From The Boston Globe:
OTTAWA, Kan. – A first-term Kansas congresswoman said yesterday that her remark about fellow Republicans seeking a “great white hope’’ was not a reference to someone who could challenge President Obama or his political agenda.
Representative Lynn Jenkins said she was instead making a comment about GOP leaders in the House and was trying to reassure Republicans that the party has bright leaders there.
Both she and an aide yesterday said they apologize if the comment offended anyone, and Jenkins added that she wasn’t aware that the phrase had a negative connotation. But she also suggested it had been taken out of context.
At the Hiawatha event, Jenkins was discussing the GOP’s future, with Democrats in control of Congress and Obama elected the nation’s first black president. Jenkins is white, as are three House colleagues she mentioned as future party leaders: Eric Cantor of Virginia, Kevin McCarthy of California, and Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
The phrase “great white hope’’ often is associated with pre-civil rights era racism and is widely believed to have entered usage in the United States when boxer Jack Johnson, who was black, captured the heavyweight title in the early 20th century.
Many whites reacted to Johnson’s achievement by trying to find white fighters – or a “great white hope’’ – who could beat him.
From The Ottawa Herald:
The controversy surrounding U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins’ disclaiming of the phrase “great white hope” came less than a month after she had supported a resolution referencing that same phrase.
Jenkins, R-Kan., said Thursday she didn’t know “great white hope” had a negative connotation when she recently used the phrase to describe Republicans’ search for a new leader.
However, the freshman lawmaker supported a resolution that included that exact phrase last month when the House approved by unanimous consent a measure urging President Obama to pardon black U.S. boxer Jack Johnson.
Within the resolution passed by the House July 29 was a passage that read, “Whereas the victory by Jack Johnson over Tommy Burns prompted a search for a White boxer who could beat Jack Johnson, a recruitment effort that was dubbed the search for the ‘great white hope.’”
Jenkins, in Ottawa Thursday for a town hall forum on health care, told reporters she was unaware of this history after critics accused her of using racially-charged language to rally support against Obama.
But Mary Geiger, Jenkins’ press secretary, told The Herald today the Kansas lawmaker supported the resolution to pardon Johnson.
From The Star-Ledger (editorial):
The Grand Old Party still doesn’t get it.
At least that’s the case with people like Rep. Lynn Jenkins, a Kansas Republican. She’s only been in office since January, but has already adopted the willful blindness of her party’s current leadership.
“Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope,” she said at an Aug. 19 community forum, in response to an audience member’s question about the party’s future.
Caught on video, Jenkins’ remark spread rapidly, and she issued what has become the inevitable standard non-apology: “I was unaware of any negative connotation, and if I offended anybody, obviously, I apologize.”
Jenkins’ remark leaves her in the category of dim bulb.
Republicans have succeeded in alienating young people, blacks and Hispanics, and their party is fast becoming a relic of the Confederate South. That’s no way to forge a path out of the political wilderness.
The GOP needs to wise up and leave its divisive, race-based Southern Strategy where it belongs: in the dustbin of history.
Congresswoman Lynn Jenkins apologized for saying that Republicans needed a “great white hope.” Consequently, her career jumped a “great white shark.” – Pat Costa