Former U.S. Secretary Of Agriculture under Presidents Nixon and Ford, Earl L. Butz passed away last weekend at the age of 98. Though described by one observer as œa friendly man who often looks forbidding austere, primly dressed, and, when the podium lights shine from below, like a shorter version of Boris Karloff, the New York Times’ Richard Goldstein recalls Butz’ most infamous indiscretion.
He was a man with a penchant for barnyard humor who delighted in showing visitors a wood carving of two elephants having sex that he kept in a cabinet behind his desk, a gift from a friend in Indiana symbolizing Mr. Butz™s quest to multiply farm votes for the Republicans.
But his off-color comments brought accusations of bigotry and his eventual departure from Washington. Trouble first arrived in November 1974 during an informal meeting with reporters in Washington when Mr. Butz, using a mock Italian dialect, criticized on Pope Paul VI™s opposition to using artificial birth control as a solution to world food problems. A spokesman for the Archdiocese of New York called on Mr. Butz to resign or apologize. He did offer an apology following a rebuke from President Ford.
Mr. Ford had been counting on Mr. Butz to help win the Midwestern farm vote when he ran for a full term against Jimmy Carter in 1976, and Mr. Butz campaigned strenuously in that race. But his career in Washington suddenly ended a month before the election. On a plane trip following the Republican National Convention in August, accompanied by, among others, John W. Dean 3d, the former White House counsel, Mr. Butz made a remark in which he described blacks as œcoloreds who wanted only three things ” satisfying sex, loose shoes and a warm bathroom ” desires that Mr. Butz listed in obscene and scatological terms.
Mr. Dean reported the remark in Rolling Stone magazine, attributing it to a cabinet official he did not identify, but New Times magazine subsequently cited Mr. Butz as the source. Prominent figures from both parties called on Mr. Butz to quit, and Mr. Ford gave him a œsevere reprimand for œhighly offensive remarks. Mr. Butz resigned within days, saying that œthe use of a bad racial commentary in no way reflects my real attitude.
(Daniel Radosh — who doesn’t look old enough to remember this stuff — provides more detail as to what Butz really said and how it was reported at the time.)
At the risk of making light of a rather vicious racist remark, I think a large percentage of the CSTB readership — irrespective of race — would be quite happy with satisfying sex, loose shoes and a warm bathroom. Or perhaps loose sex, warm shoes and a satisfying bathroom.