Deep Throat is dead. The man who brought down a President by leaking information which otherwise would never have seen the light of day is gone. His passing should be remembered because he was the Paul Revere of his generation. He held up the light of truth in the steeple as he risked his career, his family, and if caught he might have been sentenced to more hard time than all the Watergate conspirators combined.
Those inside the administration viewed him as a traitor; those inside the FBI would have viewed his actions as disloyalty. Millions of everyday Americans would have viewed the actions of Mark Felt as traitorous. He would have been condemned in editorial pages of every major newspaper across the country. Liberty is a blessing wasted on most, like the gift of speech, for the most part, when we use it and we actually say very little.
The death of Felt reminds us of Richard Nixon, a tragic figure bedeviled by demons that lived between his ears. His policies, as bad as they were, pale in comparison to modern Republican dogma. In historical retrospect Nixon becomes almost a comic-tragic figure. Botched and bungled break-ins, grandiose schemes devised by madmen, all to placate a man whose brain was not tightly locked in the upright position. Even the photo of Nixon's wave from the door of the helicopter has a surreal quality to it, smiling and waving to us as he leaves power in total disgrace.
There were brave and heroic figures in abundance among us in those days. The Republican congressman who went to the White House to explain to Nixon of straw polls where Nixon would be removed from office. There was Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post, and Woodward and Bernstein who broke the story to a disbelieving public. Then there was the less than heroic Gerald Ford, a man who came to the Presidency on just one vote....Nixon's one vote.
"As we are a nation under God," Ford said, "so I am sworn to uphold our laws with the help of God. And I have sought such guidance and searched my own conscience with special diligence to determine the right thing for me to do with respect to my predecessor in this place, Richard Nixon, and his loyal wife and family.
Theirs is an American tragedy in which we all have played a part. It could go on and on and on, or someone must write the end to it. I have concluded that only I can do that, and if I can, I must."
With that Ford pardoned Nixon and the American tragedy continues to this day. As he explained, "After years of bitter controversy and divisive national debate, I have been advised, and I am compelled to conclude that many months and perhaps more years will have to pass before Richard Nixon could obtain a fair trial by jury in any jurisdiction of the United States under governing decisions of the Supreme Court."
The principle of "no man is above the law" was subverted for an emotional plea based on pity. The public was outraged and the taint hung over Ford for the rest of his life; his personal and professional credibility was shot. Nixon was the unquestioned leader of a cabal that subverted laws and accepted illegal codes of behavior with reckless abandon. Today the bones of Richard Nixon lie at rest; his crimes look almost trivial by today's standards, and so Ford emerges as the even greater criminal. His pardon of Nixon made Nixon's crimes something future administrations sought to avoid getting caught at, rather than things which should not be done.
All change in the world comes either from rot or from new growth. Ford's pardon of Nixon might have been expedient at the time, but it has allowed the rot to fester. Senator Carl Levin wants a congressional inquiry into the actions of the Vice President and the Attorney General and their role in the torturing of prisoners. Thanks to Gerald Ford this is a question rather than a precedent. Had Nixon been put on trial, win, lose or draw there would be precedent for putting members of the Executive branch on trial.