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Opening Arguments

It doesn't bear repeating

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. 


John Good
Mon, 02/04/2008 - 9:34pm

Try this on for size:
Butz obit

Tue, 02/05/2008 - 11:13pm

As is his very annoying and ethically wrong habit, John Good once again has lifted someone else's writing and published it as his own without citation in Left in Aboite.

The "Butz Obit" was lifted word for word from Wikipedia with nary a hat tip. Once when I objected to the reproduction of a NY Times article in LIA under the name "John Good," my comment was not published in the blog.

Interestingly, because of the mores of the time, Earl Butz's racist joke went unpublished in America's newspapers. He denied he was a racist, saying his resignation "is the price I pay for a gross indiscretion in a private conversation."

Butz had a good reputation as Secretary of Agriculture where he expanded farm exports to the Soviet Union. The liberals had the last laugh however when, after Earl had contributed over a million dollars to Purdue, students who never knew of him objected to putting his name on a new residence hall. I have to believe that the faculty influenced these protests.