Friday, June 03, 2005

Thanks Mark Felt

I expected to one day find out who “Deep Throat" was. I didn’t expect to find out that Mark Felt, former number 2 at the FBI, had been living in my county for the last twenty years. It’s possible that some older man I passed in the aisle at Safeway might have been the most famous anonymous source in American journalism. Felt, himself, apparently felt conflicted about the choice he had made between two different concepts of duty, the traditional one to follow explicit rules and orders and the deeper one dictated by conscience. He never hopped on the talk show circuit, signed a book contract, etc. while the story was hot. Instead, he’s lived the last thirty two years in quiet-dignified fashion. What ever happened to people like that?

I have honestly been surprised by some of the reaction. At the extreme end, you have Pat Buchanan, Spiro Agnew’s speechwriter, and Rush Limbaugh claiming that people like Felt caused the fall of Vietnam and the killing fields in Cambodia because they helped to expose and ultimately bring down an administration that had little regard for the rule of law. If you remember, Nixon tried to fire his own special prosecutor, Archibald Cox, another guy who quietly disappeared into history. Robert Bork was the highest ranking person at the justice department willing to carry out the president’s orders. Apparently, Karl Rove was then on the fringes of the of the Nixon White House, one of the last people there encouraging the President to fight on.

Much like the election of 2004 turning on the Swift Boat Veterans and Rathergate’s expose on the president’s National Guard service, Mark Felt reminds us that the 60’s and 70’s remain strangely alive politically in America. Cultural time is not necessarily linear. The basic choices of the 60’s, between following the rules and remaking them in the name of a deeper justice still have deep resonance for us. In particular, what was supposed to be a new beginning so many decades ago built around a civil rights and peace movement that drew its moral force from a socially conscious church that questioned the authority of government that fought unjust wars and an economic structure possibly built on racism and persistent poverty seems to have slipped away. Those who identify most publicly with God now endorse a culture where the president’s authority and motives go unquestioned, a war in a foreign country is touted as moral, and what’s good for American business is good for all Americans. If the Civil War defined 19th century America, the social civil war of the 60’s and early 70’s appears to have defined 20th century America.

Mark Felt may be a kind of John Brown figure in modern history. Brown made a choice between his notion of Christianity and the authority of the Missouri Compromise and the Dred Scott case. Felt chose between his duty as a member of the FBI and what he deemed to be the spirit and letter of the Constitution. In the 60’s I remember a respect for the Constitution and Bill of Rights as holy American documents. Today, the argument seems to be that the Bible, or a particular interpretation of the Bible, is the real holy American document. In one view Mark Felt, Daniel Ellsberg, and Richard Clarke are heroes. In the other, they are scoundrels. I guess I’m not a fan of theocracy. I thank Mark Felt for having chosen conscience over literal duty and for risking his career for the sake of some greater principle. Bottom line, I’m proud that he lives in my county and my country, the one that respects its Constitution.



At 6/06/2005 03:22:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The idea that the rabidright, the theofascists, were piously parroting from Mr. Rove's The Memo of the Day was that Mr. Felt should have gone through the legal channels. Talk about revisionist history. Say John Mitchell 5 times fast & see if it doesn't come out Crookcrookcrooklousyscurrilouscrook. What a wonderful and terrifying chance to take for the soul of the country that believes in the Constitution and equality under the law. (He couldn't know for sure that the Washington Post would keep their word about his anonymity.) Mark Felt is a hero & I am glad that I found out who Throat was. Well done.

At 6/06/2005 08:46:00 AM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

A couple interesting things I learned. Mark Felt's grandson goes to the same law school as Richard Nixon's great nephew. They know each other and say they like one another. Things do heal in their way.

Another fascinating fact. In 1980, Felt got in trouble for wiretapping the Weather Underground (arguably American left wing terrorists). Richard Nixon testified on Felt's behalf.
Felt retired shortly afterwards.


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