"Republicans are struggling right now to find the great white hope."
Rep. Lynn Jenkins, (R) Kansas
You probably won't see this on your TV much, since Ted Kennedy retrospectives will probably take up most of the available air time for the next couple of days, so I'll fill you in while your talking heads are otherwise preoccupied.
It seems Rep. Lynn Jenkins, (R) Kansas, broke one of the cardinal rules of politics by telling her public audience the kind of thing she says at private meetings with large donors - a rule President Obama himself understands, as we all discovered last year when an unauthorized recording of his comment "cling to their guns and their religion", made at a private gathering of influential supporters, leaked out to the press.
The other good thing about getting this from me instead of your favorite media outlet is the lack of sanctimony you'll get from me on this, because, just like Rep. Jenkins and President Obama, I have been known to write one thing here and say another in private. Like this morning, when I shared a particulaarly coarse and unsavory description of Rep. Jenkins with my buddy.
In real life, these things happen from time to time.
And for a unguarded few seconds, we are as honest and as earnest as Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes To Washington.
Maybe Rep. Jenkins toggle switch, the one most congressional level officeholders have that switches their rhetoric from "public" to "private", was accidentally actuated.
Maybe she looked into the crowd and forgot that cameras were rolling.
I can buy these kinds of explanations.
What I can't stomach is the statement her spokesperson issued.
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."
Geiger's explanation sounds about as ridiculous as Bill Clinton's meditation on the meaning of the word "is" during his testimony, while he was president of the United States, to the Starr Commission.
"It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is. If the--if he--if 'is' means is and never has been, that is not--that is one thing. If it means there is none, that was a completely true statement....Now, if someone had asked me on that day, are you having any kind of sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky, that is, asked me a question in the present tense, I would have said no. And it would have been completely true."
Grand Jury Testimony To The Starr Commission
When the recording of Barack Obama's "they cling to guns" statement hit the airwaves last year, it created an instant firestorm in the media. The "they" in this instance were rural white voters in places like Pennsylvania, where his campaign was polling poorly against Hillary Clinton.
"And it's not surprising then they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustrations."
The words Obama spoke in private were as true as the ones Rep. Jenkins uttered in public. But Obama's spokesperson did not try to change the actual meanings of the words he said, the way Jenkins spokesperson has been forced to do, but merely downplay them as much as possible.
Jenkins probably won't stand by her remarks the way Obama did last year, if her spokesperson's statement is any indication. Faced with a similar situation, Obama deconstructed his statement more forthrightly than we had come to expect from a politician
"It's interesting, right? Lately there's been a typical sort of political fight. Because I said something that everybody knows is true -- which is that there are a whole bunch of folks in small towns in Pennsylvania, in towns right here in Indiana, in my hometown in Illinois, who are bitter.
They are angry.
They feel like they've been left behind.
They feel like folks aren't paying attention to what they're doing here."
The irony about the uncomfortable truth behind Jenkins statement is the same irony that made me look up the "clinging to their guns" remark by Obama. If you think about the common denominators between a large swath of the people who have emerged from the woodwork this past year to protest practically everything the president does, "guns" and "religion" are at the top of the list.
Although what Obama said wasn't politically correct, he was right - there is a whole lot of "clinging" going on these days.
Rep. Jenkins is right about the need for a "great white hope". There is a vocal subset of the Republican party who hunger for a return to "normal". Who make no bones about why they want to "take back the country". And Jenkins senses that in her district, she can count on these people to send her back to Washington.
I think Jenkins should see this as an opportunity, rather than a setback. Because if she spoke out about this, she would not just be speaking for all political extroverts you see on TV, but for the others who whisper at the office water coolers about the latest "coons in the White House" cartoons their friends have emailed them, for all the people who are commiserating at their local watering hole about the way things aren't like they used to be, for those who have unpacked their Confederate flags in case the talks about secession get serious - for all the people who are staring at this brown skinned president of these United States on their TV at home and asking themselves "what the hell happened?"
The great thing about the internet is, you don't have to go to Kansas or D.C. to let Rep. Jenkins know how you feel.
It's as simple as clicking right here.