"Rumble in the Jungle"
"Float Like a Buttefly, Sting Like a Bee"
Watching Barack Obama's extraordinary performance at Mile High Stadium, lines from Muhammad Ali kept popping into my mind.
And it's not because of Obama's and Ali's race. It's because each may be among the greatest practitioners ever of their respective martial arts--boxing and politics.
Like so many Democrats, I've fretted this past month as the McCain campaign seemed to land punch, after unanswered punch on Obama and his poll numbers started to slip. I wrote a blog in these pages last week with some advice on how Obama could turn Rovian tactics back on McCain to redefine himself and redefine his opponent.
We needn't have worried. Tonight Obama came off the ropes and landed a series of thunderous blows to John McCain's jaw, as Ali did to George Foreman's in the famous "Rumble in the Jungle". To mix metaphors, Obama conducted a magnificent symphony, calling on every instrument in the orchestra to play its part. He simultaneously accomplished all 5 major goals which he needed to accomplish, and more.
1. DEFINE HIMSELF:
Four years ago, I stood before you and told you my story - of the brief union between a young man from Kenya and a young woman from Kansas who weren't well-off or well-known, but shared a belief that in America, their son could achieve whatever he put his mind to.
It is that promise that has always set this country apart - that through hard work and sacrifice, each of us can pursue our individual dreams but still come together as one American family, to ensure that the next generation can pursue their dreams as well.
2. DEFINE MCCAIN:
Now, I don't believe that Senator McCain doesn't care what's going on in the lives of Americans. I just think he doesn't know. Why else would he define middle-class as someone making under five million dollars a year? How else could he propose hundreds of billions in tax breaks for big corporations and oil companies but not one penny of tax relief to more than one hundred million Americans? How else could he offer a health care plan that would actually tax people's benefits, or an education plan that would do nothing to help families pay for college, or a plan that would privatize Social Security and gamble your retirement?
It's not because John McCain doesn't care. It's because John McCain doesn't get it.
3. PROVE THAT HE KNOWS HOW TO THROW A PUNCH, WILL FIGHT FOR HIMSELF, AND WILL FIGHT FOR THE AMERICAN PEOPLE:
If John McCain wants to have a debate about who has the temperament, and judgment, to serve as the next Commander-in-Chief, that's a debate I'm ready to have.
For while Senator McCain was turning his sights to Iraq just days after 9/11, I stood up and opposed this war, knowing that it would distract us from the real threats we face. When John McCain said we could just "muddle through" in Afghanistan, I argued for more resources and more troops to finish the fight against the terrorists who actually attacked us on 9/11, and made clear that we must take out Osama bin Laden and his lieutenants if we have them in our sights. John McCain likes to say that he'll follow bin Laden to the Gates of Hell - but he won't even go to the cave where he lives.
4. DEFINE IN SPECIFIC PROGRAMMATIC TERMS WHAT "CHANGE" WILL MEAN:
By Keith Olbermann's count, Obama spelled out at least 29 specific proposals for change. A few examples:
Change means a tax code that doesn't reward the lobbyists who wrote it, but the American workers and small businesses who deserve it.
Unlike John McCain, I will stop giving tax breaks to corporations that ship jobs overseas, and I will start giving them to companies that create good jobs right here in America.
I will eliminate capital gains taxes for the small businesses and the start-ups that will create the high-wage, high-tech jobs of tomorrow.
I will cut taxes - cut taxes - for 95% of all working families. Because in an economy like this, the last thing we should do is raise taxes on the middle-class.
And for the sake of our economy, our security, and the future of our planet, I will set a clear goal as President: in ten years, we will finally end our dependence on oil from the Middle East...
As President, I will tap our natural gas reserves, invest in clean coal technology, and find ways to safely harness nuclear power. I'll help our auto companies re-tool, so that the fuel-efficient cars of the future are built right here in America. I'll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars. And I'll invest 150 billion dollars over the next decade in affordable, renewable sources of energy - wind power and solar power and the next generation of biofuels; an investment that will lead to new industries and five million new jobs that pay well and can't ever be outsourced.
America, now is not the time for small plans.
5. SHOW THAT HE CAN UNIFY THE COUNTRY ACROSS ETHNIC AND PARTY LINES:
The times are too serious, the stakes are too high for this same partisan playbook. So let us agree that patriotism has no party. I love this country, and so do you, and so does John McCain. The men and women who serve in our battlefields may be Democrats and Republicans and Independents, but they have fought together and bled together and some died together under the same proud flag. They have not served a Red America or a Blue America - they have served the United States of America.
So I've got news for you, John McCain. We all put our country first.
Wednesday morning's New York Times noted that Obama "can sometimes seem as much athlete as politician. Even before he entered public life, he began honing not only his political skills, but also his mental and emotional ones...He does not easily exult, despair or anger: to do so would be an indulgence, a distraction from his goals. Instead...he separates himself from the moment and assesses."
So comparisons of Obama to the greatest athletes in their respective sports--Muhammad Ali, Joe DeMaggio, Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods, Roger Federer--as well as comparisons to the most talented politicians of the past half century--JFK, RFK, Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, and yes Hillary Clinton--do not seem completely out of line.
Even an extreme conservative like Pat Buchanan--who started out writing speeches for Richard Nixon and helped devise the Republican's "southern strategy" to use racial fear to transform working class whites from Democrats to Republicans--could express nothing but professional admiration for Obama's talent.
Obama proved that he can "float like a butterfly and sting like a bee," It doesn't mean this will be an easy election campaign (although McCain's Veep pick of Sarah Palin--runner up for Miss Alaska and recent Mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, Pop. 5,470--to sit a hearbeat away from the Presidency just made it a little bit easier) . Nor does it mean that if Obama wins, bringing fundamental change to America will be any easier. As Obama himself noted, change requires more than electing a new President. "Change happens because the American people demand it, because they rise up and insist."
But on this 45th anniversary of the March on Washington, one can't help but hope that the fulfillment of Martin Luther King's dream is a little bit closer.
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