Out here on the left coast, folks are pretty discouraged. It seems like every day brings news of either a Congressional Democrat deciding not to run for re-election or President Obama acting like a Republican. It’s time for Dems to go on offense, time for them to use Muhammad Ali’s “rope-a-dope” tactic.
On Oct. 30, 1974, Ali defeated the heavily favored George Foreman in a famous boxing match. Ali used his “rope-a-dope” tactic to weaken Foreman, cause him to lower his guard, and knock him out. In “rope-a-dope,” a boxer assumes a protected stance—Ali leaned against the ring ropes—and allows his opponent to hit him, in the hope that the opponent will become tired in the process and make a fatal mistake. In the political version, one Party feigns weakness, hoping the opposition will overplay its hand.
Hmmm. It looks like Democrats are in the perfect position to use “rope-a-dope.”
In his State of the Union address President Obama outlined four critical policies that might be used for “rope-a-dope” traps. Each could take the same form: Obama would invite both parties to share their ideas for solving the problem; “bipartisan” legislation would be crafted; Republicans would be expected to support the final version; those who didn’t would be exposed as hypocrites and excoriated for acting against the national interest.
The first “rope-a-dope” setup is the new jobs bill. In January, the president proposed legislation with billions for community banks, a small business tax credit, incentives for job development, additional investment in infrastructure, and the elimination of “tax breaks for companies that ship our jobs overseas.”
In the next few weeks a bipartisan jobs bill will come up for a vote. If Senate Republicans use the filibuster to block the bill, they should be reviled as anti-job.
The second “rope-a-dope” opportunity is financial reform. Noting America must “guard against the same recklessness that nearly brought down our entire economy,” Obama demanded that the Senate act on legislation passed by the House and levy a tax on the big banks benefiting from the TARP bailout.
The president’s proposals will soon come up for a vote in the Senate. If Republicans filibuster them, they will be seen as allies of the mammoth banks who caused the 2008 financial meltdown.
The third “rope-a-dope” setup is healthcare. Last fall, the House and Senate passed two different healthcare bills. Before they are reconciled, the president will hold a Health Care Summit on Feb. 25, a nationally televised, half-day event including 37 Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
Republicans face a dilemma. Not attending the summit will be seen as abandoning bipartisanship, and failing to offer constructive suggestions will be viewed as a sign they do not recognize the gravity of the problem.
The results of the Health Care Summit will be added to the legislation during the reconciliation process. That bill should pass—it needs only a simple majority in the House and Senate. Obama will praise it as a necessary and bipartisan accomplishment, excoriating Republicans who vote against it.
The fourth “rope-a-dope” opportunity is energy. Last June, the House passed an Energy and Climate Bill that stalled in the Senate. In his State of the Union address, Obama called on the Senate to pass the clean energy and climate bill and opened the door to Republican ideas by mentioning “building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants” and “making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development.”
If the Health Care Summit is a success, there will be likely be an “Energy and Climate Summit.” Once again, Obama could incorporate Republican ideas in the pending legislation, demand that the Senate vote on it, and excoriate the GOP if they filibuster a supposedly bipartisan bill.
A Democratic “rope-a-dope” strategy would take advantage of several contradictory public sentiments. Voters want bipartisanship—even though it didn’t work in 2009—and therefore the president has to appear bipartisan. Voters like Obama, but they want him to be more of a leader. Therefore, the president has to try to bring opposing sides together. Voters aren’t happy with either party and want them to do more about the big issues: jobs, the economy, healthcare, and the budget deficit. Obama has to force Congress to confront these problems.
It’s a perfect opportunity to use the strategy perfected by Muhammad Ali. In 2009, while Democrats appeared to be leaning helplessly against the ropes, Republicans used all their best shots—“Obama is a socialist,” “health care reform means the government will come between you and your doctor,” “the stimulus didn’t work,” “global warming is a hoax.” In the process, they were weakened and dropped their guard—voters recognized that the GOP hadn’t proposed any solutions for pressing national problems.
Now is the time for Democrats to take advantage of “rope-a-dope” and land the knockout punch.
Bob Burnett is a Berkeley writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.