The Burlington Hawk-Eye
The Hawk Eye
A Happy Coincidence
October 5, 1976
Washington, D.C. Life continues to amaze and delight.
We came down out of the black night sky on to the befuddling sea of blue lights that bejewel the taxiways of Dulles International Airport. All afternoon, all the way from the Mississippi, our little plane had bucked the stubborn headwind. We were late and tired and the first thing we learned was that we'd been outflown by the stork and were grandparents again.
The next thing we learned was that, while we were airborne, Gerald Ford had finished weighing race relations against farm politics and Earl Butz had resigned.
There was no connection between these two events, except both fit the definitions of news. It also occurred to me that resignations have been as plentiful in the Nixon-Ford administration as the birth of children and grandchildren in our family.
We didn't actually rush off to Washington because of the impending birth of our third grandchild this one to Judy and lawyer son, Timothy. We were coming anyway to the annual United Press Editors Convention and it was a happy coincidence that we arrived just in time to congratulate the new mother and rehabilitate the new father.
"It's always so exciting to go to those newspaper meetings with you," Peggy said. "Something always happens."
She's right. Four years ago during this same meeting, Pat Gray, the director of the FBI got mad and shouted at me for suggesting in a question that maybe the FBI wasn't getting to the bottom of Watergate. Some months later, Gray had to resign.
Three years ago, when the meeting was in Mexico City, Peggy came running across the lobby after reading a news ticker to shout, "Guess what! Agnew just resigned."
Two years ago, not long after Nixon resigned, we were at a news meeting in Des Moines one Sunday morning when the announcement came in that Ford had pardoned Nixon.
That's what the news all reminded me of here last night; Ford pardoning Butz. The agriculture secretary's departure sounded more like a coronation than a resignation. A stranger to events would wonder what on earth it was all about, how any president could possibly get along without such a tower of strength.
"Decent and good," Ford called Butz, "a close personal friend," and accepting the resignation was, the president assured one and all, "one of the saddest decisions of my presidency."
The stranger would wonder why all the fuss over what Butz described as "the unfortunate choice of language." Nixon, it will be recalled, made it clear in his resignation speech that he had done nothing wrong either.
From the initial moments I've heard and read, Butz's departure is a disappointment to many and does Ford little good. It came a little late to earn the president any credit for righteous wrath; it won't persuade any great number of blacks to vote Republican and at least some in the farm business resent Ford for dumping Butz for what they consider inadequate reasons. One presidential aide is being quoted as saying about farmer reaction, "When they see him forced out of office for something any of them might have said over the back fence, they resent it."
That may be a rather low opinion of farmers, but one problem is that most people are still unaware of what Butz actually did say. Bob Dole claims that Butz's remarks are no worse than Jimmy Carter's statement to Playboy magazine. The best comment on Dole's judgment is the fact that the press has been able to report accurately and verbatim what Carter said, but Butz's remarks are so crude most of the press won't even repeat them. The result is an unfair bias in the press against Carter.
The closest papers have come to the actual Butz language is the Washing-ton Post version: Asked why the Republican party couldn't attract more blacks, Butz replied "Because colored only want three things ... first, a tight (woman's sex organ); second, loose shoes; and third, a warm place to (defecate)."
For now at least the Hawk Eye will let you fill in the missing words. If you want to see them for yourself, a wire copy is available at the Hawk Eye, as well as the Rolling Stone magazine with the original story.
The most offensive word Butz used in the context of racial politics is the word "colored." It indicates how dated Butz's racial attitudes were.
But although it bowed to the political pressure, the Ford administration is not happy to lose Butz, which explained why Ford verbally pardoned him while accepting his resignation.
Last night, at a farm meeting in Pennsylvania, the new acting Secretary of Agriculture John Knebel said: "I for one wish to hell that Secretary Butz was here. And I believe you do too." The audience cheered loudly. Butz had made them a lot of money.
But back to the other news, my new granddaughter is called Kathleen Elizabeth, a fine enough Irish name. But late last night, I couldn't resist: "Too bad it wasn't a boy," I said. "You could have called him Earl." I was asked to resign for an unfortunate choice of language.
Return to Columns.