Water Man Spouts

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Loser & Still Champion

(This essay appears on the political discussion forum the "Democratic Underground.")

{1} " ‘End of the Ali Legend’ a national sports magazine front-paged its coverage of The Fight. But the next day, lying in bed with his head out of shape but still very much together, Ali was proving himself an extremely lively corpse. Could a Super Ego like Ali, who has made braggadoccio a way of life, live with himself in defeat? It was expected that the firemen would have to come with their nets to catch the despondent ex-champion who could not bear the harsh reality after all those years in the rosy glow of unnatural perfection. But here was a new Ali, winning a new constituency with his unexpectedly graceful acceptance of defeat, suggesting with almost Boy-Scoutish piety that losing can be good for the soul and hoping it will help his people by setting an example in how to lose if lose you must. And then, the extrovert who shifts effortlessly into retrospection, ‘A plane crashes. A President gets assassinated. A civil rights leader assassinated. People forget in two weeks. Old news.’

"There are worse things than defeat in the ring, he says, and from even the worse tragedies people recover. The Fall and Rise of Muhammad Ali is practically instant. … He’s our black Johnny Appleseed. He’s in pursuit of a buck and in pursuit of the truth and somehow the expansiveness of his personality bridges contradictions that would undo the normal you’s and me’s. …..

"The scenario of Muhammad Ali is the sum of all our baseness and nobility. He is the mirror in which we may examine our viciousness, our thoughtlessness, and our flash moments of virtue. He is our time. It is a time of light and a time of darkness. A time when Americans may irrevocably tear themselves apart or succeed at last in putting themselves together, cleansed of cancerous hypocrisies. ….

"How this historic decision (Ali’s victory in the US Supreme Court on his draft case), Ali’s costly victory, speaks to our future only that future, pressed back into the past as history, can tell. Is it a sign of our painful confession for past sins, without which there cannot be a national reconciliation? Does it mean that we finally are awakening from our collective nightmare…?"
--Budd Schulberg; Loser and Still Champion: Muhammad Ali;1971; Popular Library.

All of life – at its very best, and, indeed, at its very worst – imitates the sport of boxing. And so when I listened to Senator Hillary Clinton’s powerful speech yesterday, I was reminded of Muhammad Ali’s grace and strength after his loss to Joe Frazier in the March 8, 1971 "Fight of the Century."

That loss provided an opportunity not only for Ali to learn and hence grow, but for his fans to, as well. More, it allowed many of the boxing fans and others who disliked Ali, often strongly, to come to respect Muhammad Ali in a way that could not have happened had Ali won that fight. In 1972, Elvis Presley gave Muhammad a boxing robe with the words "The People’s Champion" on the back. And by the time that Muhammad held the Olympic torch, few people resented him for the bitterness of his struggle against Uncle Sam, decades earlier.

Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign must also be viewed as something that both her supporters and detractors can learn from. Although I have supported Barack Obama since February, and came to resent some of the tactics of the Clinton campaign, I have more admiration for Hillary Clinton than I did in 2000 and 2006, when I worked for her campaigns for the Senate in New York State.

Even on the Democratic Underground, where more than a few of the discussions, debates, and arguments resembled low blows, butts, and rabbit punches, we have the opportunity to put that acrimony behind us, and reflect upon what we all may have learned. For me, it is a greater appreciation for the experience of females – of all ages – in our society. If I fail to learn from this, then I have wasted an important to grow as a human being. And if I fail to grow as a human being, then I betray the opportunity to help repair the damage that forces represented by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney have done to our country.

{2}"The guard on duty that morning at the Hudson County Jail unlocked my cell door and escorted me out to the front desk where the telephone was hanging down off the hook. He motioned for me to pick it up. I had no idea what was going on, but I picked up the phone anyway.

" ‘Is this the Hurricane?’ Muhammad Ali asked from 12,000 miles away. ‘Well, I just won my big fight here in Zaire in the eighth round,’ he said, ‘and now I’m coming back to America to help you win your Sixteenth Round. Just hang in there, Champ, I’m on my way!’

"So, to Rubin, Hurricane and Carter, Muhammad Ali means ‘One who has walked and talked with Kings, and yet has not lost the common touch.’ And perhaps our philosophy is one and the same. That only after hard and sometimes bitter conflict with the many injustices that pollute this world ….comes peace.

"Muhammad Ali means Constant Struggle!

"But that’s what America’s all about. Is it not?"

--Rubin "Hurricane" Carter; What Ali means to Black People …. And All People; World Boxing Magazine; 1974

As we approach the Democratic National Convention, and the November elections, our party needs to consider the demographics. "Demographics" are simply the population characteristics of the country, state by state. We need to win the presidency and make advances in the Congress, as well achieve victories in state and local elections, no single demographic is as important as having massive voter turnout. We want to win our fight in November in the overwhelming manner that Ali won his most important fights. In 2008, this means uniting the Obama and Clinton branches of the democratic party.

In order to heal the wounds that George W. Bush has inflicted on the fabric of our society, and repair the damage Dick Cheney has done to the foundation of our Constitutional democracy, we must have a united effort. Though Barack Obama has won the democratic primary contest, we will not win in November if we do not learn the harsh lessons from the past few months. All of us.

That means Constant Struggle. But that is what America is all about. Is it not?


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