A couple of thoughts prompted by the passing of Earl Butz:
1. Could his forced resignation have been a factor in Jimmy Carter's defeat of Gerald Ford?
The ensuing political firestorm created a dilemma for Ford. Butz's popularity in Midwestern farm states was a crucial asset to the president, who was in the middle of a tight election campaign against his Democratic challenger, former Georgia Governor Jimmy Carter.
That would make two presidencies John Dean contributed to the downfall of. He's the one who reported (in Rolling Stone) that a "Cabinet official" had told a racist joke. He repeated the joke but didn't name the official, but another publication figured that out and named Butz.
2. The joke was so offensive that most publications wouldn't print it. At most, some accounts paraphrased it, but so badly that it wasn't possible to really know what Butz had actually said. So, many Americans literally didn't know what all the fuss was about. But when people did find out what it was, that allowed them to get away with telling a racist joke without actually telling a racist joke: "I don't think this is funny or appropriate, you understand, but this will help you put the episode in context."
I notice the current accounts of Butz' death don't repeat the joke, either. In fact, some of them barely refer to it. (The one I linked to has one of those crude paraphrases.) It's interesting that a man can live to be almost 100 and have such a varied and influential life and have his whole existence defined by one moment we still don't want to talk about much.
It's also interesting to have this reminder of our racial sensitivities at this moment in our political history, when it is quite likely that a black man named Barack Obama will be a major-party nominee for president. In Butz' day, a lot of people felt they had to put on a public face of tolerance but still felt free to wax eloquently racist in private. Not that we've gotten over race, but there is at least less of that duplicitous behavior now. Every generation, we get a little better.