Sunday, February 03, 2008

Snow Day, Mr. Butz

All though the early morning hours of Friday, February 1, snow fell on metro Chicago. At about 6:30 am, the phone rang. It was Lilly's room mother -- you know, I'm a little surprised that term is still used -- who left a message: no school. When there's no school, there's no preschool either, just as a matter of policy. And Yuriko has Fridays off. So we were all here for the Snow Day.

At least a foot of snow. Certain bushes near the house were all dressed up by it.

But it didn't evolve into a Snow Weekend. By Saturday morning, the roads were clear. On Sunday, I learned about the death of Earl Butz the old-fashioned way: in the newspaper.

Earl Butz. I would say that I was surprised he was still alive, but I already knew that. At some point last year, I considered a DPD posting about Secretary Butz, but didn't do it. Whatever his impact on ag policy, Earl Butz achieved one thing few, if any, Secretaries of Agriculture ever do: notice. Notoriety, in fact. Quick, who's the current secretary? Turns out that Congress only confirmed someone new to the post last week, Ed Schafer, whose name isn't on the lips of Americans far and wide.

Who remembers Butz' predecessor, Orville Freeman? His successor, John Knebel? Or the first such Secretary, appointed by President Cleveland? Norman Jay Coleman. Not me. Even a presidential buff has to look these things up (but not that Vice President Henry Wallace was once Secretary of Agriculture).

As long as the 1970s remain in living memory, however, Earl Butz will be remembered, and maybe even after that.

The October 18, 1976, issue of Time set the scene:

"En route to help dedicate a screwworm eradication plant in Mexico, Earl Butz took a plane to California just after the Republican National Convention in Kansas City... In the first-class compartment, the Agriculture Secretary spied Singers Pat Boone and Sonny Bono, and John Dean, the former White House counsel who had blown the whistle on Richard Nixon and had just worked the convention as a writer for Rolling Stone. A gregarious man who likes to flaunt his snappy country—and often barnyard—sense of humor, Butz, 67, wandered over to make idle conversation...

"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."

The following also speaks to the Earl Butz legacy. It is not for children or most places of work. Amazing what turns up on YouTube.

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