Rope-a-dope politics

Republican presidential candidate John McCain made reference to the word “fight” 25 times during his September 4 nomination acceptance speech. While watching McCain’s histrionics, my mind wandered back to another historic fight—the “Rumble in the Jungle.” Muhammad Ali, arguably the best boxer who ever stepped into the squared circle, was pitted against then-World Champion George Foreman in Kinshasa, Zaire, 34 years ago this month. It occurred to me that there are interesting parallels linking that famous brawl and the daily tussles of the presidential contenders.

The consensus among handicappers was that younger and undefeated Foreman packed the harder punch and entered the ring a heavy favorite. Foreman, the 1968 Olympic heavyweight gold medal winner, was the world’s top-ranked boxer after knocking out both Joe Frazier and Ken Norton in two rounds in his two previous bouts. Ali, an inch taller and four pounds lighter, was unorthodox is his footwork but was thought to be a much better technical fighter, with cat-like reflexes and a two-inch-longer reach.

Deadly deception

Ali took control of the pace of the fight from the bell starting the second round. Ali either leaned into his opponent, neutralizing Foreman from throwing a big right hand, or was covered up and resting against the ropes. By round five, Foreman was exhausted from throwing ineffective punches and from Ali’s lightning-quick jabs to his head and personal taunts like, “George, is that all you’ve got?” Foreman was completely flummoxed by an opponent who was unwilling to stand toe-to-toe and be pounded into submission.

By round eight Foreman’s punches had lost much of their effectiveness, and all his hope rested with a lucky knockout blow that never found its target. An outwardly fresh and smiling Ali then left the safety of the ropes and started a vicious counter-attack with jabs and hooks, most landing squarely on Foreman’s head. Sensing victory, Ali hit Foreman with a left hook that teed up his head for a straight right hand that instantly turned out his lights. “The Greatest” regained the World Championship, and Foreman, frustrated, retired from boxing at age 28 to become a minister, siring five boys all named George, and making millions selling his Lean Green Grilling Machine on TV.

Most boxing experts consider the Rumble in the Jungle the best example of an older fighter using guile and a superior strategy to literally beat a younger and stronger fighter at his own game. Foreman later called the fight “a sweaty old boxing match which I lost,” but it was the start of much more than that.

Your civic duty

What does the “Rumble in the Jungle” have to do with the upcoming presidential election? Perhaps nothing. Or maybe it’s a metaphor for a hard-hitting yet strategic contest between presidential combatants, each with a good jab and fast footwork. Presidential politics remains a brutal contact sport where a single winner’s arm will be raised and the loser’s head bowed on the evening of November 4.

I continue to receive many e-mails inquiring about why POWER hasn’t made specific voting recommendations this election season. One of POWER’s greatest strengths is its ability to critique poorly conceived legislation and policies, inept politicians and regulators, or conflicts of interests, regardless of party affiliation. I do believe the best candidate will strongly support all forms of power generation, from solar through nuclear, and not constrain or prohibit the development of any of the many energy options available to this country. I will also be outspoken against those with parochial interests that don’t put the welfare, security, and economic well-being of our citizens first. But I also recognize that the problems facing the country and a new president go far beyond our areas of expertise, and voters must make balanced choices when picking their leaders. However, to satisfy the few, my firm recommendations for this election season will follow shortly.

Healed wounds

Foreman and Ali became fast friends after the fight and remain so today. Ali, now suffering from Parkinson’s disease, had trouble walking to the stage to join the group receiving the Oscar for When We Were Kings in 1996 and then-world heavyweight champion George Foreman helped Ali up the steps to the stage. Two years earlier, Foreman had returned to fighting and, at age 44, regained the heavyweight boxing crown.

Foreman later claimed he had been drugged just prior to the Ali fight—a charge that is repeated in his recently published memoirs, God in My Corner. When interviewed by Howard Cosell some days after the fight, Ali described his fight strategy as “rope-a-dope”—lying on the ropes and allowing an opponent to punch himself out. Observers at the time thought Ali was losing the fight and were unable to appreciate his winning fight strategy.

Going forward

Will the winners and losers of this election be able to put aside their professional differences, as did Foreman and Ali, and find common ground on important issues going forward? Only time will tell.

In the meantime, as promised, here’s my four-step plan for success this election season: Study the issues. Form independent opinions. Balance your options. Vote on November 4.
–Dr. Robert Peltier, PE, Editor-in-Chief