Earl Butz

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Earl Butz
18th United States Secretary of Agriculture
In office
January 21, 1971 – October 4, 1976
PresidentRichard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Preceded byClifford M. Hardin
Succeeded byJohn Albert Knebel
Personal details
Born(1909-07-03)July 3, 1909
Albion, Indiana, United States
DiedFebruary 2, 2008(2008-02-02) (aged 98)
Washington, D.C., United States
Political partyRepublican
Alma materPurdue University
ReligionLutheran
 
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Earl Butz
18th United States Secretary of Agriculture
In office
January 21, 1971 – October 4, 1976
PresidentRichard Nixon
Gerald Ford
Preceded byClifford M. Hardin
Succeeded byJohn Albert Knebel
Personal details
Born(1909-07-03)July 3, 1909
Albion, Indiana, United States
DiedFebruary 2, 2008(2008-02-02) (aged 98)
Washington, D.C., United States
Political partyRepublican
Alma materPurdue University
ReligionLutheran

Earl Lauer Butz (July 3, 1909 – February 2, 2008) was a United States government official who served as Secretary of Agriculture under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford.

Contents

Background

Born in Albion, Indiana and brought up on a dairy farm in Noble County, Indiana. He was the eldest of five children and worked on his parents' 160-acre (0.65 km2) farm while growing up. [1] He attended a one-room country school through 8th grade and graduated from high school in a class of seven.[2]

He was an alumnus of Purdue University where he was a member of Alpha Gamma Rho Fraternity. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture in 1932, and then a doctorate in Agricultural Economics in 1937. He was the uncle of NFL defensive tackle Dave Butz, an All-American at Purdue University and All-Pro with the St. Louis Cardinals (1973-74) and Washington Redskins (1975-88).

Career

In 1948, Butz became vice president of the American Agricultural Economics Association, and three years later was named to the same post at the American Society of Farm Managers and Rural Appraisers. In 1954, he was appointed Assistant Secretary of Agriculture by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. That same year he was also named chairman of the United States delegation to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

He left both of the aforementioned posts in 1957, when he became the Dean of Agriculture at his alma mater, Purdue University. In 1968, he was promoted to the positions of Dean of Education and vice president of the university's research foundation. In 1968, he also ran for Governor of Indiana, but came in a distant third at the Republican state convention to eventual winner Edgar Whitcomb and future governor Otis R. Bowen.

Secretary of Agriculture

Sec. of Agriculture Earl Butz as cabinet member in the administration of Richard Nixon, second row, third from left, June 1972.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Butz as Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned in 1974 as the result of the Watergate scandal. In his time heading the USDA, Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs.

For example, he abolished a program that paid corn farmers to not plant all their land. (See Henry Wallace's "Ever-Normal Granary".) This program had attempted to prevent a national oversupply of corn and low corn prices. His mantra to farmers was "get big or get out," and he urged farmers to plant commodity crops like corn "from fencerow to fencerow." These policy shifts coincided with the rise of major agribusiness corporations, and the declining financial stability of the small family farm.

Butz took over the Department of Agriculture during the most recent period in American history that food prices climbed high enough to generate political heat. In 1972, Russia, suffering disastrous harvests, purchased 30 million tons of American grain. Butz had helped to arrange that sale in the hope of giving a boost to crop prices in order to bring restive farmers tempted to vote for George McGovern into the Republican fold.[3]

He was featured in the documentary King Corn, recognized as the person who started the rise of corn production, large commercial farms, and the abundance of corn in American diets. In King Corn, Butz argued that the corn subsidy had dramatically reduced the cost of food for all Americans by improving the efficiency of farming techniques. By artificially increasing demand for food, food production became more efficient and drove down the cost of food for everyone. Consequently, we now live in an "age of plenty".

Scandals and resignation

At the 1974 World Food Conference in Rome, Butz made fun of Pope Paul VI's opposition to "population control" by quipping, in a mock Italian accent: "He no playa the game, he no maka the rules."[4] A spokesman for Cardinal Cooke of the New York archdiocese demanded an apology, and the White House [4] requested that he apologize.[5] Butz issued a statement saying that he had not "intended to impugn the motives or the integrity of any religious group, ethnic group or religious leader."[4] Through a spokesman, he stated that media outlets had taken this portion of his statement out of their original context, which was that of retelling a joke.[6]

Butz resigned his cabinet post on October 4, 1976 after a second gaffe. News outlets revealed a racist remark he made in front of entertainer Pat Boone and former White House counsel John Dean while aboard a commercial flight to California following the Republican National Convention. The October 18, 1976 issue of Time reported the comment while obscuring its vulgarity:[7]

Butz started by telling a dirty joke involving intercourse between a dog and a skunk. When the conversation turned to politics, Boone, a right-wing Republican, asked Butz why the party of Lincoln was not able to attract more blacks. The Secretary responded with a line so obscene and insulting to blacks that it forced him out of the Cabinet last week and jolted the whole Ford campaign. Butz said: "I'll tell you what the coloreds want. It's three things: first, a tight pussy; second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to shit."
After some indecision, Dean used the line in Rolling Stone, attributing it to an unnamed Cabinet officer. But New Times magazine enterprisingly sleuthed out Butz's identity by checking the itineraries of all Cabinet members.

In any case, according to the Washington Post, anyone familiar with Beltway politics could "have not the tiniest doubt in your mind as to which cabinet officer" uttered it.[5]

While the Associated Press sent the uncensored quotation over the wire, the Columbia Journalism Review claims that only two newspapers — the Toledo Blade (Toledo, Ohio) and the Madison Capital Times (Madison, Wisconsin) — published the remark unchanged. Others bowdlerized the quote, in some cases replacing the female genital reference with "a tight [obscenity]" and the scatological reference with "a warm place to [vulgarism]" or "warm toilet seats". The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal said the original statement was available in the newspaper office; more than 200 stopped by to read it. The San Diego Evening Tribune offered to mail a copy of the whole quotation to anyone who requested it; more than 3,000 readers did.

According to Timothy Noah of Slate, this incident was "epochal" because before this, politicians assumed such offensive remarks could be uttered safely in private; after Butz's resignation, politicians "could no longer assume your fellow whites would protect you for telling a joke insulting to blacks, and you could no longer assume your fellow blacks would protect you for telling a joke insulting to Jews."[8]

The infamous quote was the origin of the movie title Loose Shoes which includes a skit "Darktown After Dark".[9] In it, the quote is put to music in a lavish Big Band number, Cab Calloway style.

Retirement and death

Butz returned to West Lafayette, Indiana and was named dean emeritus of Purdue University's School of Agriculture.

On May 22, 1981, Butz pleaded guilty to federal tax evasion charges, for having underreported income he had earned in 1978. On June 19 he was sentenced to five years in prison; however, all but 30 days of the term were suspended. He was also fined $10,000 and ordered to pay $61,183 in civil penalties.[10]

Butz died in his sleep on February 2, 2008, age 98, at his son Bill's home in Washington, D.C.[11] At his death, Butz was the oldest living former Cabinet member from any administration. As of 2011, Butz holds the record for the Cabinet member with the longest lifespan.

References

  1. ^ Earl Butz Biography
  2. ^ Children of the Corn Syrup
  3. ^ Pollan, Michael (2006). The Omnivore's Dilemma. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-303858-0.
  4. ^ a b c "Quiet Please," TIME Magazine, December 9, 1974
  5. ^ a b "Children of the Corn Syrup," Shea Dean, The Believer, October 2003.
  6. ^ "Butz: 'I'ma Sorry I Speaka Dat Way'." Indianapolis News 1974-11-29: 1.
  7. ^ "Exit Earl, Not Laughing," Time, October 18, 1976.
  8. ^ Timothy Noah, "Earl Butz, History's Victim: How the gears of racial progress tore up Nixon's Agriculture secretary", Slate.com, Feb. 4, 2008.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ " Butz Released 5 Days Early", Associated Press, July 25, 1981
  11. ^ Bob Scott, "Butz remembered as one of agriculture's biggest boosters", Journal and Courier, February 3, 2008

External links

Political offices
Preceded by
Clifford M. Hardin
United States Secretary of Agriculture
Served under: Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford

1971–1976
Succeeded by
John A. Knebel