Mr. Felt and Watergate redefined U.S. patriotism
"Follow the money."
It is a sentence that has become a truism in our evaluation of government. It is a sentence that entered our lexicon through the lips of shadowy Mark Felt, second in command of the FBI when President Nixon was in office.
Mr. Felt, 91, recently admitted he was the "Deep Throat" that, by providing information to two Washington Post reporters, sparked a cynicism toward our political leaders that remains a powerful force in U.S. politics.
Mr. Felt, with help from Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, shined a light on a burglary at the Watergate Hotel. It was a light that eventually focused upon a perspiring President Nixon, begging a nation to believe, "I am not a crook."
But with the help of the Post and Mr. Felt, the American public's scrutiny did follow the money. And Mr. Nixon, no longer waving the two-fingered victory salute, resigned just in time to avoid impeachment.
Maybe every presidency has its Watergate, but Mr. Felt's disclosure is timely. The drama he triggered forced the public to realize that patriotism is not loyalty to a man, but to an ideal.
It also forced us to realize that our elected leaders sometimes work against that ideal.
We are at war in Iraq, but we are in the midst of a less violent war within our borders. The issue, now as it was in 1972, is the meaning of patriotism.
Does a soldier show disloyalty by revealing abuse at Abu Ghraib? Is it fair to point out that the Central American Free Trade Agreement touted by President Bush benefits his contributors and friends? While our loved ones fight for their lives in Iraq, is it unpatriotic to remind the world that the expressed reasons for going to war turned out to be false? Are we anti-American if we ask about the plight of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay?
Mr. Felt — not the man but his legacy — reminds that we may ask these questions. Indeed, that we must.
As traumatic as Watergate was as it unfolded, Deep Throat proved that democracy is not fragile. Not only does our democracy survive questioning, it thrives on it.
The chain-smoking man hiding in the dark to tell all reminds us that this is our government and that it is our responsibility to keep it on track.