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    Reflection without introspection

    Former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey’s memoir is excerpted in this week’s New York magazine.

    I was prepared to warm to the guy. However self-serving his initial reasons for coming out as he did may have been, McGreevey’s had nearly two years to do some hard thinking since then; and there’s nothing we Americans like more than a redemption story. Also, I’m not really worried about whether, in general, McGreevey will do good work for the causes that employ him from here on; it seems almost certain that he will.

    But a good portion of the gay press has been touting him as a potentially worthy and worthwhile public representative for our interests. My sense–and I’m just going by the New York excerpt here–is still that we can do better. This is how McGreevey describes the beginning of his affair with then-aide Golan Cipel (or alleged affair, since Cipel denies that anything beyond sexual harassment by McGreevey ever happened between them):

    It was wrong to do. I wasn’t an ordinary citizen anymore. There were state troopers parked outside. My wife was in the hospital. And he was my employee. But I took Golan by the hand and led him upstairs to my bed.

    My core group of supporters still felt [when the scandal was about to break because of Cipel’s threatened lawsuit] I should serve out my term, but not run for reelection. I wasn’t convinced that was penance enough for my transgressions. What I did was not just foolish, but unforgivable. Hiring a lover on state payroll, no matter the gender, was wrong. I needed to take my punishment—and to begin my healing out of the fishbowl of politics.

    Having sex with state troopers outside? Hot!

    Uh, I mean, the logic of that first paragraph eludes me. I can see the point about its being a betrayal of voters’ trust to court scandal just when you’ve ascended to the job they elected you to do. I’m not sure whether cheating on your unwitting wife is worse when she’s in the hospital, but her having just borne your child would certainly make it more difficult to leave you if she decided to do so. And no, one should not be propositioning employees, who may not feel in a position to refuse without repercussions.

    It remains difficult to shake the feeling that McGreevey sees his coming out as a way to spin potential political and legal lemons into lemonade–a convenient opportunity to start a less pained and stressed-out life but not a moral or ethical necessity. He has an interesting way of using the word integrated to refer to “not feeding different people different lies to get what you want from each of them,” but one is left wondering whether he thinks that approach is good and right or just eats up less space on his BlackBerry. And as for his “punishment,” well…the gay political machine may not get you into the White House, but it’s powerful enough in liberal circles in the Mid-Atlantic to be a good place for a soft landing from the governorship of New Jersey. Especially if the alternative is a costly sexual harassment suit.

    Homosexuality isn’t a club, and the guy is clearly as gay as the rest of us. We own him now. I’m just not sure why we’re exhorted to be proud of him.

    Added on 20 September: Joe has, if anything, more apserity to direct at McGreevey’s public grandstanding than I did. He begins by quoting an AP story:


    Once publicly opposed to gay marriage, former New Jersey Governor James E. McGreevey now says he spoke out against the idea as a way to keep his homosexuality hidden.

    “I did not want to be identified as being gay, and it was the safe place to be,” McGreevey said Tuesday in an interview with The Associated Press. “I wanted to embrace the antagonist. I wanted to be against it. That’s the absurdity.”

    No, the absurdity is the fame, fortune and acceptance he’s getting for his despicable, craven, cowardly and profoundly immoral behavior.

    I disagree with Joe that McGreevey is a good example of justifiable outing. There’s no evidence that he expected to use his power to circumvent the law against gay marriage he supported. The man went so far as to marry two women, after all.

    I do find the use of the word absurd very interesting, implying as it does that McGreevey’s conduct was irrational. Poor thing, he wasn’t quite thinking clearly, et c. (Chris at Gay Orbit seems as aghast as Joe, but he also implicitly labels McGreevey’s actions “crazy.”) In fact, opposing gay marriage was an eminently sensible, reasonable, even inevitable move for someone who’d made the conscious decision to place his highest priority on fulfilling his lust for political power. McGreevey himself acknowledges as much later in the article, saying, “I was proud to be against gay marriage because that’s where I thought a majority of New Jerseyans were. That’s successful politics.” One wonders whether this joker has any deep convictions at all.

    10 Responses to “Reflection without introspection”

    1. Alan says:

      What’s there to be proud of, exactly? I find it difficult to be proud of people just for being gay, you know? – even if they are out and, er, proud in the public sphere. The only reason he’s out is because he was caught, anyway. It wasn’t exactly a voluntary decision, was it?

    2. tanoki says:

      I’m not sure that I see his affair as “a betrayal of voters’ trust.” An affair is an affair, as we all saw in the Clinton administration. It may be morally repugnant, but it hardly interferes with the way someone does their job (unless, of course, they are frolicing during office hours, a subject I don’t touch on here).

      I do agree that this all feels like a well-cooked scheme to gain sympathy points and cache for a possible political run, though. The former governor’s carefully worded apologies all sound innocent enough, but actually wreak of insincerity when you dig deep. Really, just how “unforgivable” does the governor really believe his “transgressions” (biblical?) to be? They were awful and he was an awful human being. How can we *not* forgive him not that he is prepared to repent?

      Personally, I don’t see why his cheating on his wife was any more “unforgivable” than the next guy. Yes, he did it with a guy. Big deal? He still cheated on her. But to lather the whole episode in such histrionics is overkill. Yes, he was an ass. He had no business marrying a woman if he wanted to get with a guy. But neither do straight guys have any business marrying women if they feel a compulsion to have sex with other women. I don’t see an important distinction. I also don’t see a need to make a federal case of it. You cheated on your wife and confirmed for yourself (and the rest of the country) that you are gay. Big deal. Move on.

      I’m with you, Sean. I don’t see why that alone qualifies this guy to be the posterboy (man?) for the gay movement.

    3. bitacle.org says:

      Bitacle Blog Search Archive – Reflection without introspection

      […] Former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey’s memoir is excerpted in this week’s New York magazine. […]

    4. John Mahoney says:

      You’re BACK!!

      So happy!


    5. Sean Kinsell says:

      Alan, I agree. It’s always dangerous to purport to read minds, but one gets the strong feeling that if there’d been no threat of scandal, McGreevey would still be closeted and working the political power machine as he had from the beginning of his adult life on.

      tanoki, I do think the threat of scandal from conducting an affair recklessly is a legitimate consideration; leaving the moral considerations aside, there are discreet ways to misbehave, and not using them demonstrates lack of judgment. I wouldn’t say that the sex of the partner changes anything. Carrying on with a woman of untested reliability–and giving her a plum job out of hubris only to have to take it away from her–would have been just as risky.

      John, thanks!

    6. Chris says:

      Although my crazy remark was pointed more at myself than McGreevy I think betraying yourself to that extent for political power is crazy.

    7. Sean Kinsell says:

      I know you weren’t giving a medical diagnosis, Chris. I just think it’s suggestive–not profoundly illuminating, probably, but suggestive–that the language being used here, even figuratively, is of irrationality.

    8. Alice says:

      After seeing him on Oprah I’m convinced this guy is a creep. You’re right about “absurd”, and it’s the tip of the iceberg. I think he is trying to turn the gay marriage issue into votes for himself (none of it would have happened if he could have married a man… duh).

    9. Sean Kinsell says:

      Uh-huh. I haven’t seen the Oprah appearance, but that certainly jibes with his writing. Strip away the religious terms and focus on the way he narrates events, and he still sounds just like the manipulative politico he claims no longer to be.

    10. Activists say “buy!” (But people aren’t buying.)

      Even though the activists are telling people to buy his new book, Sean Kinsell is not terribly impressed by New Jersey Governor Jim McGreevey’s book and Oprah antics. One wonders whether this joker has any deep convictions at all. Well,…

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