September 21, 2016

James Watt’s infamous quip about “a woman, two Jews, and a cripple”

Nowadays, when politicians and high-profile government bureaucrats make obviously offensive remarks, they often seem do it on purpose, to generate press attention and appeal to hard-core voters on the far right or far left of the political spectrum.

The more traditional style of offensive and stupid quotes by politicians and bureaucrats are the type that aren’t actually intended to get media attention, but do.

A classic example of the latter occurred on September 21, 1983.

That day, James G. Watt, who had been appointed as U.S. Secretary of the Interior by President Ronald Reagan, was giving a speech to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

At one point, he explained the diversity of the members of the “U.S. Commission on Fair Market Value Policy for Federal Coal Leasing” with this dunderheaded description:

“We have every kind of mix you can have. I have a black, I have a woman, two Jews and a cripple.”

Even for that less politically-correct era, it was a stupendously idiotic remark to make in a public speech with reporters present and it created a huge flap.

Of course, that was just one of many controversies Watt managed to create.

Before Reagan appointed him Secretary of the Interior in 1981, Watt was a lawyer who specialized in representing people and groups who opposed environmental laws and regulations — particularly the laws and regulations designed to protect natural areas from environmentally-damaging development.

Thus, his appointment as the head of an agency that’s supposed to protect America’s parks and wilderness areas was highly controversial in itself.

Once in office, the policies he pursued were, as feared, slanted in favor of opening parks and wildlands to more development, rather than toward preserving them. Understandably, this outraged environmentalists.

But they weren’t the only people Watt managed to annoy and insult.

For example, in January of 1983 Watt said: “If you want an example of the failures of socialism, don’t go to Russia, come to America and go to the Indian reservations.”

Later that year, he angered rock ‘n’ roll music fans by prohibiting The Beach Boys from playing their annual Fourth of July concert at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Watt explained that he banned the Beach Boys because rock concerts attracted “an undesirable element.”

Then came the uproar over Watt’s September 21 remark about “a woman, two Jews, and a cripple.”

That last verbal straw finally led President Reagan to force Watt to resign.

Since then, Watt has continued to annoy various people and groups, but not quite as famously.

Here are some of the other famous quotes and phrases linked to SEPTEMBER 21:

“The Star Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key's patriotic poem, later put to music and enshrined as America's National Anthem, was first published in The Baltimore American on September 21, 1814. 

“Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” the famous line in an editorial by American newspaper editor Francis P. Church, was published in the New York Sun on September 21, 1897.

“It depends upon what the meaning of the word ‘is’ is.” President Bill Clinton made this statement in videotaped testimony provided to a grand jury in August 1998, when asked if there is any sex involved in his relationship with Monica Lewinsky. The tape was not released publicly until September 21, 1998. When it was, his “meaning of the word ‘is’” line immediately became infamous.

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