To see oursels as others see us
There’s a new book out called Leak: Why Mark Felt Became Deep Throat. (Deep Throat being the secret revelator to Woodward & Bernstein during Watergate, not the … um, well, you know.)
I’m first in line for it when my library gets it. From all I’ve read, its central claim is that Felt — the #2 man at the FBI — was bitter at being passed over for the #1 spot and became Deep Throat solely out of ambition and a desire to crush his politically appointed boss Patrick Gray. Pat Buchanan has the conservative take on it.
So happens I’m in the midst of reading a book that purports to be Felt’s own account of his career in the FBI. It’s called A G-Man’s Life and bears the grandiose subtitle The FBI, Being Deep Throat, and the Struggle for Honor in Washington.
A G-Man’s Life isn’t really by Felt. It’s a bizarre pastiche of Felt’s notes, family recollections, a 1979 memoir ghosted by Ralph de Toledano (to whom the family showed scant honor), and numerous insertions by attorney John O’Connor, the man who outed Felt as Deep Throat in a 2005 Vanity Fair article. (Gory Wikipedia details here.)
By 2005, Felt was senile, had forgotten his whole career, and couldn’t possibly have written about being Deep Throat or have authorized anybody else to do it. The book has that feel. The family wanted money.
What makes it interesting, though, is the parts that probably were written by or for Felt. Especially his justifications of his illegal activities. Especially his warrantless spying (including Watergate-style break-ins) on members of the Weather Underground — which resulted in blown prosecutions, dropped charges, and an eventual guilty verdict against Felt himself.
After a chapter asserting (yet not once demonstrating) that the Weather Underground had extensive foreign “ties” and was nothing more than a front group serving every Communist dictator of the twentieth century, he concludes that naturally its members weren’t entitled to the protections of the Bill of Rights.
He viewed himself as a righteous man having done absolutely the correct thing by spying on them without those pesky Fourth Amendment formalities. Afterward, in his view, he was unfairly railroaded in a post-Watergate anti-FBI frenzy.
Felt was a J. Edgar Hoover loyalist throughout his career and basically took the position that under Hoover, the FBI was squeaky-clean from top to bottom. It never did a thing that wasn’t in the Boy Scout handbook. Or if it did “push the manual” a bit (as Felt himself did, in a career filled with lies and disinformation), it was because it was the right thing to do.
Although the portions of “Felt’s” book covering Deep Throat are by O’Connor, they ring true about Felt’s … well, call them beliefs or self-deceptions, whichever you prefer. Felt did want the top FBI job. But as with everything else, in becoming Deep Throat he viewed himself as motivated by a sincere desire to do his patriotic duty and protect the sterling honor of the FBI.
Honor that you and I know it never had. Honor that he didn’t really have.
Why should anybody care about all this at this late date? Felt is dead. Watergate is facing its 40th anniversary and beginning to show its age. It may remain the greatest political drama of modern times for those of a certain age. But mostly, it’s become the tired old scandal that lends its name to Everything-gate, any new gas that bubbles up from the swamp of DC.
I’m glad Felt decided to be Deep Throat no matter what his motives. (I admit even after reading “his” account and getting a glimpse of the other side’s arguments, I don’t have a clue.) Deep Throat made for a great story, which is the best thing you can get out of politics. Felt forestalled a complete cover-up, even if he didn’t usher in the Wondrous Era of Open Government Mr. O’Connor oddly believes we have today.
But that Feltian mentality — I’m doing the right thing from the noblest of motives, so I can be as ruthless and dishonest as I want — is … well, OMG … it’s so totally and forever the mentality of the ruling class, ruling class wannabes, and the most dedicated servants of the ruling class.
And sociopaths. But I repeat myself.
Watergate will fade from memory. That attitude will be with us forever. And with it its amazing walls of self-deception.
It’s a delightful irony that the famous lines by Robert Burns that I quoted at the top are from a pretension-busting poem, and better yet a poem called “To a Louse.”
To see oursels as others see us
It wad frae monie a blunder free us
An’ foolish notion