Earl Butz

Earl Butz

Infobox US Cabinet official
name= Earl Butz

order= 18th
title= United States Secretary of Agriculture
term_start= January 21 1971
term_end= October 4 1976
president= Richard Nixon
Gerald Ford
predecessor= Clifford M. Hardin
successor= John A. Knebel
birth_date= birth date|1909|7|3
birth_place= Albion, Indiana, United States
death_date= death date and age|2008|2|2|1909|7|3
death_place= Washington, D.C., United States
party= Republican

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.


Born in Albion, Indiana, Butz worked on his parents' convert|160|acre|km2|sing=on farm while growing up. 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 player Dave Butz.


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 1971, President Richard Nixon appointed Butz as Secretary of Agriculture, a position in which he continued to serve after Nixon resigned as the result of the Watergate scandal in 1974. In his time heading the USDA, Butz revolutionized federal agricultural policy and reengineered many New Deal era farm support programs. 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 last period in American history that food prices climbed high enough to generate political heat. His legacy would be to make sure that never happened again. 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. [ Pollan, Michael. 2006. Omnivore's Dilemma. Penguin Press ]

He was featured in the documentary King Corn (film), highlighted as the person who started the rise of corn production, large commercial farms, and the overabundance of corn in American diets.

candals 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." [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,908948,00.html "Quiet Please,"] "TIME Magazine," December 9, 1974]

A spokesman for Cardinal Cooke of the New York archdiocese demanded an apology, and the White House requested that he apologize. [http://www.believermag.com/issues/200310/?read=article_dean "Children of the Corn Syrup,"] Shea Dean, "The Believer," October 2003.] 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."

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" [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,946703-1,00.html reported the comment] while obscuring its vulgarity: [ [http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,946703-1,00.html "Exit Earl, Not Laughing,"] "Time", October 18, 1976.]

:"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 that "the only thing the coloreds are looking for in life are tight p - - - - , loose shoes and a warm place to s - - -."

:"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.

While the Associated Press sent the uncensored joke over the wire, Columbia Journalism Review says that only two newspapers - the Toledo, Ohio Blade and the Madison, Wisconsin Capital Times published the remark unchanged. Others bowdlerized the quote, in some cases replacing the feline reference with "a tight [obscenity] " and the scatalogical reference with "a warm place to [vulgarism] ". 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 while prior to 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." [Timothy Noah, [http://www.slate.com/id/2183658 "Earl Butz, History's Victim: How the gears of racial progress tore up Nixon's Agriculture secretary"] , Slate.com, Feb. 4, 2008.]

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

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. [ [http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9400E1D9163BF936A15754C0A967948260 " Butz Released 5 Days Early"] , "Associated Press", July 25, 1981]

Butz died in his sleep on February 2, 2008, aged 98 at his son Bill's home in Washington, D.C.. [Bob Scott, [http://jconline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20080203/NEWS0501/802030328/1152/NEWS "Butz remembered as one of agriculture's biggest boosters"] , "Journal and Courier", February 3, 2008] At his death, Butz was the oldest living former Cabinet member from any administration.


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