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Thursday, June 02, 2005 | Because of Watergate, and Richard Nixon’s subsequent resignation from office, he did not enjoy the pomp and circumstance of a state funeral in Washington, D.C.

For many of us, part of the allure of the Reagan funeral – the first presidential funeral after Nixon’s – was that it restored dignity to the event, of a nation gathered via television along Washington’s wide avenues to watch the late President pass by.

Richard Nixon’s funeral in 1994 was in California. It was televised, with appropriate honors paid to a man who had been President of the United States, and even that was controversial. Some argued that Nixon in his disgrace didn’t deserve any sort of official funeral ceremonial at all. I didn’t agree, but not because of my feelings about Richard Nixon, who in fact had disgraced himself. It was the office, not the man, being honored, and I thought that was not only appropriate but necessary.

Then an extraordinary thing happened. The ceremony was outdoors, and there came a point in the ceremony when cannons began firing the traditional 21-gun salute.

Then in the background, I could hear other noises. Car alarms. The percussion of cannons being fired had set off car alarms.

It was a sensational irony that defined Richard Nixon perfectly. Honoring him as president set off the sound of a nation paranoid about crime, an environment initially seeded by two years of watching Nixon try to get away with Watergate. Well, he didn’t try to get away with it. He did get away with it.

For two years, from June 1972 to July 1974, Richard Nixon lied – the famous “Watergate cover-up” – about what he knew after the break-in by his campaign committee at Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate Hotel. He lied until he was trapped by his own paranoia – his concealed tape recorder systems around the Oval Office – and finally was heard discussing the cover-up on the “smoking gun” tape that resulted in his resignation.

He was allowed to walk away with no further responsibilities to the law of the land, and behind him was left a new generic national label for high and low crime – “(Put your label here)gate” – and an embryonic perception that, hey, in this country, if the President of the United States can walk away free, why can’t I?

At his death 22 years later, car alarms had become symbolic of those legacies.

I remembered those cannons and car alarms, listening to reactions (Pat Buchanan’s was by far the most fascinating) to the publication of the identity of Deep Throat. I was disappointed to hear his identity had been revealed, because it meant the loss of a national icon. When Mark Felt identified himself, Deep Throat died. I regretted that, because he was such a terrific character, bigger than an individual and in fact representative of anyone interested in finding out what was going on inside the Nixon White House. Deep Throat represented me, and so I was part of him, and now that part of the national consciousness has died.

But the various ” -gates” and the car alarms remain, and the national getting-away-with-it mentality has become routine daily news. Deep Throat dies, but Watergate lives on. It is the weariest of feelings. Tim Russert on NBC, weary of penetrating the present White House thinking, voiced a nice epitaph. He said give him a Deep Throat anytime. Tom Brokaw, listening in, said, “I’d take a Shallow Throat.” Such are the times.

Journalist, author and educator Michael Grant has been putting his spin on San Diego, and the city putting its spin on him, since 1972. His Web site is at www.michaelgrant.com.

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