Earl Butz, history's victim.

Gossip, speculation, and scuttlebutt about politics.
Feb. 4 2008 10:04 PM

Earl Butz, History's Victim

How the gears of racial progress tore up Nixon's Agriculture secretary.

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A few years after he left the government, Butz got busted for tax evasion. So if you're tempted to feel sorry for the guy for getting torn up by historical forces he never understood, give it a rest. The man was a creep.

[Update, Feb. 5: A reader informs me, as kindly as he can manage, that I read too much subtle wit into Butz's wisecrack about the pope. I fear he may be right. According to this reader, Butz was not commenting on Pope Paul's moresweeping opposition to artificial contraception, which rendered his narrower opposition with regard to food shortages a foregone conclusion. Rather, this reader says, Butz was making a coarse and simpleminded joke about the pope's own celibacy. Since the pope doesn't engage in sexual intercourse ("da game"), he has no right to tell other people whether they may use contraception or not when they engage in sexual intercourse ("da rules"). I must admit that this interpretation, which eluded me for 34 years, is much more in keeping with a sense of humor animated by the loose-shoes joke and by a sculpture of two copulating elephants. It also undermines my claim that Butz's remark was not anti-Catholic. Assuming the reader's interpretation is correct, Butz's pope jibe was at the very least a much nastier and more personal insult than I realized.]

Timothy Noah is a former Slate staffer. His  book about income inequality is The Great Divergence.

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