I am surprised that it took this long for someone to invoke the century old call for a "great white hope" to defeat Barack Obama. The subject of my master's thesis has been all over the news of late, because it was Jack Johnson's ascension to the heavyweight boxing championship in 1908 that touched off this original call for a redemption of the strength of the white race.
Of course Congresswoman Jenkins claimed not to be aware of the racial implications of the phrase, but as this article shows, Jenkins joined in a resolution (which passed both houses of Congress) for Obama to posthumously pardon Jack Johnson for his conviction for "violating" the 1910 Mann Act.
I decided to go back to some of my books and papers and refresh my memory about Jack Johnson and the calls for a "great white hope." I was reminded that the novelist Jack London was one of the earliest to call for someone to redeem the white race from the spectre of Johnson. As I was looking through Thomas R. Hietala's book, The Fight of the Century: Jack Johnson, Joe Louis and the Struggle for Racial Equality, I found a couple of interesting quotations from London, who was reporting on the July 4, 1910 fight between Jack Johnson and Jim Jeffries. London, in observing Johnson, noted that he "is not capable of seriously adjusting his actions to remote ends." (Hietala, 35). Yet in observing Jeffries, London noted that "this fight does not mean to Johnson what it does to Jeff." (Hietala, 36)
When I read those lines, I thought immediately of the Dick Cheney interview with Chris Wallace on Fox News Sunday. Though the racial context is not there, the sentiment that "this fight [against terrorism] does not mean to [Obama] what it does to [Cheney]" is. Cheney, according to the Fox News Sunday transcript of his interview with Chris Wallace, stated plainly that the Justice Department's investigation is "...clearly a political move," and that "there's no other rationale for why their doing this." When Wallace asked if Cheney thought that some of the actions of the interrogators was wrong, Cheney reiterated that their actions saved American lives. Cheney also added, later in the interview, that he thought that Democrats were weak on national security. And when asked about his thoughts on Obama, Cheney had this to say: "Well, I was not a fan of his when he got elected....I have serious doubts about his policies, serious doubts especially about the extent to which he understands and is prepared to do what needs to be done to defend the nation."
Sounds a bit like this fight doesn't mean the same to Obama as it does to Cheney, right?According to Cheney, Obama isn't prepared, or doesn't quite understand the gravity of these issues. Jack London already mapped out a rationale for Cheney there.
Finally, I was taken aback when I saw this headline on the opinion page of the Wall Street Journal's website: "Cheney for President." James Taranto follows Cheney's line of thought, and ponders if the moves of the Bush administration kept the country safe, then perhaps it's possible that the Obama administration is endangering us.
So maybe Congresswoman Jenkins has been given her answer to the question of who that "great white hope" to take on Obama may be: Dick Cheney. Though I am not sure that he is as good a bet as Taranto seems to suggest. Cheney, like so many of Jack Johnson's "great white hopes," has some real weak spots that could be exploited to Obama's advantage, especially as Cheney tries to land some serious, though misguided blows on Obama about national security.
Perhaps Obama really is like Jack Johnson, who was one of the best defensive fighters in the history of boxing, and is simply looking for those weak spots and will strike his blows when the time is right. I hope that the Justice Department's investigation will provide the necessary ammunition.