Not many friends are aware, but I kept fairly close track of professional boxing for a long time. My dad watched all the professional fights on TV in the 50s and 60s, when I was growing up. I watched Rocky Marciano's last fight against Archie Moore. Moore and Sugar Ray Robinson were my dad's favorites.
I got to watch two of Ali's best fights before he challenged Liston - the bouts against Moore and Henry Cooper (1963's fight of the year). I listened to the Clay-Liston title bout over a transistor radio at a Highline High School basketball game. There must have been 50 others at the game, with their little radios plugged to their ears.
Since then, I followed title fights and professional rankings up into the mid-90s. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, I watched a lot of championship fights at hotels or bars, because they weren't on TV.
I then turned against the sport. But many of the famous matches over the past 100 years or so make great metaphor.
Thinking of Obama's first year in office, I can't help but remember the 8th round of the Rumble in the Jungle:
Ali seemed exhausted - even over the radio, where I listened to the title match with my friend Michael Wiater in Seattle. But Foreman was more exhausted.
Or the 15th round of the March 1975 fight against George Weppner. I listened to that at KLAM Radio's studios in Cordova:
I was in the Army when Ali announced his intent to be a conscientious objector. Fellow soldiers supported him or denounced him largely upon racial lines. We've come so far since then, though racism is still omnipresent.
Ali's court battle - which he won - kept him out of pro fighting during what would have been his best years. During that time, and since Ali's name change from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali, were my first experiences with American Islamophobia.
What does this have to do with President Obama? Essentially, Obama has to learn to fight, and to punch back. There has been way too much stinging like a butterfly and dancing like a bee coming from the White House. Ali's outspokenly poetic one-liners broke through all sorts of resistance to his views, and brought them to the fore. Obama, is always trying to appear to be willing to meet his opponents, should they desire it. It hasn't worked much.
There have been no benefits to the White House for Obama's support of the banksters he inherited from the failed Bush administration. There have been no benefits for his coddling of perpetrators of Bush administration war crimes. He is even hiding their evil deeds from public scrutiny. There have been no benefits from his staff's enabling of Congress to turn health care legislation into the most unpopular set of ineffective possibilities many could have imagined.
President Obama might need to develop an "anchor punch."