The “rope-a-dope” — along with the surgical jab and of course the shuffle — defined Muhammad Ali at the apex of his career. Tactically, it allowed the champ to exhaust his opponent utterly, before finishing the challenger with a flurry in the final rounds.
And psychologically the move was devastating. Most heavy-weights think of themselves as killing machines. They think that given an opening they can reduce anyone’s bones to chalk.
But Ali would take their best shots, for long intervals, round after round. Granted, he would never allow them a real shot at his face.
He was pretty, after all, and that wouldn’t do.
Still he’d let them see that their best was inferior to the least he could do, swaying on the ropes, just within reach.
Of course, when Ali opened the Atlanta Olympics in 1996, Bill Clinton had to lead him by the hand. And Ali is now a shadow of his former self. The rope-a-dope is by definition a self-consuming strategy, that is to say.
The political rope-a-dope, too, is self-consuming, but a strong, smart politician at the top of his game can use it with great style. Bill Clinton, again, let Bob Dole shout himself hoarse (”Where’s the outrage?“), and then loped to victory.
But Dole’s efforts laid the groundwork, arguably, for the GOP’s calculated outrage when the Lewinsky scandal broke during Clinton’s second term.
In the case of Brian Dubie, we have a politician who seems — at least to VDB’s jaundiced eye — to be using the rope-a-dope out of necessity, rather than choice or style. Dubie has no desire to mix it up with Matt Dunne on a regular basis, because Dunne has served multiple terms in the House and Senate and he knows the business of Vermont Government like few others. And Dunne is hungry, to say the least.
And so Dubie decided — once Dunne had begun to seem his likely challenger — to go into the crouch, and let the swinging commence.
Which leads us to today’s Rutland Herald “Dunne Pounds Dubie on Empty Office Issue.”
Now, maybe it’s VDB, but if there’s going to be an “X Pounds Y” headline in one of the state’s major dailies two weeks before election day, we’d prefer that our candidate be X, rather than Y.
Ironically, by refusing to campaign in the traditional sense — and by skipping three candidate debates thus far — Dubie has helped Dunne manage the overall debate very effectively.
The questions are now: Who works harder? Who shows up? Who will expand the office? Who will log his hours, publish his schedule, show and be judged on his results? All of those questions play to Dunne’s strengths and Dubie’s weaknesses.
Which is just fine with VDB. Why? Well, we don’t begrudge Brian the chance to fly his plane both in and out of session. Planes are fun, and meetings are boring. And God knows we love to stand on a dock in the hot sun and try to stick barbed wire into the mouths of unsuspecting fish as much as the next guy.
So fish until the cows come home. Knock yourself out.
But for God’s sake, can we all agree that the Lieutenant Governor of the State of Vermont should not light out of work and then get helplessly baked while the Legislature is in session?
Have you no shame, sir?