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June 02, 2005

Let's wallow in Watergate one more time

So, one more time ... let's WALLOW IN WATERGATE!

That phrase won't mean much to most people under 50 or so. It has been nearly 32 years since President Richard Nixon said in July of 1973, "Let others wallow in Watergate -- we are going to do our job."

Fortunately for the rule of law in our country, others, including a pair of Quad-Citians, did indeed continue to "wallow in Watergate." (More on those two in a moment.)

The "wallowing" led in July, 1974, to the judiciary committee of the House of Represenatives voting articles of impeachment against Nixon. A few days later, a delegation of Congressmen led by a grim-faced Barry Goldwater, the conservative Republican senator from Arizona, marched to the White House to inform Mr. Nixon that the full House was certain to approve the articles of impeachment and that, just as certainly, the Senate would convict him of obstruction of justice, abuse of power and contempt of Congress.

On Aug. 9, Mr. Nixon resigned the presidency, ending the drama that had started June 17, 1972, when five burglars were caught inside Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Office Complex in Washington, D. C.

Well, almost ending the drama. There's been one loose thread hanging all these years. Finally, it's gone. Mark Felt, now 91, ending years of denial, came clean this week: He's "Deep Throat," the legendary confidential source that fed Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein the information critical to keeping them on the trail that led to Nixon's impeachment and resignation. The No. 3 guy at the FBI at the time, Mr. Felt was long a leading contender in the never-ending speculation about the identity of the Post's tipster.

Old Nixon loyalists immediately condemned Mr. Felt. Patrick Buchanan, a Nixon speechwriter, said Mr. Felt "behaved treacherously." Others condemned him for "sneaking around" talking to reporters rather than confronting Nixon directly, or for not resigning and going public with information about the massive cover-up surrounding the break-in.

Perhaps he should have. But remembering the times, his course is easy to understand. His boss, acting FBI director L. Patrick Gray, had resigned after admitting he had destroyed evidence at the behest of Nixon's aides. Top White House staffers, including lawyers, were resigning and being indicted. The Watergate burglars all had CIA ties. Given the atmosphere and the continuing top-level attempts to squelch the investigation, who can really fault Mr. Felt for deciding to stay in place and feed info to reporters on the sly?

In the Quad-Cities, interest in the unfolding drama was perhaps even more intense than elsewhere in the nation. Both Quad-Cities area Congressmen, Edward Mezvinksy of Davenport and Tom Railsback of Moline, were members of the House Judiciary Committee. Of the two, Mr. Railsback played the more critical role. Though he was a Republican, like Mr. Nixon, he asked hard questions during the judiciary committee hearings and in the end was one of six GOP committee members who voted with the 21 Democrats in favor of impeachment.

The vote cast Mr. Railsback into disfavor with many conservative Republicans in the district, but he had always enjoyed strong bipartisan support and readily won re-election in 1974-76-78 and '80. In 1982, though, long-memoried Republicans attacked from the right and conservative State Sen. Ken McMillan defeated Railsback in the Republican primary.

The Democrats, as was their wont, had put up another throw-away candidate in 1982 -- this time an unknown young public aid lawyer from Rock Island named Lane Evans. Suddenly, instead of being the next lamb led to the Railsback slaughter, Mr. Evans was a viable candidate. He beat Mr. McMillan and is still in Congress 23 years later, to some degree a living legacy of "wallowing in Watergate."

The Democrat Mr. Mezvinsky, incidentally, was defeated by Jim Leach in the 1976 elections, moved to Pennsylvania, where he married a Congresswoman, ran unsuccessfully for several offices and eventually ended up in prison for defrauding investors of some $10 million in varous schemes.

John Beydler is news editor at Quad-Cities Online. email johnbeyd@qconline.com

Posted by jcb at June 2, 2005 11:01 AM


I think a strong dislike of Nixon warped my entire generation. What is we'd come of age under a nicer president? I always thought poor Pat Nixon looked like she was ready to cry. She probably was.

Posted by: Anonymous at June 2, 2005 02:41 PM

So another commentary as to the age of americans who might or might not remember Watergate. Bull.
Listening and reading commentaries by supposed people "in the know" or are "old enough" to remember the scandal makes me realize that your age group still assigns "way to much importance" to your age group. So what that you protested the Vietnam War. That is your right. But don't snub your nose at me. My roommate at college left for Montreal the day Reagan was elected. We were afraid that he would start nuclear war instead of bringing down the Berlin Wall. It is a slap in my face that as a 10 year old in 1972 that to this day I have always wanted to know who did the damn right thing as "Deep Throat".

Posted by: dan sonnenberg at June 2, 2005 02:49 PM

Dan --

Wasn't trying slap you (or anyone) in the face or proclaim anything about my generation. Was just acknowledging that the whole topic may well be off the radar for lots of younger people.


Posted by: John Beydler at June 2, 2005 03:32 PM

Wow how I remember those days !!!! My folks where strong republicans and watched close to what was happening on T.V. Now I was ahhhh 18 or close to it so it wasn't really my main concern of interest! I remember Mr.Railsback and am sure my folks voted for him . As far as Mr.Felt I'm sure with all I've read on Watergate since growing up I'd have made the same decision as he. Nixon did wrong no doubt but he did not act alone. He had lots of help from lots of high people.And then theres Lane Evans.....a breath of fresh air! God bless him I pray he can contiune to do his best as he always has for years.

Posted by: Debbie Bagby at June 2, 2005 06:57 PM

As far as the generation thing, Watergate had more importance on the recent-college graduate generation than most know about. We discussed it in politics class, but most importantly in journalism class.
Watergate was more than just Nixon's outing of the White House. The recent surfacing of Deep Throat came at just the right time when unnamed sources are being attacked in journalism. Without the use of Deep Throat, things would have continued as they did. It wasn't just a hotel, it was an era at the height of old school journalism and the lowest point of politics.
Now, as a journalism student, I probably know more about Watergate than the average youngin'. I am sure most people only know Watergate as a line from Lynard Skynard's "Sweet Home Alabama."
But, for those in the journalism or politics realm, Watergate meant more than a president, two reporters and a chain-smoking informant in a parking garage. It was a revolution of the best and worst kind.

Posted by: citizenkrans at June 3, 2005 01:54 PM

Thanks to the hubris of the press, they have squandered the good will they earned after Watergate and have descended into self-glorifying mythology. Mark Felt was a disgruntled federal employee, upset that L. Patrick Gray was named head of the FBI instead of him. He was not the patriot the press mythology would have us believe. Worse still, is that Watergate bred a whole new generation of "change the world" journalists. Journalism as social work has done more to reduce press credibility than Memogate, etc. Many of us scorned the unelected and unaccountable press view of the world. Thank Gaia, many of the Change The World journalists are dying off, retiring,or going on to other things. They don't represent us.

As for Lane Evans----does anyone really believe he is capable of discharging his duties as Representative? He has lost his ability to communicate-----his unelected aides are in charge. Maybe Lane will "retire", like Denny Jacobs, so that Gianulis can name a successor. Such a deal! We don't have to worry about who to elect in The Peoples Republic of Rock Island County-----the commissars do it for us!

Posted by: paladin at June 4, 2005 01:07 PM

One other thing the wallowing press won't tell you about Mark Felt---he was convicted (later pardoned by Reagan) for authorizing illegal break-ins and wiretaps on the anti-war Weather Underground. But since this little bit of information doesn't fit in with their view of Deep Throat as "hero" you'll rarely see it mentioned in the "unbiased" press. If Felt is a "hero" for leaking government secrets and bringing down a President, then so is Linda Tripp. Oh, yeah, I forgot-----that's different.

Posted by: paladin at June 4, 2005 02:10 PM