Noonan on Felt

Peggy Noonan had a couple of arresting paragraphs on the Deep-Throat story that I had to share because of their unique perceptiveness:

First, on Felt:

Was Mr. Felt a hero? No one wants to be hard on an ailing 91-year-old man. Mr. Felt no doubt operated in some perceived jeopardy and judged himself brave. He had every right to disapprove of and wish to stop what he saw as new moves to politicize the FBI. But a hero would have come forward, resigned his position, declared his reasons, and exposed himself to public scrutiny. He would have taken the blows and the kudos. (Knowing both Nixon and the media, there would have been plenty of both.) Heroes pay the price. Mr. Felt simply leaked information gained from his position in government to damage those who were doing what he didn’t want done. Then he retired with a government pension. This does not appear to have been heroism, and he appears to have known it. Thus, perhaps, the great silence.

His motives were apparently mixed, as motives often are. He was passed over to replace J. Edgar Hoover as director of the FBI by President Nixon, who apparently wanted in that place not a Hoover man but a more malleable appointee. Mr. Felt was resentful. He believed Nixon meant to jeopardize the agency’s independence. Here we have a hitch in the story. The liberal story line on the FBI was that under Hoover it had too much independence, which Hoover protected with his famous secret files and a reputation for ruthlessness. Mr. Felt was a Hoover man who joined the FBI in 1942, when it was young; he rose under Hoover and never knew another director. When Hooverism was threatened, Mr. Felt moved. In this sense Richard Nixon was J. Edgar Hoover’s last victim. History is an irony factory.

Next, on Colson (who I met while working at Prison Fellowship as a law student, so I’m partisan):

Were there heroes of Watergate? Surely many unknown ones, those who did their best to be constructive and not destructive, those who didn’t think it was all about their beautiful careers. I’ll give you a candidate for great man of the era: Chuck Colson. Colson functioned in the Nixon White House as a genuinely bad man, went to prison and emerged a genuinely good man. He told the truth about himself in “Born Again,” a book not fully appreciated as the great Washington classic it is, and has devoted his life to helping prisoners and their families. He paid the price, told the truth, blamed no one but himself, and turned his shame into something helpful. Children aren’t dead because of him. There are children who are alive because of him.

I think Noonan is right in her assessment of both men.

One of the reasons I never liked Dennis Miller that much or really bought into his re-emergence as a conservative hero is that I once heard him rip Chuck Colson in a way that showed he had no concept of the transformation the man had undergone both privately and publicly. You can’t read Born Again and not see the sincerity.

Of course, what she suggests about Felt is absolutely fascinating. Nobody has really evaluated him as a dyed-in-the-wool Hoover man.

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One thought on “Noonan on Felt

  1. “Mr. Felt simply leaked information gained from his position in government to damage those who were doing what he didn’t want done.”

    No he leaked information about a CRIMINAL administration that had a chokehold on the FBI. Just a slight difference.

    “His motives were apparently mixed, as motives often are.”

    Yes indeed. He was heavily involved in the massively illegal Cointelpro work of the FBI. Yet his actions in the case of watergate helped save this nation from a president who was willing to stoop to any level to keep power.

    “I’ll give you a candidate for great man of the era: Chuck Colson. Colson functioned in the Nixon White House as a genuinely bad man, went to prison and emerged a genuinely good man.”

    Oh for god’s sake. A hero is someone who does terrible things and gets caught? What a great example. Colson is a felon. Period. Whether he changed in prison has no relevance to whether he was a hero during watergate. he wasn’t. He was a villain. A criminal. Why are republicans “tough on crime” except when it matters?

    “Children aren’t dead because of him. There are children who are alive because of him.”

    Peggy blames the fall of South Vietnam on Felt which shows a stunning lack of historical insight (or would be stunning if Mrs. Noonan didn’t frequently show such a huge misunderstanding of history). We lost Vietnam for the same reason we’ve lost Afghanistan and are losing Iraq: because you can’t force a people to be like us if they don’t want to. Not everyone wants to be Americanized. In fact very few do.

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