Fighting the Wrong Fight

To be successful in the sport of boxing, a fighter must embody every athletic attribute to its maximum—and all at the same time. Speed, strength, power, balance, hand—eye coordination, stamina, strategy, and courage are all required at their top level, continually, without letup. There is no other sport like it. No other athletic competition puts such unrelenting demands on its participants the way boxing does. And no other sport punishes the unsuccessful contestant with such unapologetic finality. It's the only major professional sport where the match can end before its scheduled conclusion.

There is an old adage in boxing that has made its way into the popular lexicon: 'You'll never win fighting the other guy's fight.' Boxing history is full of these brutal lessons. In June of 1980, welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard, caught up in the pre—fight psychological machismo with challenger Roberto 'Hands of Stone' Duran, tried to out—slug the brawling Duran rather than using his superior long—range boxing skills. He fought Duran's fight. From the fans' perspective, it was a thrilling slugfest, but this was Duran's turf. He wrested the title from Leonard in what has come to be remembered as one of boxing's all—time great matches.

Leonard learned his lesson well. In the rematch five months later, Leonard used his speed and boxing skills to the maximum. Jabbing, moving, taunting, he never gave Duran the opportunity to get set, never gave him a stationary target at which to launch an assault. Frustrated, embarrassed, and humiliated by his inability to score against Leonard, Duran faked an injury and quit midway through the 8th round, giving our popular lexicon yet another memorable phrase: 'No mas.'

These are good lessons for President Bush. On several high—visibility issues over the last few years, he has foolishly let the Democrats and the liberal media set the ground rules for the game. He has fought their fight, on their terms—and lost by a knockout in public opinion. Take your pick as to which issue the Bush communications team has bungled the worst: The Katrina aftermath finger—pointing blame game, the Dubai ports issue, the rationale for and progress in the war in Iraq, the implied blame on the President for today's high gasoline prices, the 'corruption factor' involving Jack Abramoff, the complete lack of political credit for instituting a Medicare prescription drug benefit—the list goes on and on.

In every case, the President has let the other side get out front and define the issue. He is always playing catch up, always on the defensive, always responding to accusations. He's forever fighting their fight, on their turf. It's a PR loser, and his job—approval numbers—mired in the mid—thirties—are the result. Even worse, the President's low numbers imply serious peril for the Republicans in November's mid—term elections.

But politics are not exactly like boxing. In boxing, if a contender loses a few fights in a row, he never gets another shot at the title. In politics, the next title fight is as close as tomorrow's news cycle, and the opportunity for public redemption is ever—present.

Sure, the President can (and should) continually revisit old battlegrounds and attempt to set the record straight, in his terms, in a context favorable to his administration. But an even better strategy is to identify new opportunities, get out in front of them, take decisive action and present it to the public in a way that forces his political opponents to scramble and respond to him—not the other way around.

Such an opportunity is in front of the President right now: President Bush should get ahead of the curve and issue a public statement regarding his administration's intimate awareness, deep concern, and detailed contingency plans in the event of a breakout of a human—transmittable variant of the H5N1 avian flu. While there is as yet no evidence that the disease is about to cause a worldwide human flu pandemic, if it should happen there is absolutely no question that his political opponents will pin the blame squarely on him—and by association, all Republicans.

President Bush needs to set the tone for this subject. It's a topic that is simmering just beneath the surface in widespread public consciousness, ready to break into top priority should things take a turn for the worse. Obviously, the outbreak of such a disease should transcend petty political concerns. However, there are political ramifications to almost everything.

Whether the President and his team realize it or not, they are now engaged in another high—profile fight for public opinion. This is an opportunity for President Bush to demonstrate that the Republican Party is not the cold—hearted, uncaring, 'rich—person's' party as the Democrats and MSM continually attempt to paint them. With a well—conceived, well—executed strategy, President Bush will out—point his detractors and win this round convincingly. If he lets events get away from him once again—as has been his wont of late—then many of his supporters will be saying 'No mas.'

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contirbutor.

To be successful in the sport of boxing, a fighter must embody every athletic attribute to its maximum—and all at the same time. Speed, strength, power, balance, hand—eye coordination, stamina, strategy, and courage are all required at their top level, continually, without letup. There is no other sport like it. No other athletic competition puts such unrelenting demands on its participants the way boxing does. And no other sport punishes the unsuccessful contestant with such unapologetic finality. It's the only major professional sport where the match can end before its scheduled conclusion.

There is an old adage in boxing that has made its way into the popular lexicon: 'You'll never win fighting the other guy's fight.' Boxing history is full of these brutal lessons. In June of 1980, welterweight champion Sugar Ray Leonard, caught up in the pre—fight psychological machismo with challenger Roberto 'Hands of Stone' Duran, tried to out—slug the brawling Duran rather than using his superior long—range boxing skills. He fought Duran's fight. From the fans' perspective, it was a thrilling slugfest, but this was Duran's turf. He wrested the title from Leonard in what has come to be remembered as one of boxing's all—time great matches.

Leonard learned his lesson well. In the rematch five months later, Leonard used his speed and boxing skills to the maximum. Jabbing, moving, taunting, he never gave Duran the opportunity to get set, never gave him a stationary target at which to launch an assault. Frustrated, embarrassed, and humiliated by his inability to score against Leonard, Duran faked an injury and quit midway through the 8th round, giving our popular lexicon yet another memorable phrase: 'No mas.'

These are good lessons for President Bush. On several high—visibility issues over the last few years, he has foolishly let the Democrats and the liberal media set the ground rules for the game. He has fought their fight, on their terms—and lost by a knockout in public opinion. Take your pick as to which issue the Bush communications team has bungled the worst: The Katrina aftermath finger—pointing blame game, the Dubai ports issue, the rationale for and progress in the war in Iraq, the implied blame on the President for today's high gasoline prices, the 'corruption factor' involving Jack Abramoff, the complete lack of political credit for instituting a Medicare prescription drug benefit—the list goes on and on.

In every case, the President has let the other side get out front and define the issue. He is always playing catch up, always on the defensive, always responding to accusations. He's forever fighting their fight, on their turf. It's a PR loser, and his job—approval numbers—mired in the mid—thirties—are the result. Even worse, the President's low numbers imply serious peril for the Republicans in November's mid—term elections.

But politics are not exactly like boxing. In boxing, if a contender loses a few fights in a row, he never gets another shot at the title. In politics, the next title fight is as close as tomorrow's news cycle, and the opportunity for public redemption is ever—present.

Sure, the President can (and should) continually revisit old battlegrounds and attempt to set the record straight, in his terms, in a context favorable to his administration. But an even better strategy is to identify new opportunities, get out in front of them, take decisive action and present it to the public in a way that forces his political opponents to scramble and respond to him—not the other way around.

Such an opportunity is in front of the President right now: President Bush should get ahead of the curve and issue a public statement regarding his administration's intimate awareness, deep concern, and detailed contingency plans in the event of a breakout of a human—transmittable variant of the H5N1 avian flu. While there is as yet no evidence that the disease is about to cause a worldwide human flu pandemic, if it should happen there is absolutely no question that his political opponents will pin the blame squarely on him—and by association, all Republicans.

President Bush needs to set the tone for this subject. It's a topic that is simmering just beneath the surface in widespread public consciousness, ready to break into top priority should things take a turn for the worse. Obviously, the outbreak of such a disease should transcend petty political concerns. However, there are political ramifications to almost everything.

Whether the President and his team realize it or not, they are now engaged in another high—profile fight for public opinion. This is an opportunity for President Bush to demonstrate that the Republican Party is not the cold—hearted, uncaring, 'rich—person's' party as the Democrats and MSM continually attempt to paint them. With a well—conceived, well—executed strategy, President Bush will out—point his detractors and win this round convincingly. If he lets events get away from him once again—as has been his wont of late—then many of his supporters will be saying 'No mas.'

Steve Feinstein is a frequent contirbutor.