During a recent town hall meeting, Republican Representative Lynn Jenkins of Kansas was asked how the GOP and its supporters could hope to defeat President Barack Obama's agenda. Her answer was more than a little startling.
"Republicans are struggling right now to find the Great White Hope. suggest to any of you who are concerned about that, who are Republican, there are some great young Republican minds in Washington.." Jenkins then went on to list the name of several posisble national party leaders, including Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, and Rep. Paul Ryan of Wisconsin- all of whom are white.
The Great White Hope, for those who are unfamiliar with the reference, is a play upon which a film of the same name was made in 1970, and earned the sole Academy Award nomination for James Earl Jones (who also earned a Tony Award for the Broadway performance). The movie followed a seemingly unbeatable African American boxing champion who is almost universally hated by the predominantly white fans. As the black protagonist continues to dominate his sport, his adversaries seek a white boxer upon whom they can pin their hopes of redeeming their race in the sport. The play was inspired by the career of the first African American heavyweight champ, Jack Johnson. A former heavyweight champion by the name of Jim Jeffries came out of retirement to face Johnson, commenting, "I am going into this fight for the sole purpose of proving that a white man is better than a Negro." Johnson defeated Jeffries soundly, sparking nationwide race riots.
So, that's the background of the comment. Now draw the obvious paralells. The discussion at the town hall meeting was about finding a leader who can help Republicans defeat the agenda of our nation's first African American president, and Jenkins commented on the search for a "Great White Hope."
Jenkins denied any racial reference, but through her spokesperson issued an apology for a "poor choice of words." Formerly the state Treasurer of Kansas, she defeated one-term Democrat Nancy Boyda in 2008 by less than 1000 votes.