Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega
Chicago, Illinois, USA
September 11
A (Sometimes) Respectable Negro
Editor and Founder of the blog We Are Respectable Negroes He has been a guest on the BBC, Ring of Fire Radio, Ed Schultz, Joshua Holland's Alternet Radio Hour, the Burt Cohen show, and Our Common Ground. His essays have been featured by Salon, Alternet, the New York Daily News, and the Daily Kos. The NY Times, the Daily Beast, the Utne Reader, Washington Monthly, Slate, and the Week (among others) have featured his expert commentary and analysis on race, politics, and popular culture.

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OCTOBER 4, 2012 12:29PM

That Was No Rope-a-Dope: Obama Got His Butt Kicked by Romney

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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 thatPresident 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. 

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Your first line tells it all! I too, thought of rope-a-dope - because we HOPE that that is the case. This is one of your very best articles! R
I used the rope-a-dope analogy elsewhere on the site before seeing your links or your admonition that it is incorrect. So let's forget our shared personal hero Ali and take it elsewhere in the metaphor.
I think Mitt's ear biting Tysonesque move of comparing Obama to one of his teenage sons was beyond the scope of any reasonable campaign. We've all come to expect untruths and fact checking flubs, but that was truly outrageous.
Obama looked tired, didn't cover up or swing hard enough and got hurt.
Holyfield gave the street bully what he deserved.
Next round......
I am one of the staunchest supporters of the president on OS, but I gotta agree that he got his ass kicked...and kicked hard.

Golfers often hear a fellow golfer aver, "He didn't win the match, I lost it."

Well, that is a better sports analogy for last night. Romney did not win the battle as much as Obama lost it.

He could have phoned that thing was sleepwalking on television. I was embarrassed for him.

He WAS poorly matter how many of us want to deny it. And Romney was honed to a sharp point.

Obama may "win" the next two "debates", but the damage done by this thrashing cannot be undone. Too many people were looking for an excuse to vote against Obama (rather than for Romney)...and they found it last night.
"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. "

This was more along the lines of how he seemed to me last night -- I wondered about him seeming angry and resigned simultaneously, as if his hands were tied by some unknown backstory.
Mrs. Obama had the same feeling about her after the debate and they certainly took off quickly while Romney gloated and hovered on stage....
Something's up, is what I keep going back to.
Chauncey---this was really insightful. I confess that I had my hands over my face during parts of this match, in that way that happens when your man is getting hit hard, so I didn't see everything. Too painful. And I did not get the "I have 5 boys" connection. Till now.

My only hope is that what we watched last night was only the first 2-3 rounds.
He didn't float like a butterfly or sting like a bee-his jabs were feeble and he never really answered the bell. I said it somewhere else that he looked like Michael Spinks touching gloves and then looking for a soft spot to land on the canvas, is there a part of him that doesn't want this job anymore?
A couple of observations. Yes, I think you're entirely right about the President's preoccupation. There is something definitely big brewing in the air internationally, and no one is willing to go on record and say what it specifically is. However, I can tell you that things are actually much hotter and more dangerous in Iran and Syria than the media is reporting on. Perhaps the POTUS was distracted because he has a day job, unlike the Mittster.

Secondly, it is not Obama's demeanor to publicly call people on their shit. As a former college professor, you have to suffer fools gladly. And so when the Rmoney-bot retools himself for the umpteenth time and hones his non-verbal communication skills to perfection, what people see is a contrast between a liar and bullshit artist doing an excellent Ronald Reagan impersonation, and a man who'd probably rather be celebrating his 20th anniversary somewhere else.
This from Patrick Martin on wsws:

"Obama made only one timid reference to the role of Wall Street in wrecking the US and world economy. Even there, he equated the swindlers and the swindled, saying that the workers hoodwinked into taking out sub-prime mortgages and the bankers who pocketed huge bonuses by fleecing them were both guilty of “reckless behavior.”

"Obama also refrained from identifying Romney personally with Wall Street. In the course of the nationally televised event, he made no mention of Romney’s role as a corporate raider at Bain Capital, Romney’s refusal to release his tax returns, or his use of offshore investment accounts.

"Most significantly, he made no reference to Romney’s disparaging comments about the “47 percent” of Americans dependent on government programs and too poor to pay federal income taxes, and his assertion that no one in America should consider himself “entitled” to food, health care or a roof over his head.

"Based on conventional electoral considerations, this silence would appear inexplicable. Obama campaign television commercials have hammered Romney on his “47 percent” remarks for two weeks, and Romney’s poll numbers declined as a consequence.

"It is clear, however, that in preparing for the first debate, with an estimated television audience of 60 million, the largest of the campaign, Obama and his political handlers viewed any hint of economic populism as too dangerous. It might offend the Wall Street power brokers and encourage a militant response from below."


Obama would not champion the 99% because he didn't want to make the 1% nervous. Hard to debate someone when you are covertly but not really all that covertly supporting the SAME stances.

best, libby
Too many fluff interviews with People Magazine and not enough substantive press conferences (he's had less multi-topic national press conferences than any other president in modern media history...looks good on the cover of Rolling Stone and stuff, though, I guess).

Also, being in the vicinity of John Kerry for more than 24 hours can turn people undead, so that's a possibility as well (Kerry was the Romney surrogate for time, bring in Holmes for the sparring sessions.)
Good article and congrats on your honest admission that Romney was the clear victor.

In my modest, avoided post on the subject, I also raised the possibility of serious distraction. I think it's the specter of impeachment on account of the lying and obvious cover-up of the gross negligence relating to Benghazigate.
@MS. Thanks, how kind. Appreciated.
This is a very fair critique.
Pres. Obama's performance was so poor that I actually thought he might be ill. Then I worried that there is something very very bad happening. I sincerely hope that it was just a good old fashioned butt kicking by a manipulative sociopath and shameless liar.
I do think that Romney may have won the battle to lose the war. His lies, his hidden tax returns, his running mate's lies, and the 47% comments have defined the campaign. To those of us that expected Romney to lie through every orifice, his performance was no surprise. It has certainly added to the reek surrounding Romney.
Absolutely the best analysis I've read/heard about last night's totally weird debate. Where was Barack Obama? Just a mystery why he was so reticent and so wan, I guess is the word. Re-posting this. Thanks.
@Chauncey DeVega

I realize the President "lost the debate" I think the more pertinent question is what did Governor Romney win. He has breathed life into his campaign and after two monstrously epic fails so that is a major win for Governor Romney. I believe the Republican base is happy about this performance and that has to feel good after he spent all those months wondering about in the desert. But, unless this turns into substantial gain in polling for the Romney team this week he will have won the most Pyrrhic Victory since since King Pyrrhus himself.
How many votes do you suppose Governor Romney gained threatening Big Bird? He has only succeed in getting his falsehoods about the size of the budget hole his stated plans will cause and his contention that President Obama has stolen 716 billion from Medicare further exposed. Both of his contentions were already outed as lies yet he continued to use them last night. I suspect these revelations will be used to show his lack of veracity in much the same way the 47% remarks have been used to show his lack of empathy.
Finally I need to ask what new ammo did President Obama give to Governor Romney? The most frequent criticism I have heard is of the President is that he looked tired. 27 lies in 38 minutes that's what it is being discussed about Governor Romney. I hope the President steps it up a bit for the next debate, but I still like No Drama Obama.
I thought it was a tie and a tie favors the challenger. I understand completely what was going through Obama's mind: he's the president, so he's used to being presidential. He was acting above the fray. I like this in part because I don't like the idea of a presidential race being a boxing contest. I don't like the fight analogies. He'll be more combative next time but it's a sad commentary that we need to see a good fight to pick a leader.
Obama isn't a comfortable front-runner. Maybe he has his own self-destructive tendencies--to sleep until he's forced to really wake up. I have the feeling he's going to come to the next two debates ready to throw punches though. I hope I'm right. Romney seems like he could be knocked out in any number of ways, but Obama is the one that has to do it if he wants to be elected.
If being blustery and acting cock-sure of yourself while not really giving details about what you'd do if elected is "kicking butt," then, yeah, I guess Romney "kicked butt." I don't vote based on how well someone's performance in a debate was deemed. I vote for the candidate who I think will take the country in a direction it needs to go. R.
Anyone see the Zombie unreality show last night? They had this one guy, like the leader of this multi pod culture -- hurt, decaying and in need of soulful reclamation, among other necessities. He takes turns talking to this other one, who is really amped up -- in pro sports they'd have him checked for the 'juice' -- I mean a pee test right there, in some cases in mid sentence; he's smirking, smiling to the imaginary occupied chairs, gesticulating like Mussolini at the balcony. (You know, those early years.) And the dude is spinning one lie more like one sausage made, after another and another....
It was hugely hilarious, them there speaking in the same language, about the same people, with the agenda to make up one whopper after another.... until one receives -- somehow -- a phantom punch, not unlike the one Ali administered to one Sonny Liston, in a land far away ... and the guy is so stunned he can not continue. The amped, hyper kinetic guy just keeps spinning one large galactic story atop another, pulling figures out of this husk of a soul that people actually believed his strange language, speaking in the equivalent of tongues -- or hemorrhoids -- delving into this strange place that no one has ever entered. And the odd thing is, he can not be stopped, like Arnold in the first "The Terminator".
This really seasoned guy is supposed to referee this contest and, well, the poor guy can not stop this fountain of enriched vomit spewing from the Mussolini-like guy;he's older than Miss Haversham, in another adventure of true tales.
Then, the Rod Serling kind of guy says, at the end, I guess, 'You've just witnessed how life is, 55oo feet above sea level ... you've just entered the Twilight Zone .....' No one really thought of what it all meant. Sure was strange. Like to see it in IMAX ....
Some people may be interested in this piece for a different perspective about the "so-called" debate:

Did Romney "Win" the Debate?

"In the presidential debate that I watched on Wednesday night, Republican challenger Mitt Romney was shiftier than Dick Nixon in 1960 and less coherent than George W. Bush in 2000, but the TV pundits, including on MSNBC, overwhelmingly declared him the winner..."
Simple truth is this: You don't let people lie and get away with it. Obama has got to call Romnesia on this bs.
Simple truth is this: You don't let people lie and get away with it. Obama has got to call Romnesia on this bs.
Well, he certainly took a beatin'.

I think Obama, a notoriously poor extemporaneous speaker, had some delusional hopes of making the debate something similar to the ones he was involved in in '08. Unlike then, he didn't have George Bush to kick around, although he did try that one yet one more time. What he did have was a record, and not one with a lot to recommend it as a selling point. The debate was always going to be about the last four years, at least as far as the incumbent was concerned. And that was how a tepid salvo against the evil oil companies turned into a full broadside received at close range on the billions lost on hare-brained energy schemes that, well, don't work.

Obama didn't rope-a-dope; he wandered into a boxing ring like a lost college professor on the way to the faculty lounge. Finding himself there, he thought he might try a few rounds using his dimly remembered hope and change skills from the bouts of his '08 youth. He took an immediate pummeling.

This wasn't Zaire; this was Jerry Quarry looking for one last payday, while telling the media he just needs to box himself into shape to do better in future bouts.
Kudos for debunking the spinnish rope-a-dope analogy Chauncey. There's some discussion of what it means to have "won" the debate but if increasing the number of people likely to vote for you is the measure then Romney clearly won. This is consistent with InTrade which had Obama at 80% two days before the debate and 65% an hour after it.

I don't know what to make of Obama's lackluster performance. A close reading of the debate's content would award it to Obama but that's not how most folks will perceive it. Maybe he IS dealing with some under-wraps crisis or maybe he's out of practice compared to Romney but another one like this will make an already uncomfortably close election too close to call. Why he didn't cite the auto bailout as a compare and contrast when specifically asked about the role of government is unfathomable.
Obama needs to drop the talking points (which mirror the TV commercials ad nauseam) and Truth- Punch Romney down to the ground. We need to see a good ass beating, or people are going to forget the reality of what caused the manufactured calamity of the last 12 years (no doubt Obama was forced to appease shadowy figures to get elected in the first place...Bailouts=Bullshit). If people believe Romnoid, and nostalgically yearn for Father Knows Best to tuck them in at night, Obama is going to lose. Debates are a time to get scrappy, and deliver a good show. Ding Ding.
As I recall, Ali didn't come off the ropes until round 8; you're more than a bit premature ; we're still in the early rounds
Look at these posts-Romney is a liar,Obama had more substance..........There are people here who hate omney more because he was prepared and he countered much of the disinformation that has been put forth by a candidate that has outspent him 2-1 . Now we wait to see the actual source of all those funds. This is going to be interesting.
After reading this blog and all of the replies I have to say that you people make Al Gore's excuse look good.

Look just because you keep repeating something is a lie doesn't mean it's so.
@Jay R.

I don't "hate Romney more" because he was "better prepared." I'm angry because he won without putting forth a program. If he wins because he's got a better economic plan than Obama, even if I don't like it much, fine.

But Romney is able to claim his plan does all sorts of good stuff and doesn't do anything painful because he refuses to produce details. Here's a quote from the non-partisan Tax Policy Center: "So how would Romney cut the deficit he says would crush future generations? I still have no idea. How would he pay for his tax cuts? I know less now than I did before the debate."

If vagueness and voodoo economics wins, the country is doomed.
No, he did not have his butt kicked. But he will be much more assetrtive the second time around.
I am going to respectfully disagree. If lying repeatedly, being rude and talking really fast so you don't get lost in the memorized statements you have been taught is winning, then I am wrong. If my competitor was standing there lying repeatedly and all I could do is quote him from before and he would lie again, I would just let him stand there and lie his way into a hole. I thought Romney bullied Jim Lehrer and was generally rude which was my original opinion of him. I believe President Obama learned in this "debate" how to proceed. Did you want him to lose it and get angry and call Romney a liar over and over? That would have been useless. You cannot debate with a liar.
It seemed to me that Obama stood his ground, and Romney ran around the ring, avoiding any actual intellectual combat. He made a lot of creative faces: maybe he studied pictures of Wm. Buckley, to get the look of disdain just right. He showed Jim Lehrer who was boss, by defying the rules of the debate. Altogether, a commanding performance, of what? Arrogance, certainly. Confidence? Not really. Just a sprayed on tan.
I felt it just rubbish. Similar as 'debates' some time ago here, where I'm living. Very little or nothing about real matters.
They both lie about many things. So tired of politics.
I think that the big problem is that these kind of 'debates' really influence voters. Even if the candidates don't speak about real matters.

On the other hand it seems to be impossible for anybody to stop things going still worse and worse. Fighting wars all over the globe is tied with the structure of the whole society.

I think that it could be somewhat changed, if a third party candidate would be elected.
A wonderful, insightful article--though saddening, I appreciated its thought.
We don't care. We're voting for him again. Debates are phony anyway. Besides, Romney has the advantage of being a full blown scumbag liar who doesn't have a clue about running a country. When he was Governor of MA they hated him. Firefighters, nurses, teachers were laid off and many others didn't know what was going to happen from one day to the next. The media don't talk about this. The President has a country to run and like us, can't believe he has to be in the same room as $Rmoney piece of ----- and I'm being nice. Obama will do us proud in the next debate.
President Obama got his ass kicked because he has no record of achievement to run on. he had no liberal commentator to distract Romney or change the subject as Obama had once requested, nor was there a media replete with propaganda narratives to coddle the emperor. We merely saw the emperor naked without excuse or logical explanation. The next day his speech was angry and he once again continued his campaign of smear tactics against a stellar businessman with an enviable personal life full of support for his ailing wife and 5 successful sons. What more could you want America? But, you see, the left is not interested in the truth and in concrete answers. There must be lies and fabricated victims as these faulty tools are the only illusions that could make people with a brain embrace the tenets of class warfare and redistribution you must create victims! There can be no earned equality!
Marilyn, I'm really surprised that a woman your age does not yet get it. Sad.
I couldn't disagree more.
Floyd Patterson was so humiliated and devastated after being knocked out in the first round by Sonny Liston that he wore a disguise when he left the house. Patterson's second fight with Liston resulted in the same result - a first round knockout defeat. I hope that Obama can rebound and do better in his second debate with Romney than Patterson did with Liston.
My Father loved Muhammad Ali, it is one of the only things I can remember about his as he was always talking about him. And so did my Grandfather. I actually understood this. Speaking of O'Bama I have wondered about his ability to do public speaking because he was such an eloquent speaker in the last presidential election but since I have seen him repeatedly have Bill Blinton to do his speaches for him. I like you wonder what is going on with him. But I am wondering about his health. Some illnesses are invisible. I would like to see the debate repeated and see the eloquent O'Bama of the last election along with the Mitt Romney of the last debate because I still have not decided. This election has really taken its toll on me as I have been very worried over who to vote for as I take it very seriously. And I don't vote party lines. Thanks for the blog it helped me to think things out a little more. I appreciate that. I just can't get that forty-seven percent video out of my mind.
My Father loved Muhammad Ali, it is one of the only things I can remember about his as he was always talking about him. And so did my Grandfather. I actually understood this. Speaking of O'Bama I have wondered about his ability to do public speaking because he was such an eloquent speaker in the last presidential election but since I have seen him repeatedly have Bill Blinton to do his speaches for him. I like you wonder what is going on with him. But I am wondering about his health. Some illnesses are invisible. I would like to see the debate repeated and see the eloquent O'Bama of the last election along with the Mitt Romney of the last debate because I still have not decided. This election has really taken its toll on me as I have been very worried over who to vote for as I take it very seriously. And I don't vote party lines. Thanks for the blog it helped me to think things out a little more. I appreciate that. I just can't get that forty-seven percent video out of my mind. KR