That mythical match-up in the boxing world (usually it’s Ali and Jack Dempsey or Joe Lewis etc.) between Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali seems to be playing out in the Hilary/Barack battle.
Hilary is like Tyson to me. The shorter and seemingly tougher, or at least feistier of the two, with only one real knockout punch—“experience”—and the rest low blows and rabbit punches (like last night’s, with her references to “Farrakhan” and “Weathermen” and all the guilt-by-association tactics that her campaign has been waging against Obama and last night was also taken up by the so-called moderators who, in the case of George Stephanopoulos seemed to still be on the Clinton payroll, and Charlie Gibson, seemed to be trying to help Hilary stay in the ring for the TV revenues a down-to-the-wire battle will secure, and possibly he’d like to see Hilary vs. McCain which would be a much more down and dirty fight than I suspect Obama would wage.
Also like Tyson, when the fight is obviously lost, she’ll resort to any tactic no matter how it may be seen, like Tyson trying to bite Holyfield’s ear off when it was clear he was losing.
Obama is like Ali in his grace and unconventional charm and crowd appeal and superior fighting skills (the reason he is ahead in actual votes, in number of states won, in demographic variety among his supporters, in organizing skills on the ground, in endorsements from V.I.P.s—the latest being Bruce Springsteen).
But, like Ali, he sometimes can get too cocky, and/or too tired and distracted and lose his focus, which seemed to be the case last night. I was afraid I was watching a version of the Leon Spinks fight, where I remember saying to someone on the phone (the poet John Ashbery actually) who called just as the fight was about to start and obviously didn’t know that, and as I was trying to get off the line politely to watch it as the fighters came to the center of the ring for the ref’s instructions and to look into each other’s eyes and the camera came in close, I said “Sh-t! Ali’s gonna lose!”
I could see he wasn’t totally present, was tired, was disconnected in some way that he almost never was. And sure enough, he did lose, and it broke my heart. Same thing last night. Right from the start, Obama’s facial expression was one of a tired man, exhausted even, and not focused. While Hilary, like Spinks that night, had the glow of someone ready to risk everything on this one last chance to score.
Hilary knows Pennsylvania is it, whether she will ever admit to it or not, no matter the outcome. So she didn’t hold anything back. She was on point and had her usual smart-as-a-whip answers ready, something I used to admire but now find heartbreaking because, like her husband, she could have been something glorious and new in our poilitics, but in order to win has stooped to the same level as those she would replace (though she’d still be a better president than any Republican I can think of, especially McCain).
She also was quick to use her programmed laughing response to anything that might land a blow on her. And the so-called moderators acted as her corner men.
Obama meanwhile had to fight three opponents rather than just one, as the moderators joined her in attacking Obama, or set him up for her punches, or held him while she landed blows.
Where’s SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE now? Talk about one-sided. Stephanopoulos was actually bringing up Sean Hannity talking points! Obama is on the board of a charity organization that a college professor who was a student radical almost half a century ago is also on so therefore Obama isn’t a patriot? Obama doesn’t always wear a flag lapel pin so he doesn’t love America? And when Obama points out these are just distractions from what his campaign and this election and the concerns of most people are really about, Stephanopoulos keeps insisting it’s important and implies it may be deadly to Obama’s chances of winning!
But when Hilary laughs away the fact that she repeatedly told a lie about being under sniper fire, a lie her campaign would obviously be aware of and therefore obviously encouraged, the so-called moderators let her laugh it off as an embarrassing mistake (embarrassing because she got caught) and didn’t press her or ask about the lies she’s continually told about how she had a big part in the peace process in Ireland when she didn’t and was against NAFTA when she was for it and etc. etc.)
Obama should have used the same tactic (the Reagan gambit as I see it, a very successful one for him “There you go again” etc.) of laughing off the charges against him too. Instead, he seemed almost at a loss for words several times or too tired to be able to defend himself. Nor did he throw any low blows or rabbit punches back at Hilary, which is admirable and may have worked if he were laughing and smiling and being his usual charming self (which he was intermittently, but much less than usual) but because he looked like he was getting beat he played right into her tactics.
And where were his corner men? She had Chelsea in the audience, sitting between the governor of Pennsylvania and a prominent black Pennsylvania politician, and beside him ex-general Wesley Clark. If Oabama had any of his big supporters (Casey etc.) from Pennsylvania, or anywhere else, I didn’t see them, nor were his wife and daughters there, at least not on camera, which would have helped him when they cut to the audience, as it did Hilary when we were shown several times a smiling, obviously adoringly supportive Chelsea (though Rendell and the other men looked a little bored by it all, or maybe embarassed to be a part of Hilary's possiby party-destroying tactics).
So, here we go into the final rounds, and Tyson is hanging on to a tired Ali’s ear with his teeth and not letting go. What will Ali do?