Thursday, June 02, 2005

Hail to the Whistleblowers

The debate is on. Should Mark "Deep Throat" Felt get the Presidential Medal of Freedom or should he be drawn and quartered in the town square? A growing chorus of right-wingers, perhaps sensing an opportunity to rehabilitate Richard Nixon's image, are leaning toward (but maybe not quite approaching) the latter point of view.

Former Nixon speechwriter and current xenophobic whack-job Pat Buchanan referred to the former FBI agent as a "snake."

Nixon aide Charles Colson, who served seven months in prison because of Watergate, disapproved of Felt's methods. "When any president has to worry whether the deputy director of the FBI is sneaking around in dark corridors peddling information in the middle of the night, he's in trouble," Colson said. He might have added that whenever a president needs to worry that his role in an illegal plot and its subsequent cover-up might be exposed, he's also in trouble.

Colson went on to accuse Felt of "violating his oath to keep this nation's secrets." I wasn't aware that FBI agents swore an oath to help cover-up the illegal shenanigans of a sitting president. In fact, I'm pretty sure that they're sworn to uphold the law.

Republican consultant Greg Mueller had this to say: "I don't know that we should be making [Felt] out as a superhero. He played a role in bringing down a president who was fighting the Cold War." So what? It's not like Nixon's successors ignored the Cold War. I seem to remember an Olympics boycott and a fellow named the Gipper amongst other things. Plus, if the Cold War had ended any earlier, the Scorpions never would have recorded "Winds of Change." Would you really want to live in a world where that was true? I didn't think so.

The Most Hysterical Deep Throat Reaction Award, however, goes to Ben Stein by a long shot. Although Stein is best known for his bit role intoning "Bueller" over and over again, he was actually a Nixon speechwriter back in the day (and some writer he must have been, considering his legacy). In an article in The American Spectator, Stein actually accuses Felt of making the "conditions necessary for the Cambodian genocide."

Allow me to borrow a line that was once deployed in the Senate some fifty-odd years ago: Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?

It is understandable that Felt himself is conflicted about his role as Deep Throat, but, Ben Stein's ranting aside, it's clear that he did this country a favor. Some may disapprove of his cloak and dagger methods, but they make sense. Why should Felt have to resign from his job just because Nixon's a criminal jerk? Plus, the officials up the totem pole were all implicated in the scandal he was exposing.

Folks on the right seem to have an allergic reaction to certain kinds of whistleblowers. What's true for Felt is true for people like Army Spc. Joseph Darby, who first exposed abuses at Abu Ghraib (click here to read a particularly vile thread attacking Darby). They are accused of being unpatriotic tattlers intent on damaging their country's image and, in the latter case, putting its soldiers at additional risk.

Do revelations such as Watergate and Abu Ghraib tarnish America's image? Yes. The only thing that would tarnish it more would be if such abuses of power were allowed to go on unchallenged.

People like Felt and Darcy believe in America not as it sometimes is but as it should be. The implicit suggestion from the bellyachers on the right is that such abuses of power should be hidden from public view, even if it means condoning them. This is a defeatist and creepy line of thought. We don't want to defend our country so unquestionably that we actually help it become something not worth defending. Don't the people on the right believe in America enough to know that it's strong enough to withstand scrutiny?

So, let the whistles blow. We're a stronger country because of it.
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