes’ elasticity rather than the boxer’s body.

In competitive situations other than boxing, rope-a-dope is used to describe strategies in which one party purposely puts itself in what appears to be a losing position, attempting thereby to become the eventual victor.

Last summer during the debt ceiling hostage crisis, Obama appeared to be the loser, but yesterday Republicans woke up to the reality that they lost Big Time–that we were going to get $1.2 trillion in deficit reductions, with 50% of the cuts coming from the military and none of the cuts from Social Security and Medicare. The Congressional water carriers for the Military Industrial Complex are in a panic.

Republican lawmakers moved quickly Monday to protect the Pentagon from automatic budget cuts that will be triggered by the supercommittee’s failure, with the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee saying he’ll soon introduce legislation to repeal them.

President Obama immediately threatened to veto any attempt to undo the spending cuts. That means that Republicans would have to get a 2/3 rds majority to undo the first meaningful cutback in the Military budget in 60 years. In addition, if Obama also threatens to veto any attempt to restore the Bush Tax cuts in 2012 (they expire automatically on January 1, 2013), progressives will have totally changed the inequality dynamic, without having to pass a single piece of legislation.

So why aren’t progressives celebrating this morning? Got me. As long time readers know, it has been my contention that the key to revival of our democracy and our economy lies in radically reordering where we spend our collective resources. That more than 60% of our discretionary budget flows to the Military Industrial Complex is just the most egregious example of Crony Capitalism. If you had suggested to me last spring that a Republican House would pass a bill cutting $600 billion from the Pentagon budget over ten years, I would have called you crazy. But that is just what happened.

So there is only one election that matters a year from now. And that is that President Obama will be reelected and able to keep his veto threat. There is no possible 2012 electoral realignment of the Senate and House that would give the Republicans a 2/3 rds majority.

This is an amazing victory and all we have to do to hold on to it is reelect the President.

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9 Responses to Republican Rope a Dope

  1. JTMcPhee says:

    Just curious, JT — do you have insider indications that what’s transpired with the Trilateral Supercongress was actually a strategy, as opposed to “just whatever happened” or Pseudo-Democracy Theatre? This particular rope-a-dope unfortunately, actually, and inside-the-ring (as opposed to Inside The Beltway) involves a lot of people who are Not Obama having the George Foreman of Greedheadism beating the crap out of their weary forearms and shoulders and getting in a bunch of flat-on-the-jaw Right AND Left hooks (and a bunch of sucker punches below the belt, with a blind ref officiating) as the punchee, bleeding from a thousand cuts, eyes full of blood and swelled shut, can’t even keep a guard up.

    A lot of us Punchees trained hard all our lives and thought maybe we were ready to be at least a contenduh in the fiscal fisticuffs, but what a surprise! Knockout drops in our water bottle, ground glass on the Greedhead’s gloves, our trainer nailed our shoes to the floor, and we were pants and wedgied before we even left our corner…

    Not to extend the metaphor beyond all reasonable bounds, though there are lots of other parts that could be attached to the caricature too.. I would like to believe in the Eleven-Dimensional Chess Master too, but it’s too disheartening to even list the many, shall one say, “disappointing” moves.

  2. Alex Bowles says:

    There’s an alternate explanation, which has to do with not attributing to malice (or conspiracy) what you can attribute to incompetence.

    When the debt-ceiling thing happened, most observers didn’t take it seriously. Yes, it seemed potentially bad, but that was just posturing. There was “no way” the GOP would actually refuse to blink, because that would be suicidally dumb. Then it dawned on people that actually – maybe – they truly were nuts, and omfg they might not blink! Or perhaps they might! Who knows!

    In once sense, this made Obama look very weak, just because the “will they or won’t they?” question could only be answered by the Republicans, meaning they held all the cards. That’s how appearing to be possibly-dangerously-reckless works. It’s a old and very effective – if rather undignified – technique. It depends on your opponent thinking that your lunacy is a ploy, and that you can still be negotiated with (an option that is generally much cheaper than war).

    Manipulating this doubt – and a visibly sane opponent’s obvious reluctance to go to the expense of war – is what the seemingly crazy do to maintain control of the situation. By resolving the crisis with a very last-minute agreement to negotiate in a situation where it would be foolish not to negotiate, the GOP signaled that yes, it still possessed a measure of reason (for now!) and that the game could continue with the people who were happy to use their own sanity as a bargaining chip continuing to dominate the proceedings.

    But at some point since then, the GOP leadership actually lost control, and with it, their leverage. Personally, I’d like to think that #OWS rattled the rank-and-file. Not directly – and especially not with its exceedingly (read: ‘deliberately’) vague aims – but indirectly the way it made the Tea Party seem like yesterday’s news to the suddenly engaged mainstream media. The loss of attention and the resulting sense of panic caused the already borderline to double down on the hardline sentiment that got them elected in the first place. A tipping point was reached. Compromise would mean mutiny, and the Republican side of the Super-committee swiftly locked up. With screeching tires and no traction, they skidded towards catastrophy.

    From the outside, none of this was immediately obvious, since the Republican side had always appeared reckless. Driving dangerously was taken to be part of the carefully controlled act. There was no way to see – immediately – that it had stopped being an act.

    Had all this transpired ever-so-slightly later, the fatal shift may not have become apparent to the Dems at exactly the right time. Still assuming that the rigidity was a charade, they would continue to play the ‘reasonable’ card – by just giving and giving and giving. Ideally for the GOP, this would involve another extension of the Bush Tax Cuts in exchange for bupkis, just like they’d scored in the past. Having skidded off the road but still intact, the GOP could casually steer themselves back onto the highway when the crazies had been placated, the leadership once again firmly in control of everything they wanted to be in control of.

    But that’s not what happened. Instead, the actual loss of control happened early enough to telegraph something really wrong. Initially, the inadvertent signals reaching the Dems probably operated at the subconscious level. When they became more noticeable, it remained hard to tell if they were actually reliable, let alone actionable. However, a point was reached – sometime last week I suspect – when a critical mass of Dems realized “holy smoke, they are actually crazy. They weren’t in August, but they are now, and leadership has lost control of the lunatic fringe. We can see that clearly while they can’t see clearly at all, and if we refuse to budge on tax cuts they’ll drive themselves over the cliff. Win-win! (For us and us that us.)”

    Had this been a miscalculation, Republicans on the Super Committee could have strategically blinked, offering minimal concessions, allowing the Dems to win the news cycle while keeping their main interests largely protected. But the judgement was correct. The crazies had – at the exact wrong moment – gained control of the wheel. In a moment of Norquistian triumph, they steered the entire party into thin air.

    So TKO by Obama? I don’t know. This victory seems more like the epitome of Sun Tzu, where the ideal battle is won without having to fight. In either case, it comes down to absolutely perfect timing – the right opportunity and the right response in a promised Presidential veto, all coming together at the exact right moment. Ka-POW.

    Meanwhile, Romney tries to score points by lamenting that “Obama wasn’t more involved.” Oh Mitt, if only that were true.

  3. len says:


    It’s Iron Bowl weekend and that’s a two-fer.

    I’m not having a problem voting for him again. We have an Iron Bowl every year. From where I sit, he didn’t screw up the economy, the troops are coming home, Osama is kaput, dictators have been falling, and so far he has abandoned the grand tradition of a white house scandal in the first four. Seems to be on the right track. The Republicans have abandoned all pretense to giving a rats behind about us so there is nothing to lament about watching them sail into the east with gollum and grover on board.

    There is a Republican debate on CNN and a Dolly Parton movie on CMT. The wig wins.

  4. JTMcPhee says:

    Wig over Whig? 2/3 of a pun?

    There’s lots of complex theorizing and posticulating about what’s going on. Call me Tinfoil Timmy, but it just seems to me that if you follow that old advice, “follow the money,” it’s pretty clear that to my jaundiced eye at least, and I bet I am not the only cynoskeptic, there really is only one player in the game, so it’s not really a game that can be game-theoried except by people who want to make 2 Sides to a single sheet of paper that is bent with a half twist into that ole Moebius planform, jointed nicely by a mucilage that is the mixture of War Wealth and Tax Freedom and all the seasonings of every kind of graft and corruption that humans, inventive creatures all, can some up with.

    I got to ask, which nominal “Democrats,” including The Only President We Got, are showing any kind of concern about the rest of us? Maybe Pelosi, in pursuit of that thing called, in our Democracy, “re-election?” Maybe I am just a blind older white guy (There you go, worgon, still another soft-pitch straight line for ya) but I do not see any part of the Three Branches doing damn anything in the way of homeostasis or even a slowing down of the rush to oblivion. Smog rules? Criminal prosecutions that are so well warranted? Bomb-bomb-Iran? DHS doing Dung Hole Skulduggery? In law school, in Contracts, you learn that “there is no right without an effective remedy.” Which reads intelligently either way you squint at it. But do the despairing unemployable have a “remedy?” Do the people who will effectively not be allowed even to do that sacred and fatuous “vote” thing in coming elections in FL because they moved to a different county in pursuit of happiness or at least honest work? Are three examples enough or are more required to be statistically significant?

    And now we are all captives in the Cave, watching Act VII of a III Act Play, pondering the significance and meaning and motivations of the shadows of the people closer to the mouth, where the air is purer and the bats not so ratty and inedible, who in turn mesmerically follow the half-Koched antics of the shadows of the folks still near to the Source.

    Would love for Obama to be some kind of true mythic hero. Definitely not going to hold my breath on that one — far as I can see, there’s zero evidence that the President and all his Men (and Women) have any interest in Humpty-Dumpty, except as a bit of protein in a Faberge egg cup, whose scrambled brains they can eat with a perfect little silver egg spoon, toying with a side of Beluga on perfect toast points with the crusts carefully amputated, sucking from a gold-rimmed flute a snootful of Shipwrecked 1907 Heidsieck.

  5. len says:

    Given a choice of boobs or bigger boobs, it isn’t a hard choice to make.

    Obama doesn’t inspire me. Never has. He simply seems to be a reasonably competent president in a time when the best person for the job is at State doing that job better when that is the job that needs better doing. Any honest competent analyst knew whoever followed the Bush debacle had to untie the spaghetti in the bowl without disturbing the meatballs after forty years of the voters pouring on the sauce. The Democrats aren’t going to run anyone else and unless Huntsmann gets traction, who the heck can the Republicans offer? Really? For my money, the best thing we can be doing is replacing as many members of Congress as we can and putting guys like Mikey BloomBarstard on the slow boat back to Bermuda. Fire them all.

  6. Infidel753 says:

    In addition, if Obama also threatens to veto any attempt to restore the Bush Tax cuts in 2012 (they expire automatically on January 1, 2013), progressives will have totally changed the inequality dynamic, without having to pass a single piece of legislation.

    Yes! This is what we elect Democrats for. The Republicans chose total obstructionism, but Obama is a hell of a lot smarter than they are, and they — and the perennial defeatists on our side — had better remember that.

    So why aren’t progressives celebrating this morning? Got me.

    Some don’t grasp the significance of it yet. Others, in a very human way, can’t or don’t want to admit they were wrong. Some people are just too wedded to the “Obama caves” / “Obama is a closet Republican” line to ever give it up.

    So there is only one election that matters a year from now. And that is that President Obama will be reelected and able to keep his veto threat.

    Well, it would be nice to take the House back too. Obama has outsmarted them this time, but the House teabaggers have still done a lot of damage in many areas.

  7. Benj DeMott says:

    Mr. T. – Realized I’d left my comment in a vacuum so on mo’ time…Liked your latest line on Obama AND your read on OWS as well…Might try our Roundtable on OWS at…Bet you’d dig it. And if you’ve got a review copy – or is it just an E-book? – of Outlaw Blues – might send it on to this poor editor – Benj DeMott – 160 Claremont Ave. #3e NYC 10027! Ever read Al Aronowitz’s tale about you holding up Dylan at the Isle of Wight?…You got a GREAT line out of Mr. D. so you shd be proud of that…Respect, b.

  8. Alex Bowles says:

    More fodder for the “well played Mr. President” file.

    Happy Thanksgiving all.

  9. Bridget McCurry says:

    Why has this story not been told by anyone else? Lawrence O also mentioned it, but no-one else, to my knowledge has. I have posted it ALL over Facebook, and it has been cheered. Please contact me if there was something you learned later that made the story not as true? I have Paul Krugman in the dog house for not cheering/writing about it.

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