So was this a Freudian Slip, or was Lynn Jenkins simply being especially honest about Republican strategy these days?
This phrase -- "great white hope" -- reminds me of a phrase I used to hear when I was a kid: "Say, that's mighty white of you!"
For a long time, I didn't realize that that phrase had anything to do with race. And I think it's possible -- unlikely, but possible -- that some of the adults I heard saying "that's mighty white of you!" didn't realize that either.
Is it possible that, despite the racialized context of her remarks, Lynn Jenkins didn't mean that the whiteness of the hope she says Republicans are looking for has anything at all to do with race?
As the Topeka Capital-Journal reports, Lynn Jenkins now claims, of course, that she wasn't talking about race:
U.S. Rep. Lynn Jenkins offered encouragement to conservatives at a town hall forum that the Republican Party would embrace a "great white hope" capable of thwarting the political agenda endorsed by Democrats who control Congress and President Barack Obama.
Jenkins, a Topeka Republican in her first term in Congress, shared thoughts about the GOP's political future during an Aug. 19 forum at Fisher Community Center in the northeast Kansas community of Hiawatha.
In response to inquiries by The Topeka Capital-Journal, a Jenkins spokeswoman said Wednesday the congresswoman wanted to apologize for her word choice and to emphasize she had no intention of expressing herself in an offensive manner.
Jenkins told people at the Hiawatha forum the nation could benefit from inspired leadership of a group of "really sharp" young Republicans in the House, particularly Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. Cantor was mentioned as a possible GOP vice presidential candidate in 2008 and is thought to be interested in seeking the Republican nomination for president in 2012.
"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.
"So don't, you know, lose faith if you are a conservative," Jenkins said in Hiawatha . . .
The Capital-Journal also helpfully explains the term's racist origins:
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.
When Lynn Jenkins' use of this phrase raised eyebrows and hackles, she sent out a minion to explain what she really meant:
Mary Geiger, a spokeswoman for Jenkins, said the reference to a great white hope wasn't meant to denote a preference by Jenkins for politicians of a particular "race, creed or any background." Jenkins was expressing faith fellow GOP representatives in the House would be key players in returning Republicans to a leadership role in Washington, Geiger said.
"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."
Jenkins wasn't available to comment personally on her presentation in Hiawatha, Geiger said.
Geiger said she had never previously heard Jenkins use the phrase "great white hope" in a political speech or private conversation.
Yeah, that's it -- by "white" she mean "bright," as in a "blindingly bright, white light."
That works. Doesn't it?
Bright, as in, a "blindingly bright, white political party."
Oh, wait a minute . . .
[thanks to swpd reader AM]
UPDATE (8/28/90): It appears that the phrase "great white hope," and its racist origins, had just recently crossed Jenkins' mind. According to the Ottawa Herald, Jenkins
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.’”