The observations of a 50 something with lots of experience in politics, government, life and learning.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

So That's How Mark Felt.....

It happened within my lifetime. I finally found out (along with millions of other people...no inside track) the identify of Deep Throat.

I feel a bit embarrassed because I consider myself not exactly an EXPERT on the Watergate scandals, but they certainly could attain the rank of avocation for me, as opposed to hobby. And I had never really heard of Mark Felt. I'm sure I read his name at various points when people were doing pseudo-scientific analyses of DT's identity, but I never really focused on him.

I was 22 1/2 when the DNC headquarters was burgled. A legislative aide for a moderate Republican Member of Congress. Our main focus that summer was going to George McGovern campaign events. In fact, the junior staff of the aforementioned M of C would stand around in the reception area of the office arranging carpools to various events. We were not told who to vote for, but we were asked not to plan our political activities in the front hall of a Congresswoman from the opposing party. Bad form.

I actually remember at one point during that year when I felt sorry for the Republicans, although not for Richard Nixon. My boss sat on the Banking and Currency Committee and Wright Patman, the chair, a real Texas good ole boy, had decided that some aspect of this just HAD to be investigated by his committee. I guess he was following the money. In any case, he ran roughshod over procedure, witnesses and anything else that stood in the way of him grandstanding. I could actually be genuinely sympathetic to my Member for what she had to endure as a junior member of the minority.

We lost the Presidential election, and I lost my job in the spring of '73. Soon after I was working at George Washington University and do remember that we had the hearings on the radio a lot. But apparently the guy who had fired me from Mrs. Heckler's office was spending all his time watching the hearings on TV and not getting any work done.....it was everyone's hobby.

We went to Europe after my husband took his bar exam, and only vaguely figured out that something was happening at home...sure enough, it turned out that the Vice President was a crook. Who'd a thunk it? He had been the great liberal savior of 1966 when his Democratic redneck opponent had run on a slogan like "Your Home is Your Castle" referencing his opposition to fair housing laws. But he was quickly converted to the pit bull he was and learned to alliterate.

Meanwhile, everything that happened at the White House became a joke. By the time Rosemary Woods told us with a straight face that little gremlins had erased the 18 1/2 minutes of tape, it said something about our collective willing suspension of disbelief that the entire country didn't get up from that movie and walk out. I shudder now to think how brain dead we were...on the other hand, in subsequent decades we've evidenced that it was not a passing phenomenon so why should I take responsibility?

Living in Washington, EVERYTHING was about Watergate. If someone invited you to dinner at 7:30, you didn't LEAVE YOUR HOUSE until 7:30, no matter how far away they lived, because you didn't want to miss one minute of Agronsky and Company. I think it was James J Kilpatrick who tried to keep up a valiant defense of the President until even he had to admit that he had been duped. The low point, of course, was when Nixon asked his own daughter to go out and lie to the reporters. I felt then that it was only fair that years later, as much as I loved Bill Clinton, and thought he was being unfairly targeted, I should equally criticize him for putting his family in a position where he wasn't honest and asked his wife to front for him and put his daughter through public humiliation. That ain't OK.....

The summer of 1974 we left on a cross-country journey of three months. One of the great lessons of that summer was that, in most parts of the country, NO ONE WAS TALKING ABOUT WATERGATE!!!! There was a drought out West that summer, and unless God was elected President, what happened in DC didn't really affect people's lives too much. It was at this point that I developed my theory that as long as the Treasury kept printing payroll and Social Security checks, it would be a long time before the American public knew whether the President had flipped his lid or not.

The first harbinger was the "Impeach Nixon" bumper stickers at the Helena MT Stampede (which has been favorably compared to the Calgary Stampede I'll have you know...)And then, one day, as we came down out of the mountains of Wyoming and got radio reception for the first time in days, we heard a reporter say "Senator Gale McGee said today that, in light of the smoking gun, he would now vote for impeachment...." WHAT? We raced for a phone and the cowboys in Gillette were none too happy when we tied up 50% of the pay phones in town calling home and trying to get a clue to what was going on. The Denver Post's front page had some hog prices on it....

These were the nascent days of NPR. Frankly, we'd never heard of it or listened to it because DC had a classical AM station that we always listened to. But all the way across Wyoming, South Dakota and Minnesota we listened to call in shows and radio reports giving us a aural report on the quickly deteriorating situation. By the time we reached Albert Lea MN on that Friday we were just in time to see Nixon resign. I think we had enough class not to cheer but to be saddened by the fate of the country. That night we watched a capsule of the week's news and saw in two hours what the last five days had brought. It was one of those weeks where you will always remember where you were.

Journalism has never been the same. Electoral politics has never been the same. It was the final straw on the back of the camel first saddled up by Robert McNamara and Lyndon Johnson. You couldn't trust anyone in politics or government. They were all crooks. Who ever heard of public service?

There have been many unintended consequences of that era. Every once in a while I long for a smoke-filled room where candidate's potential peccadillos are vetted prior to their circulating nomination papers. I cringe at the power of telegenicity but realize that it started in 1960, or perhaps ironically in 1952 with the Checkers speech. And then I realize that we have come full circle when individual voters like me put their own spin on things and create their own fifteen minutes of fame.

It wasn't the first assault on the Constitution, and it won't be the last. And, in fact, the Constitution was the big winner, showing the world that a government of laws, not people, was the prevailing rule of the day.

Of course, one wonders whether this nation, this Congress, this Court, would be as diligent about searching for the truth.

I hope we won't need to test that hypothesis......

2 comments:

Kevin Hayden said...

I feel certain that this period - albeit wartime - provides plenty of opportunity for uncovering political corruption at the top.

I wish I could say I have faith in the corporate media to be as tenacious in pursuit of the story. But I don't, for the most part.

Then I remember, even back then, much of the media had dropped the ball. It was the tenacity of just a couple of good reporters who got the job done.

Margeware said...

Good point. That's why "they" (whoever they is...) invented the concept of FAITH. Sometimes the good guys/gals win, and we have to keep believing that that's possible in this country/world/universe. And only when people stand up and say "we don't only want to hear from the usual suspects" will those tenacious types be willing to step forward and start telling the truth.