In 1974, an aging Muhammad Ali was facing the much stronger George Foreman in a bout that came to be known as “The Rumble in the Jungle.” Entering the ring Foreman, while not particularly popular was, by all accounts, the big odds on favorite not only to defeat Ali but to knock him out early and humiliatingly.
Recognizing that he would be unable to defeat Foreman by going toe-to-toe with this behemoth, Ali employed a strategy that came to be known as the “rope-a-dope.”
The “rope-a-dope” has the inferior boxer leaning himself up against the ropes in the ring, allowing himself to be pummeled by his opponent, the intention being, that by covering up and weathering the attacks, the superior fighter will eventually punch himself out, giving the less powerful fighter the chance to then land a knock-out blow.
If this strategy in the ring is called the “rope-a-dope,” in the Hillary Clinton/Barack Obama bout, Obama — the underdog to the behemoth of the Democratic Party, Hillary Clinton — could be said to be employing the “Hope-a-dope.”
For years, Hillary Clinton was the one to beat, the “inevitable” nominee of the Democratic Party. Obama knew he simply could not win the nomination if he attempted to go toe-to-toe with her, exchanging policy ideas, points and counterpoints.
His chances, like Muhammad Ali’s, first rested on getting in some early jabs (winning the Iowa caucus), weathering the onslaught of critics, then, wearing Hillary down (winning South Carolina primary, Super Tuesday, the Potomac primaries). Finally, he’d come in in the late rounds, with a devastating blow (winning Texas), where the weary and vulnerable Clinton wouldn’t be able to “answer the bell”.
Obama’s strategy would be to hide behind meaningless bromides like “hope” knowing that, by doing so, he risked nothing that might expose him to be intellectually and politically inferior to Clinton, opening himself for an early knock-out blow.
Just as Foreman began to desperately flail for that one big haymaker, so too, did Hillary Clinton: Having BET owner Robert L. Johnson skillfully remind voters of Obama’s past cocaine use; Questioning Obama’s relationship with indicted gangster Tony Rezko; Charges of plagiarism, concerning Obama’s “words mean something” remarks; Claims that Obama wasn’t going to participate in more debates, etc.
These were the heavy punches thrown by a prizefighter, but they were easily absorbed, simply continuing to employ the “hope-a-dope” strategy of vacuous cliches that left Senator Clinton no target to hit.
Ultimately, Foreman fell to the lesser boxer on that day in Zaire more than three decades ago just as Hillary is falling to Obama as we get ready for the last “rounds” of the battle in Texas, Ohio and Pennsylvania..
It remains to be seen if Obama can ride his “hope-a-dope” strategy to the nomination, or even to the presidency. But for now, he sure is floatin’ like a butterfly and stinging like a bee
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