GOP Member of Congress Looking for “Great White Hope” to Tackle Obama

Jack Johnson (library of congress)

Jack Johnson (library of congress)

The Topeka Capital-Journal proves that mid-sized daily papers aren’t totally obsolete yet with this gem of a story about Representative Lynn Jenkins (R-KS):

“Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope,” Jenkins said to the crowd. “I suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.”

A videotape of the presentation contains footage of Jenkins identifying three members of the U.S. House — Cantor, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. — as future movers and shakers in the GOP. All are white, as is Jenkins.

Now to be fair, there are virtually no non-white Republican members of congress, so in suggesting that the party’s future hopes rest essentially on white talent Jenkins was arguably just stating the obvious. Joseph Cao has basically no chance of being re-elected, and that leaves the GOP with white people and the South Florida troika of Ros-Lehtinen and the Diaz-Balart brothers, none of whom are really going places.

That said, the article does an excellent job of contextualizing this remark:

The phrase “great white hope” is frequently tied to racist attitudes permeating the United States when heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson fought in the early 1900s. Reaction to the first black man to reign as champion was intense enough to build support for a campaign to find a white fighter capable of reclaiming the title from Johnson.

Which I think more-or-less captures a lot of the psychological subtext of the right’s tendency toward hysterical overreaction toward Obama administration initiatives. Jenkins’ press secretary, Mary Geiger, offered this implausible spin:

“There may be some misunderstanding there when she talked about the great white hope,” Geiger said. “What she meant by it is they have a bright future. They’re bright lights within the party.”

Wouldn’t it have been better to just try for a dead metaphor defense and say that Jenkins just didn’t realize what the phrase means? At any rate, Jenkins is a freshman one of the very small number of Republicans to actually defeat a Democratic incumbent in recent years, so you might think she’d have better political skills than this.