Not Much Progress, I’d Say

It was thirty-something years ago that President Nixon tapped an Indiana agriculture academic, Earl Butz, to be head of the nation’s Agriculture Department. Whatever his successes, Butz is remembered now as the guy drummed out of office for saying privately that Blacks — he called them “coloreds” — only want out of life “tight p—y, loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.” I remember my parents’ horror at that little gem, and learned that parental, political horror magnified by millions, plus a nascent activist press, would in very little time result in this buffoon’s losing his job, publicly, immediately, and in utter disgrace. As it should have been.

You keep hoping that conscience and the consciousness of the political class has been sharpened and raised, particular among the Republicans. And certainly you see pockets of it here and there, although it was just a few years ago that Trent Lott seemed utterly dumbfounded that his praise of segregationist bully Strom Thurmond and his past affiliation with Southern racist groups would deal a fatal blow to his political ascendancy. Still, even the GOP has made some headway in not mixing bad politics with worse social views, and for that we should all be grateful.

But earlier this week it became clear not only that the GOP has a long way to go, but also that the worst public official in South Carolina isn’t lovesick Governor Mark Sanford, but his lieutenant governor, Andre Bauer. It’s widely thought that Bauer is seen as so dumb, so toxic to the State’s GOP, that the inevitability of his ascension to the Governor’s Mansion is the only thing that kept the Legislature from impeaching Sanford after Sanford’s romantic travels and travails came to light. That seems entirely possible after the revelation of this Butzian piece of sheer bigoted filth from Bauer’s honeyed lips:

“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a
small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they
breed. You’re facilitating the problem if you give an animal or a person
ample food supply. They will reproduce, especially ones that don’t think
too much further than that. And so what you’ve got to do is you’ve got to
curtail that type of behavior. They don’t know any better.”

- South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer, on government assistance

I will grant that nowhere in this did Bauer make a specifically racist comment — he didn’t say that Black welfare recipients were like stray animals, or that Hispanic welfare recipients were concerned only with their next meal. But just as Butz’ comments more than three decades ago were offensive beyond the hideousness of their racial specificity — could any non-Black hearer take comfort in such ugliness? — Bauer’s take on social services isn’t any less horrific because he fails to name a particular ethnic or racial group as its focus. South Carolina’s history of racial polarization wasn’t improved upon because Bauer insulted the poor of every race. On the contrary, he managed to pry with bitter ignorance and callous indifference every single person from the insular warmth and security of being a white man in power, and the reality that he spoke for others inside of and outside of South Carolina indicates that we have a very long, very difficult, obstacle-strewn road ahead of us when it comes to understanding the causes of and solution to poverty in our land.

And if Bauer is still in office a week from now, it’s proof positive that with that long, arduous road ahead of us, too many haven’t even begun lacing up their boots.

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