Romney fights dirty, and using the metaphor of Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) we can gain insight into the strategic-thinking behind his campaign and this high-stakes political combat that is the presidential race.
In FMA, your fighting style does not always depend on your authentic personal fighting style. How you fight in the ring is a creative, expressive process most of the time, but it is also a calculation about the school and background of your opponent. What you know–your technique–does not guarantee a win. To win, you need to not be rigid and fight only in your true way; you need to be wiser than your self. Winning a full-contact FMA fight, in other words, is about substance and style.
In FMA, there are fighters who naturally are more defensive, and there are others who are more aggressive; some are more strategic, generating fewer but more accurate hits that reliably score points, and there are others who are more naturally busy, generating far more strikes, even if many are flurries not intended to sting or even score big. Those who fight like this, who strike for the sake of being busy, do so in order to overwhelm, to control the pace and tempo of the fight, which is often viewed as ring generalship. Personally, I have my misgivings about this way of winning fights; the art is lost with it, the soul of FMA is degraded by it.
And then there those we call pattern fighters and non-pattern fighters.
Pattern fighters fight with a clear predetermined, pre-packaged series of strikes carefully and deliberately honed to be effective offensively or defensively. Pattern fighters are deadly. One should re-think fighting toe-to-toe against a pattern fighter because that is his game plan.
If you get drawn to fight strike for strike against a pattern fighter, you have already lost. You are doomed to be overwhelmed, taken off balance — and even if you recognize the pattern, the sheer speed with which you are struck with multiple hits renders any response too-little-too-late. This is why a pattern fighter is deadly. This is why some schools train fighters to fight this way; it maximizes speed and power.
But a non-pattern fighter, to me, is deadlier because of the complex mess s/he creates in the ring, and consequently, in the opponent’s counter-strategy. Philosophically and functionally, disorder gets an edge over order, in my opinion, because it is harder to figure out. A non-pattern fighter taxes one’s training and creative capacity to adapt and overcome. A non-pattern fighter is often more eclectic in his/her use of techniques, and/or exploits expert footwork to evade and assault.
Applied to electoral politics and the 2012 U.S. presidential race, in particular, this ‘pattern vs non-pattern fighter’ binary is intriguing because it might help us figure one candidate we can’t quite figure out, namely Romney. I ask myself, if he were a FMA fighter in the ring opposite me, how would I classify him? And my reflex answer is that he is a pattern fighter: he has a long record of being a panderer, a flip-flopper, someone with no core, someone who bends with the political wind.
But justifying this classification is exactly what makes me rethink my reflex answer because a non-pattern fighter is, by definition, someone who is flexible stylistically, someone who bends with the wind, so to speak.
He can’t be neither; so could he be both? And as a reflective voter, I ask myself why Romney might craft a political combat strategy where he is everything to everyone. And my most compelling rational conclusion is this: he needs a path to not losing.
His path was pretty narrow to begin with competing against a popular incumbent. As we have grown to know Romney these past several months, that path to victory has only grown even more narrow. Given this perspective, his campaign, in many ways, is by design a flirtation with self-destruction for his party, and because of this failure is simply not an option.
If Romney loses, Republicans lose big. So the gamble is serious, and losing is deadly for a party clearly out of step ideologically and demographically–perhaps for the long-term–with an electorate that appears to be trending toward center-left.
Romney, if he were an FMA fighter, is a desperate fighter fixated on winning at all costs, including fighting dirty. Obama and the Democrats are wise to know this, and to engage him in political combat accordingly.