In 1974, boxer Muhammad Ali popularized a ring strategy when he leaned back against the ropes, letting George Foreman flail away at him until Foreman had worn himself out. Ali then went on to defeat the exhausted, arm-weary Foreman.
That strategy apparently has re-emerged in our congressional politics in the unlikely personage of House Speaker John Boehner, the nation’s most powerful Republican.
Boehner may be a little arm-weary himself after two years of battling President Barack Obama, a Democratic-controlled Senate and the dozens of tea party members within his own caucus.
It wasn’t his arms he mentioned in a recent interview with The Associated Press. He expressed weariness and frustration after a couple of rounds of failed budget talks, where he was stymied either by the president or, when he thought he had an agreement, his own rank-and-file.
“Frankly,” he told AP, “every time I’ve gotten into one of these high-profile negotiations, you know, it’s my rear end that got burnt.” From now on, in what the wire service described as an “almost Zen-like approach,” he plans to rest against the ropes, so to speak, and let others – the White House, the Senate, his own party – take the initiative.
Boehner and the Republicans generally are trying to portray the looming sequester – $85 billion in across-the-board budget cuts – as not only exclusively Obama’s problem, but exclusively the president’s idea. In truth, both parties were complicit in its creation in August 2011.
“Remember, this is the president’s idea,” Boehner now says. The solution is up to the president and the Senate Democrats. The House will take a look at whatever they propose.
What about gun violence, immigration reform, early childhood education and all those other proposals mentioned in the State of the Union speech? If the president has “got such good ideas, his party in the Senate could pass it. Then we’d be happy to take a look at it,” the speaker told AP.
The speaker surely finds appealing the idea of remaining aloof and above the fray and making others come to him. But as a skilled lawmaker of 22 years standing, one conscious of his responsibilities, it is only a matter of time – and probably not very much time – before he comes off the ropes swinging.