A SURE SIGN of a political movement's maturity is the discretion it
shows in picking its leaders. Which is why gay groups could show how
grown-up they are by excommunicating James McGreevey.
McGreevey, you will recall, was the corrupt governor of New Jersey who
was forced to resign when it was revealed that he had appointed Golan
Cipel, a poet, to run his state's homeland security department in the
hope that Cipel would become the governor's male concubine. McGreevey
came out of the closet only after Cipel threatened to sue him for sexual
harassment. McGreevey still denies accusations that he plied Cipel with
Jagermeister shots and assaulted him. He says it was a real "love affair"
first consummated while McGreevey's wife was in the hospital recovering
from her Caesarian section delivery of their daughter. Cipel says he and
McGreevey never had sex.
Whatever the truth, it's clear that McGreevey only came out because
the wheels were coming off his political career. He tried to leap to
safety by grabbing on to the guardrail of identity politics, declaring
with focus-group clarity: "My truth is that I am a gay American." That
formulation — "my truth" — was exquisitely postmodern, implying that
truth isn't something we can all lay claim to any more. It must be
personalized, relativized. It's all about me.
By buying into this secular gospel, McGreevey appears to think that he
can be cleansed of his sins. But real redemption requires admitting your
mistakes, not merely the prurient details. As the Philadelphia
Inquirer's Monica Yant Kinney notes: "McGreevey didn't come clean. He
just came out."
In his memoir, "The Confession," McGreevey offers any number of
revelations, but they don't add up to a confession. "Some things I'd
done, or allowed to be done in my name, were morally repugnant to me,"
he writes, presumably referring to the various aides, mentors and
backers facing criminal charges or mired in scandal. But he dealt with
that by "forgetting" or never allowing himself to know. "I had my people
strike back-room deals I kept myself in the dark about or forced from my
mind if I learned too much. Obviously this is one root of my memory
Translation: "I feel so guilty about my corruption I can't remember it.
But hey, would you like to hear about my porny gay trysts at truck
stops? I remember those perfectly."
"I'd taken a million ethical shortcuts to climb the ladder," he admits,
"all the time thinking that that was the only way to amass enough power
to serve the collective good." Of course, his definition of the "collective
good" was awfully narrowly tailored. As a politician, he opposed gay
marriage even though he claims he yearned for a healthy gay relationship.
If I can't have one, no one can, seems to be the gist of his reasoning.
McGreevey says he didn't support gay marriage for the same reason he was
a relentless womanizer: because he didn't want people to think he was
gay. Considering how agonizing being in the closet is said to be, that's
plausible. But this is McGreevey's answer for everything. He wants to
use his seedy personal life as a get-out-of-jail-free card. Problem is,
he wasn't just a sleazy man, he was also a very sleazy politician.
In 2004, 77% of New Jerseyans polled said McGreevey resigned because
he's gay — and that's precisely the sort of damaging misinterpretation
McGreevey perpetuates. "He wasn't a gay governor," state Sen. John Adler
told Kinney. "He was a bad governor."
Some gay rights groups were initially eager to make McGreevey a
homosexual hero-martyr. The Human Rights Campaign celebrated the "courage"
of America's "first openly gay governor."
But they seem to be getting cold feet. He's not selling well. His
appearance on "Oprah," intended as the first waystation toward his
beatification, received high ratings, but he generally got poor reviews.
McGreevey is posing as a victim of something, but it's not clear
what it is. He lives with an Australian tycoon in a lavish manse in New
Jersey. He reportedly got half a million dollars to describe how he
betrayed everyone he claimed to love in Penthouse Forum detail. He told
Matt Lauer on "Today" that he behaved so badly partly because he had
straight parents who couldn't teach him to be gay.
Perusing various gay blogs, one can find expressions of sympathy with
the no-doubt real anguish of being in the closet. But as for McGreevey
the man, there's mostly contempt or prurient fascination. What there
isn't is a groundswell to make this guy a hero. Because he isn't one.