Friday, February 08, 2008

Remembering the Real Earl Butz

Earl Butz just died. Like you care. But reading his rather unimpressive obit I was struck by the incredible delicacy the Times showed in discussing the incident for which he is actually remembered. White people below a certain age, and recent immigrants, may be forgiven having hazy or no memories of America's actual recent past. But the rest of us have no excuse. Racism, in thought, word, and deed isn't dead today. But it was even more lively a few years ago. In fact, when I was a girl it was fairly capering. Racist thought and practice was everywhere--actual racist language was becoming circumscribed by the rising voting power of non-whites and changes in public acceptance of certain kinds of honesty.

Butz was Secretary of Agriculture under Nixon and Ford and his job was to get money and goodies to Republican voters while destroying the small family farm, the environment, and undercutting and savaging democrats. At least that's the way I remember him. He eventually was forced out because he was revealed to have made the following "joke." While campaigning for Ford he said that all "Coloreds want is loose shoes, tight pussy, and a warm latrine." In Times speak this was reduced to "Mr. Butz was a forceful, sharp-tongued figure who engineered legislation sharply reducing federal subsidies for farmers." And the remark in question? Reduced to "Mr. Butz made a remark in which he described blacks as “coloreds” who wanted only three things — satisfying sex, loose shoes and a warm bathroom — desires that Mr. Butz listed in obscene and scatological terms."

This is down the memory hole with a vengeance. In the last eight years the progressive left and the Democrats in general have been hammered for their "incivility." In particular we have been charged with lese majeste (sorry I can't get my accents in there) for calling the president "chimpy" and for failing to show the proper reverence for the difficulties of being the decider. Code Pink have been excoriated for being everything from witches to sluts. Democratic men have been called fags and gays while democratic women have been called "fragrant hippy pie wagons" (whatever that means). Patrick Leahy has been told to "go fuck himself" on the Senate Floor. And yet this torrent of abuse, this utter demoralization of the political lexicon, has been dissapeared from the main stream media's memory.

Now we enter the era of a woman and a black contending for the Democratic nomination while a man famed for his "salty language" and his "uncivil talk" and his intemperate rages against his own party contends for the Republican one. We can expect that the Times, The Boston Globe, and the TV news will continue to pretend that when Republicans say something it is merely "salty" or "honest" or "a little crude." We can watch McCain's "straight talk" and that of his supporters--wasn't it a McCain supporter who asked him "how can we beat the bitch?" without rebuke?--transformed by the delicacy of our press into "authenticity" or "expressions of deep feelings" and, in the end into mere bumps on the road back to the White House.

(edited because its not pithy enough, damn it).