Democratic Leadership Can Learn Something from Muhammad Ali
Prominently displayed in my office is a copy of the famous black and white photo where Ali is standing over Sonny Liston as he lays on his back stunned by the fact that he was knocked down in the first minute of the first round. A few nights ago Keith Olbermann addressed White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs reference to the "professional left" and in his response Olbermann said "we are not just another version of the Right, we think over here, and we fight for what we believe in." At that moment I glanced over at the framed photo of Ali.
Muhammad Ali was a three time heavy weight champion, Olympic gold medalist and Sports Illustrated "Sports Personality of the Century." Nicknamed "The Greatest" Ali was involved in several historic boxing matches. They were historic because at times he was up against bigger or stronger opponents yet some how Ali defied the odds and won those matches. He had only five loses in his career with no draws and amassed 56 wins (37 knockouts and 19 decisions). Ali was indeed the greatest fighter of all time. Not only for his fighting skill but for three other reasons that I think Democrats should take note of and learn a few lessons from.
First, Ali was confident in his abilities, so much so that he called himself the greatest way before society bestowed that title on him. He believed in himself. He would study his opposition, learn their strengths and weakness, capitalize on weaknesses and limit their strengths. Second, he said what he believed. Ali was known for pre-match hype where he would tell his opponents, on television and in person, how and in which round he would finish them off. And finally, in addition to his confidence and firm belief, Ali backed up his words with actions. Most people considered Ali a trash talker until they saw the fight. More often than not his predictions were true. Ali never made excuses for not trying to deliver on anything that he said.
Well known for his unorthodox fighting style which he described as "Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee" and employing techniques such as the rope-a-dope. Ali would lay against the ropes, allowing his opponent to hit him, but toward the end the opponent would get tired and make mistakes then Ali would exploit them in a counter attack. He became a cultural icon because people learned to love him as a fighter.
Take heed Democrats in the House and Senate, the American people love those who stand up for what they believe in, back up their words with actions and fight for what they want. Like people once saw in Ali, in 2008 we saw confidence coming from those who sought to lead the country, and we liked what we saw. We heard speeches and debates that spoke of change and a willingness to fight for it. We liked what we were hearing about education, jobs, healthcare reform, and more. We stood behind you ready to fight and you won the election.
We have seen Democrats on television and face to face with the opposition, make predictions of changes to come. We heard you talk about the Employee Free Choice Act, immigration reform, holding Wall Street accountable, fixing the mortgage and foreclosure crises, ending the war, and so on. At times it appears that the predictions of change made before the fight have not always lived up to reality. We want to see you back up your words with actions and fight for what you believe in. Like Ali, if you make a prediction to take on the opposition and win, we are turning on our television to watch the fight with the anticipation that you will do what you said you would do.
We understand that some fights will be tougher than others, but unlike Ali, you have an advantage -- you have the White House as well as a majority in the House and Senate. You are bigger and stronger than the Republicans.
Ali never had a draw in his career. There was always a clear winner and a clear loser, no concessions that gave his opponent any small victories to tout or brag about. He either won or lost, but more often than not he won. We expect to see the same from our elected leaders, more victories than losses and not giving the opposition any small victories to go home and brag about.
None of us believe that running the country is an easy job and we understand that fighting for change is difficult. Two years ago we voted for greatness, we were ready to make history and fight for change, both now and for future generations. We still have the same expectations, yes we are frustrated but we still believe that you can deliver change we can believe in. So Mr. President and Democrats, when the fight gets tough, get un-orthodox with your fighting style like Ali and "float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, rumble young man rumble."