In a fight between an enthusiastic lie and a tepid truth the former will always win. The most noble of us will hold on to the abstract virtues of the truth. Pragmatists will understand that a win is a win regardless of how it is delivered.
The supporters and allies of the President are trying to "spin" a basic and self-evident fact: Barack Obama got his butt kicked by Mitt Romney.
In their efforts to salvage victory from the jaws of (obvious) defeat Obama's people are making claims about the long game. Apparently, Obama is thinking several steps ahead, and Mitt Romney's naked lies will come back to haunt him as the days to election day tick down. They are also making appeals to Political Science: research indicates that presidential debates have little impact on a given voter's choice come election day, so Obama's defeat in the first debate means little.
These are accurate observations. But, my favorite excuse and explanation is that President Obama is playing a game of rope-a-dope like Muhammad Ali; Obama had baited Romney and will close the deal in the debates to come.
The temptation to use boxing analogies in politics is great. However, this temptation does not make the analogy either a good fit or an apt description of reality.
I am a student of boxing and count Ali as one of my personal heroes. As such, I immediately take notice whenever his name is evoked.
Most folks understand that Muhammad Ali's masterful defeat of George Foreman in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle" fight in Zaire became the stuff of legend because Ali let Foreman pummel him for most of the fight before engineering a masterful comeback in the eighth round.
Fewer people understand that Ali's rope-a-dope was a brilliant strategy because of its utter surprise and magic. Most importantly, the beauty of the rope-a-dope lies in the fact that Ali managed to win.
If Ali had lost, there would be no memories or great tales of the rope-a-dope; it would have simply been an exercise in pugilistic violence with Ali on the receiving end of an epic beating.
If you lose (or suffer a TKO like Obama did on Wednesday night), there is no great strategy afoot--you simply got taken to the woodshed by a more able opponent.
In talking to family members, friends, and others who watched the fight in Zaire live those years ago, it was explained to me that Ali's comeback was wondrous because he stood down one of the most dangerous men on the planet, taunted him repeatedly, and then absorbed his blows before delivering a flurry of punches that left his opponent flat on the mat.
In their first debate, President Obama showed none of Ali's flurry, spirit, tactical wit, or genius. He let Romney pummel him without counter-punching. Obama never provoked, pushed, or taunted Romney into showing his hand, whereupon the President would step in and throw a devastating punch. From Romney's lies about Obama's healthcare policies, to calling him a liar to his face repeatedly, and then saying that Obama was a man child--in essence a black "boy"--the President of the United States stood impotent and flummoxed, stumbling over ubiquitous "umms" and "hmms" as he tried to find a way to retort.
Romney, with his post-truth dissembling, was open for blows to the body or head about his robber baron capitalism, the disgusting Ayn Rand argument that half the American public are bums and parasites, his outsourcing of American jobs and hiding money overseas, as well as his habit of repeatedly lying about how Obama stole money from Medicare. What was Obama's response? He looked to the referee for help, tried to clench the body, and absorbed more punches.
Those are not the choices of a ring general like Muhammad Ali. Instead, those are the actions of a man losing a fight, one in which he is over-matched.
During the debate Obama looked distracted and tired. I found myself wondering if he was under prepared. I doubt it: Obama is obsessive about such matters.
Like others, I am more worried that there is some national security crisis afoot or family trouble happening, and this explained Obama's disinterest and lack of engagement during the debate. Excuses matter little here: Mitt Romney was the boxer willing to cheat to win; Barack Obama was the fighter reciting the Queensbury Rules to no end, and for little protection, as his opponent beat him about the head and chest.
History and fate have a sense of humor. I am the second cousin of the former world heavyweight champion Floyd Patterson. Yes, the very same man who my hero viciously beat up in 1965 during their championship bout.
Floyd described one of the paradoxes of the fight game in the following way. There is joy at being knocked out because a fighter could save his pride, the beating would finally stop, and you feel relieved when looking up at the lights from a horizontal position. You gave it your all. You fell as a warrior. Your pride was spared.
In watching Barack Obama's first debate with Mitt Romney, I was reminded of my cousin's observation. Obama looked like a fighter who wanted to get knocked out so that he could just go home. If the President continues with that approach he will soon be returning to Hyde Park, his bags packed, as Romney moves into the White House.
Mitt Romney will do anything to become President. Barack Obama, if he does not understand that fact now, had best start putting nails in his gloves, and coming in close to do some rabbit punching and dirty boxing in order to win. He cannot let it go to the judges and the scorecards; the Republicans are in the process of rigging the election to ensure a win if that outcome occurs. Consequently, Barack Obama must score a knockout by any means necessary.