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Sunday, September 19, 2004

In some of his title fights, Muhummad Ali intentionally let his opponent beat on him for the first (ten?) rounds or so of the bout. After the opponent tired himself out hitting Ali where it didn't hurt, Ali finally began to fight back. He won. He told an interviewer after his first use of the strategy that this had been his plan going into the fight.

His fans (me included) hated watching their champion being pummeled without response. It was also risky. The key to the strategy lies in the timing. Wait too long and, exhausted oppponent or not, you will be too far behind in points to come back, necessitating a far more difficult knock out for victory. Not long enough, and your opponent will not be tired. Ali called it "rope-a-dope" and, though I have not watched much boxing since the retirement of Sugar Ray Leonard, as I recall, no one else has ever been able to successfully duplicate it.

In the boxing ring.

Over the past few years, however, spectators have been treated to an absolutely spectacular exhibition of rope-a-dope by George Bush. I am continually amazed at how he waits passively, absorbing blow after blow as his opponents voluntarily crawl farther and farther out on a limb. And then, at precisely the right time to inflict the maximum damage on the opponent, with one calculated speech, Bush saws the branch off behind them.

This observation is not original to me. Bush has done it many times. The issue of Israeli/PLO negotiations, and the war in Iraq are two of the most noticeable examples. Whether the strategy is planned and executed by Bush or Karl Rove or someone else working for Bush is irrelevant. It is planned. It has happened far too many times not to be.

And it seems to have happened yet again with Rathergate (or DanRon, as one wag is calling it). This snippet from a story by Howard Kurtz in the Washington Post says it all:

[CBS reporter] Roberts called "60 Minutes" producer Mary Mapes with word that [White House Communications Director] Bartlett was not challenging the authenticity of the documents. Mapes told her bosses, who were so relieved that they cut from Rather's story an interview with a handwriting expert who had examined the memos.

At that point, said "60 Minutes" executive Josh Howard, "we completely abandoned the process of authenticating the documents. Obviously, looking back on it, that was a mistake. We stopped questioning ourselves. I suppose you could say we let our guard down."
Emphasis added. They did indeed. Was it planned this time? The only way to tell would be if Bush's response was responsible for Rather's flame-out. But this time, Bush did not even have to do any of his own sawing. The blogosphere did it for him, with obviously devasting results.

Once again, Bush opponents were deep into the details of planning their victory parade, only to wake up on the floor a few minutes later, asking, "What hit me?"
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