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Where I grew up, the Almighty and Uncle Sam were inseparable, and the preacher on Sunday seldom failed to remind us that we Americans were the Chosen People — because we deserved to be. BILL MOYERS: We were great because we were good, and if we remained good, we were assured, naturally, we would remain great.We were taught to look upon government as a blessing and to respect authority for its own sake.
Was Watergate a string of deplorable incidents by a handful of men or an attitude toward power and law that could recur?
Were the men linked to it acting out of character with the times or responding to something intrinsic in American life today?
And the pensive figure of Lincoln, brooding, it seemed to me on those summer Sundays, over the unknown destiny of the Union for whose survival he had become a martyr. A teacher in high school used to tell us, “There is no sight more beautiful in the world than a people governing.” And the first time I saw that enormous dome, I remembered what she said — and got a lump in my throat.
It was all so intoxicating to a schoolboy who had never been east of the Red River, that I would make this same round almost every Sunday, starting early in the morning and seldom getting back to the room I rented on Capitol Hill before twilight.
I had never been able in grade school to remember the name of Millard Fillmore when the teacher asked us to list the Presidents in order, but during that first summer in Washington, even his portrait evoked images of Titans.
Like so many of my peers, I had, of course, come out of school with a one-sided view of American history, and these splendid monuments and scenes merely confirmed the altruism we had been taught to believe was the essence of the American experience.This report is a personal attempt to explore those questions, to get to the roots of the Watergate morality. Scratch almost any American, and you’ll find a self-proclaimed idealist.It was prompted by a survey I saw this summer of young people who expressed the opinion that Watergate is something everybody does; it’s politics as usual. We like to think of ourselves as moral human beings, our country as an instrument of high and uncompromising ideals.Then a promising young man named Bobby Baker, with whom I had once worked, -went to jail for criminal misuse of the influence he had gained as Lyndon Johnson’s ubiquitous lieutenant in the Senate.BILL MOYERS: By now I was wondering who had written those textbooks we used back in school or produced all the movies we watched at Saturday matinee.This monument towers above a city which is itself a memorial to the deeds and accomplishments of George Washington.You stand in its heart, and you are truly following in the footsteps of freedom. Every President except George Washington slept here.On my first weekend I came here, to the Washington Monument, to look down on the display of a nation’s ideals expressed in a few historic shrines of simple dignity and design. SYSTEM: The elevator you are now riding in was installed in 1959 and reaches the top landing in one minute; in height above the floor, the monument is five hundred and fifty-five feet, five and one-eighth inches.There’s a simpler way up, but in those days I climbed every one of the eight hundred and ninety-eight steps. Please walk to the right as you leave the elevator.I used to sit for an hour on the steps of the Supreme Court, across from the chambers of the Senate and House.The city was safe in those days, and the possibility of being arrested for loitering never occurred to me.