Sunday, February 03, 2008

Regrets, He Had a Few. But Then Again, Too Few To Mention

Nixon-era Secretary of Agriculture Earl Butz (seen here in a documentary about the USDA we made many years ago) died yesterday. This has created a somewhat awkward situation for the nation's obituary writers, since Earl's greatest (or I should "most notorious") accomplishment in life - and thus lead line in most of his obits - was, as the NYTimes puts it, being "forced from office in 1976 after making a racial joke." But according to a GoogleNews search, out of 122 obituaries for the man, none even hints at the actual content of the joke. (Our friend Daniel has been writing extensively about this sort of self-censorship for some time now, but is apparently off tailgating this morning). Just days ago, Pat Boone, the man to whom Earl Butz told this career-ending zinger, referred to it only as "a despicable racial joke" (in an essay arguing that anyone can be president as long as he doesn't have a vagina or is specifically Barak Obama), leaving WorldNetDaily readers to the fever swamp of their own imaginations.

So, because 14 years ago I was paid a salary to look this information up; because we (of course!) didn't use it in a PBS documentary; because Butz was "en route to help dedicate a screwworm eradication plant in Mexico," when he screwed himself instead; and because, frankly, I found Earl Butz to be extremely charming and likable, and think he deserves better than to branded a racist merely by inference, here, in its entirety - send the kids to bed! - is the joke that the mainstream media doesn't want you to hear:

"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."

[sound of crickets chirping]

Okay, I guess we can say that Earl was an actual racist, and inference has nothing to do with it. ("You know, I don't know how many times I told that joke, and everywhere—political groups, church groups—nobody took offense, and nobody should," he said at the time.) But there's a moral to this story (mine, not his). Having spent an entire afternoon with the man, in a cameras-rolling, unrestricted interview situation, we completely chickened out on the one question that had been nagging me for weeks - "Loose shoes"? - and instead stuck to the issues of rural electrification and the Conservation Reserve Program. And now he's gone, and the opportunity is lost forever. The price of self-censorship.

Update: Bloomberg at least kinda sorta gives it a shot:
Butz said "the only things the coloreds are looking for in life are,'' to paraphrase him, loose shoes, good sex and a warm toilet.

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