Vail Daily column: Bounce back when on the ropes |

Vail Daily column: Bounce back when on the ropes

Jack Van Ens

Former heavyweight champ Muhammad Ali became a dangerous fighter when his plight in the ring turned dire. He feigned losing the bout by backpedaling from his onrushing opponent and leaning on the ropes. Ali’s forearms covered his midsection. Gloves pushed together protected his face.

Then his opponent unleashed a flurry of punches. Few connected to Ali’s gut or head, where they could register serious damage. Ali countered with an occasional jab, conserving his strength. He called his defense “peek-a-boo,” because he eyed the opponent between gloves bunched around his face.

After absorbing shots that bounced off his forearms or gloves, Ali attacked, bouncing off the ropes. He whipped punched-out opponents. Ali invented the “rope-a-dope” rhyme because dopey challengers lost stamina trying to knock him down. He gained second wind by leaning on the ring’s ropes.

Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy works outside the boxing ring, too. After life beats us down, we relish coping power to yield, to bend and to catch our breath before going on the offensive. Charles Dickens caught Ali’s rope-a-dope underlying principle: “There are dark shadows on the earth, but the planet’s lights are stronger in the contrast.” Lean against the ropes on dark days. Then, rebound. Tackle obstacles. Transform them into opportunities that light your way.

Since mid-term elections put him on the ropes, President Obama has governed using a rope-a-dope strategy. He’s gone on the offensive after critics banished his presidency into a lame-duck corner. The president let Republicans punch themselves out.

After capturing a Senate majority, the GOP crowed how they had Obama cornered. Come January, their round-house blows will deliver a knock-out after Congress convenes. Then the House will hold the largest majority in 84 years — going back to Herbert Hoover’s presidency (1929-1933).

Since midterm elections, the president has leaned on the ropes, letting critics take their best shots. Like Ali, he countered, causing the GOP to reel like a punch-drunk fighter slumped on a stool between rounds.

New York Times op-ed writer Timothy Egan jabs, using rhetorical questions packing a presidential wallop that stagger the GOP. “Are Republicans really going to spend the first year of their new majority trying to undo everything the president has done — to roll back the clock?” asks Egan, his inquires stinging like Ali’s punches.

“Will they defend isolation of Cuba against the wishes of most young Cuban-Americans? Will they restore a family-destroying deportation policy, when Obama’s de-emphasis on sending illegal immigrants home has already given him a 15-point boost among Latinos? Will they take away health insurance from millions who never had it before? Will they insist that nothing can be done on climate change, while an agreement is on the table for the world’s two biggest polluters, the United States and China, do something significant?” (“Obama UnBound,” Dec. 19).

Former Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter supported a rope-a-dope strategy to cope with life’s set-backs. He detested lawyers who drew blood after the high court ruled in their favor. These verdicts deemed not good enough, these smug lawyers had to be told their cause was right.

The GOP used this fighting tactic in midterm elections. They sucker-punched, castigating Obama for his alleged “socialism.” The GOP turned on its head political wisdom Democrat John F. Kennedy and Republican Gerald R. Ford endorsed. “In politics, there are no friends,” these presidents declared, “only allies.”

To pass bills, political opponents deliver their best shots and then fight for a draw, in which no one gets everything; no one gets nothing; and, everyone gets something. The GOP tries for a knockout, taunting political adversaries as enemies — the opposite of what Presidents Kennedy and Ford practiced.

Richard N. Goodwin, former speechwriter for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon Baines Johnson, pinpoints why punching out an opponent doesn’t win in the long-run. “Politics is not love, and it is not a game,” declares Goodwin. “It is a deadly serious struggle for public position and influence over the lives of others. The ‘interest’ that draws people to power has many forms: the desire for material gain, some inner need to command. But it can also be compounded of shared convictions, mutual values, a common belief about purpose to which political power should be directed” (Remembering America: a Voice from the Sixties”).

President Obama endorses the liberal tradition anchored in Christian faith that honors our nation’s noblest ideals. Bouncing off ropes, we fight by sharing with those less fortunate, rather than packing our brimming-over cupboards. “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (we) press on…” (Philippians 3:13-14) is the Bible’s rope-a-dope strategy.

Lincoln immortalized this liberal heritage, declaring the government’s purpose is to “elevate the condition of men (humankind) — to afford all an unfettered start in the race of life.” He insisted that all citizens deserve equality of opportunity to share in abundance. By sponsoring social justice programs, the government provides life’s necessities to the old, the infirmed, children and those who hit rough patches and can’t find work.

Use the rope-a-dope strategy to fight for what’s fair. Be unselfish. Extend helping hands to those down on their luck.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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