In 1964 before Muhammad Ali fought Sonny Liston the first time for the heavyweight championship, Ali boasted that he would “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” to avoid Liston’s blows. In the event Ali claimed the championship when Liston refused to answer the bell for the seventh round.
Ali’s boastfulness was part of his showmanship and virtuosity. It generated intense interest in his fights, and he had the stuff to make good on it. Traditional fight fans (I’m thinking of my grandfather) probably wanted to see Ali brought low for his boasting, though other factors also limited his popularity. Ali announced after the first Liston fight that he had joined the Nation of Islam and changed his name from Cassius Clay to Muhammad Ali. His subsequent draft resistance made him an outlaw figure. In 1967 his boxing license was stripped from him. When the Supreme Court finally ruled in his favor in 1971, Ali returned to the ring to fight Joe Frazier. By this time Ali was well on his way to becoming the wildly popular athlete of the decade. One could see that he had sacrificed something substantial for his beliefs during what should have been the prime of his career.
In the video above, Barack Obama addresses the United Steelworkers Union in Steelton, Pennsylvania regarding his San Francisco remarks. He seems to me to show the finesse of Ali, deftly parrying the jabs that have been thrown at him. His popuarity may be limited in the way Ali’s was before 1967, or it may prove to be the stronger stuff of 1971. And John McCain may prove to have more in common with the lumbering Liston, or with Smokin’ Joe Frazier. In the video above, Obama floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee. It would be a serious mistake to underestimate him.
JOHN adds: Obama is a talented but inexperienced and, I think, overconfident candidate. Newt Gingrich says that he could be the Michael Dukakis of 2008.
SCOTT adds: I confess. I felt the same way about Dukakis.