Guest opinion

Monday, June 24, 2002

Living with the legacy of Watergate

An anniversary was marked Monday of one of the darkest hours in our country's political past. Thirty years ago, on June 17, 1972, five men broke into the Democratic National Committee's headquarters at the Watergate hotel and office complex in downtown Washington, D.C.

Our nation lost its innocence in the snowball of lies, deceit and drama that followed.

It's hard to believe that 30 years have passed since those days when every newspaper in the county seemed to carry a byline of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, with a Washington Post copyright.

For a young bookworm who spent every possible moment reading anything available, those were days when I learned the language of scandal. Erased tapes, supeonas, grand juries - I was enthralled by it all.

I collected the names of the players like a baseball fan collects earned run averages. Ziegler, Erlichman, Haldeman, Mitchell and Sireca, I knew 'em all. While it may have seemed an odd hobby for a 10-year-old girl, I was fascinated by the process.

Most fascinating of all was the spectre of "Deep Throat"

The ultimate insider helped Woodward and Bernstein "follow the money" that led to the downfall of President Richard Nixon.

No one knew who he (or she, although 30 years ago there were few women who would have had the access Deep Throat obviously had) was. No one knew who he worked for. And, as impeachment became more and more a certainty, and Nixon chose to resign, no one figured out his name.

Woodward and Bernstein have, over the three decades that followed, maintained their silence about the mysterious Deep Throat.

This week, however, another Watergate insider, former Nixon aide John Dean, has released his own book which outlines the most possible suspects.

"Unmasking Deep Throat" identifies a short list of the most possible former Washington insiders who could have given the information to Woodward and Bernstein. The five people named include Pat Buchanen, a former Nixon aide, and Ron Ziegler, Nixon's press secretary.

Dean said the job has become easier over the years as more and more of the possible insiders have died. Woodward and Bernstein have vowed to keep the secret until the death of Deep Throat, therefore popular assumption is that he is still alive.

Personally, I don't really want to know who the insider was. It's been one of the great mysteries of the age and, for political junkies, a popular discussion point. It would be a bit like learning exactly where Santa comes from. It's better left a mystery.

It's tough to believe that 30 years have gone by since those Watergate days. It's even tougher to realize that today's young people don't know a thing about the events of those two years that preceded Nixon's resignation.

The legacy of Watergate lives on, in our language, where every scandal is referred to as a fill in the blank - "gate" - and also in a skepticism that wasn't there pre-1972.

We've looked at our government and our leaders in a different way, after Watergate. We were less willing to believe that they did what they did for the public good and for no other reason. Watergate opened the floodgates, allowing folks to question their leaders and their motives. It's a different age and, in ways, I mourn the trust we used to have in our government. However, the empowerment of people is rarely a bad thing. Just don't tell me the identity of Deep Throat.

A name would reduce him to a fallible human being. To the rank of Washington functionary. Some mysteries are better left unsolved.

Paula Buenger is the publisher of the Spencer Daily Reporter, the Pilot-Tribune's sister newspaper.