“If you win, you win. If you lose, you still win.”–Joey LaMotta, from the 1980 Martin Scorsese movie “Raging Bull”
Last Wednesday, the Republican Party caved to the government shutdown and the policies of President Barack Obama. It was not because the Republicans realized that holding out against Obamacare might endanger the Nation. It was not because an imminent default was hours away that would do irreparable harm to America. It was because of their poll numbers. It was because they wanted to save their sorry political careers, during which most Republicans have stood for nothing other than themselves.
You might think that the focus of mainstream Republicans would be Obama, who has yet to pass a budget. Instead, their outrage was against Republican Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah. As far as old-school Republicans are concerned, those two precipitated the crises with their demands that the Affordable Care Act be defunded.
“He’s the one who got us into this. He had no strategy. And it caused us to waste 16 days and get ourselves killed in the polls,” Representative Peter T. King (R-N.Y.) said of Cruz. “All for a guy who was fraudulent from the start.”
Fraudulent? You might think that King would consider that Obama is the fraud. It was Obama who promised to control spending and then sent American debt spinning out of control. It was Obama who promised a better America but after his 2008 election was hell-bent on installing his socialist ideals, of which Obamacare is his crown jewel.
Sarcastically, Senator Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) stated Republicans’ poll “numbers have gone down, Obamacare’s somehow mysteriously have gone up. And other than that, this has been great.”
Oh, no! Not the poll numbers, Senator Graham! If this keeps up, you might have to find another job. Wouldn’t that be tragic? As for Cruz, a man born in Calgary, Canada, just as I was, he is no hero either. He put on a 21-hour marathon in the Senate. Yet in the end, he crumbled. There is no courage in what Cruz did. When you prepare and are finally called to go to the mat, you don’t back down — not if you have a modicum of courage. Instead, Cruz’s actions are just one more example of Republicans who in the end believe that their political career is more important than standing up for principals, more important than putting oneself on the line for something bigger than oneself. That is courage.
Going To The Mat
Courage is so easily bandied about these days. But really what is courage? I know of only a few fleeting times in my life when I have had courage. So many of my bad decisions in life were influenced by my cowardice, taking the easy way out. But from these many cowardly acts manifested a legitimate moment of courage.
I was a fat child with asthma growing up. Unlike my best friend, I didn’t have a big brother to take care of me. I took many beatings at a tough school before I outgrew my physical limitations. When our first child, a boy, was born, I was determined he would not be a victim as I had been.
One of the toughest sections in Spokane, Wash., is along Sprague Street, where the Lilac City Boxing Club was. Against my wife’s protestations, I signed up my son. At 9 years old, he was the youngest and least experienced boy there.
I was at every practice with him. Afterward, I would critique what he had done, mostly regarding the full contact sparring he had to do against older boys. One evening, as I was giving him my opinions, he said: “If you think it is so easy, why don’t you try it?”
So for the next three years, in my mid-30s, I toiled along with him and his younger brother at a real boxing gym with real coaches, real training and real sparring, including the rounds against U.S. National Champion and world-ranked cruiserweight Frank Vassar.
When I was 36 years old, the team’s head coach, Dan Vassar, told me I was getting hit too much and that I had one last chance to have a fight on my boxing card. I traveled with the team to Yakima, Wash., for the annual Golden Gloves competition. By then, my eldest boy had already qualified as a 13-year-old to compete in the U.S. Jr. Nationals in Kansas City, Mo., where I knew he would face inner-city kids from big cities around the country. I had something I wanted to prove to him and to myself.
I ended up fighting a 52-year-old. No problem, right? So I thought before the weigh-in. Then I saw him. I was scared to death. This “old guy” was a monster, standing 6 feet 7 inches and weighing 270 pounds (against my 5 feet 11 inches and 205 pounds). I was sweating like I was in a rainforest before the fight started. I said to my coach, “Who is this guy!?”
“Oh, don’t worry, he’s nobody.”
I can tell you, Mr. Nobody punched like a mule kicks. After the first round, my head had been slammed back so many times I felt like Gumby. Between rounds, I said to my coach: “Seriously, who is this guy?” Only then was I told that the guy I was fighting was the 1972 U.S. Combined Armed Forces Super Heavyweight Champion. I slowly calculated that this guy was once a champion of a 3 million-man army.
In the second round, things got worse. At the end of it, I came back to my corner beaten and bloody. My eyes were already swelling shut, but I could still see my coach was reaching to the back of his sweatpants to where he tucked his infamous “white towel.” Any boxer will tell you he dreads the white towel.
I told my coach: “Don’t you dare! I’m going to finish this fight.”
In the third round, I took standing eight-count from the referee but finished the fight on my feet. I was beaten and bruised, but very happy. I had overcome my fears, and I had set a good example for my son. I had won something even though I had lost.
The Gutless Generation
I believe I was a better father because I did get my nose bloody. I didn’t just sit back in the stands and criticize.
But sitting back is exactly what our political leaders do these days. They talk a good game but won’t do anything if it will cost them politically.
It has not always been this way. Seventy years ago, when America was great, we were led by “the greatest generation.” My hero from that era is Teddy Roosevelt — not President Theodore Roosevelt but his eldest son, Brig. Gen. Theodore “Ted” Roosevelt III. He was the most senior officer to hit the beaches on D-Day in Normandy. He was rich, powerful and fought like hell just for the right to lead men into combat.
In his book The Guns at Last Light, Rick Atkinson provided a description of Roosevelt on June 6, 1944, who hit Utah Beach at age 56 and having to walk with a cane. Crossing the English Channel, an exasperated aid complained that he had given the general three lifejackets and that he had lost them all.
“I’ve got my pistol, one clip of ammunition, and my walking cane,” he announced in his foghorn bass. “That’s all I expect to need.”
Years earlier, he was “sacked toward the end of the Sicilian campaign.” In an attempt to get another leadership assignment, he wrote:
“As long as I can fight in the front lines I’ve still got manhood.” After pestering Eisenhower’s chief of staff, Beetle Smith, he asked to petition George Marshall, reasoning that it was “all right to pull strings… if what you wanted was a more dangerous job than the one you had.”
Roosevelt’s persistence paid off, and he went on to lead the Utah assault.
Compare his actions to those of former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, who used every available means to dodge combat during the Vietnam War.
The German general who opposed Roosevelt that day was Erich Marcks. When warned by his general staff not to approach the Normandy Beach because it was too dangerous, he said: “You people are always worried about your little piece of life.”
In a few weeks, both Roosevelt and Marcks had perished. They, like so many men of their generation, were men of courage. Those are two qualities lost in the halls of Congress and the White House.
Yours in good times and bad,
Writer’s note: In no way am I comparing my boxing to the courage of the young men and women that enlist and proudly serve in the U.S. armed forces.