Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Hillary Clinton Meets Mr. Kim

Back in the 60's, I was a member of the Ohio State judo team. I was not a very good player, but I used to love the idea of the "Gentle Way", which required one to analyze and use the opponent's aggression to defeat him. During free practice (randori), we attempted to push, drag, and pull the other player, trying to find an angle of attack. One of my favorite senseis was Mr. Kim, a former member of South Korea's Olympics judo team and a sandan (3rd degree black belt). He never moved around. He just stood there and let others push and pull at him, which might make him move a couple of steps. Trying to attack him was like trying to pull down a brick wall. He would just wait, or mirror your steps like a graceful dance partner. And then it would be over. He saw his opening, waited for an attack, and performed a coup de grace in the blink of an eye. His opponent would crash down with the boom of his arm beat hitting the mat.

Watching the Cleveland debate last night between Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, I couldn't help but think of Obama as Mr. Kim. Most of the time, he sat there playing with his pen, writing the occasional note (or doodle) and appearing to listen attentively. Occasionally, he would hear something, smile a little, look at the moderator, and raise a finger. She felt he had not rejected the antisemite, Louis Farrakhan, forcefully enough? Fine. He conceded her point and used the word "reject". She mocked his inspirational style at a political rally? Great performance. He thought it was funny and effective. He wanted to bomb Pakistan without consulting its government? Not really. He just would act on actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda, which Bush had just done the week before. At the end of the debate, Obama lavished praise on her record and her candidacy, and then he went on to say why he thought his presidency would be better.

Of all the traits I admire in Obama's character, I admire the most his ability to empathize with an opponent and turn it to his advantage. He comes off as self-effacing, polite, and determined. He studies his opponents carefully, identifies a weak point in their movements, and throws them to the mat without much apparent effort. I don't suppose that he will always be the winner in his encounters with skillful opponents, but he understands the "gentle way" of fighting. He is the Mr. Kim of politics. I wonder how he will fare against Vladimir Putin, who is an avid judo player.

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