Today the death of Muhammad Ali appears to have stopped the parallel political campaigns for the Democratic nomination and the presidency. On a normal Saturday morning CNN, Fox News and MSNBC would have had all their usual pundits rehashing the violence at Donald Trump’s rally in San José, Hillary Clinton’s first successful attack on Trump, and Bernie Sanders’s latest argument why the Democratic Party’s nomination process is rigged if he doesn’t become the nominee, even if ‘the Secretary’ has won more pledged delegates once the primaries are over. Instead, all the cable networks are going back and forth between documentary stories and images of Ali’s career and life, studio guests with their own memories of ‘the Greatest,’ like William Rhoden of the New York Times, who appears on more than one channel, and reporters at the Phoenix hospital where Ali died and in Louisville where he was born, who cannot tell us anything more than that the family is in mourning in Phoenix and that preparations for the funeral are under way in Louisville, ‘news’ that of course you don’t really need to hear the whole day.
In spite of the repetitions, however, one of the perks of spending a day memorizing Ali’s life, his courage and his wit, is that we are treated to the many hilarious statements he made, most of which were both heartfelt and true, albeit on occasion slightly exaggerated. The way he intimidated Sonny Liston before his first title fight: “I float like a butterfly and sting like a bee, the hands cannot hit what the eyes can’t see,” followed after his victory by the little poem “The fans didn’t know when they came to the fight, that they’d see the launching of the first black satellite.” Or his confidence booster for the ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ with George Foreman, a boxer he was genuinely afraid of who initially hit him so hard that it may very well have been the first cause of his Parkinson’s Syndrome: “Last week I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I’m so mean I make medicine sick.” And finally the prediction of his victory over Joe Frazier: “It’s gonna be a thrilla when I beat the gorilla in Manila.” But his most famous quote was not about boxing: “I ain’t got no quarrel with the Viet Cong, no Viet Cong ever called me a nigger.”
The way Ali explained his refusal to go to Vietnam that cost him his title and the heart of his career deserves more quotations: “Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go ten thousand miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam when so called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?” In his view the war simply served to continue the domination of darker people by white slave masters.
His statement went on as follows: “But I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again. The real enemy of my people is right here. I will not disgrace my religion, my people or myself by becoming a tool to enslave those who are fighting for their own justice, freedom and equality.” In conclusion, Ali said: “This is the day when such evils must come to an end.” It was his own Gettysburg Address.
Although Ali’s passing put the campaign on a back burner there was some interaction. Trump tweeted an homage to the champion but didn’t seem to remember that Ali had fiercely criticized his attitude towards Muslims. That and Hillary’s speech is only the beginning of his downfall.