Saturday, August 14, 2004

MCGREEVEY: My home state of New Jersey is currently getting a lot of attentio, thanks to the abrupt announcement of our (twice-married) governor, Jim McGreevey, that he's gay, accompanied by his resignation (effective in November). McGreevey had been having an affair with Golan Cipel, a young Israeli man whom he gave a job as aide, thus putting him on NJ's payroll (good to see my tax dollars going to good use!); Cipel now alleges that he was the victim of sexual harassment, manipulation, exploitation, etc. McGreevey's cronies, in turn, point out that Cipel had been trying to shake McGreevey down for a reported $5 million. This casts a rather unsavoury light on Mr Cipel's motivations for suing, though it also suggests that Mr. McGreevey's dramatic announcement was a matter of exigency rather than a from-the-heart embrace of the truth. Many have pointed out that McGreevey's actions are morally no different from those of many other politicians who have had extramarital affairs, with or without their spouses' knowledge and connivance, and that McGreevey's attempts to win sympathy by presenting this as a personal tragedy stemming from pressures on him to hide his sexual orientation ought not to be rewarded. It's also been pointed out that, whatever one might think of McGreevey's sexual morals, the fact that he put his lover on the state payroll is the real issue here, and is ample ground for resignation. (For the case against McGreevey, see here).
I'll get to my own views on this brouhaha in a moment. But first, a bit of personal history. Jim McGreevey first appeared on my personal mental radar in 1997, when he was running for governor against Christine Todd Whitman. Whitman was adored around much of the country as the model of a modern moderate Republican; this was an image that was convincing to those who didn't actually have to live with her incompetent and opportunistic administration of the state. I was pretty strongly set against her (in case that wasn't clear), and would very much have liked to send her packing.
Then I took a look at McGreevey. I really wanted to vote against Whitman (it was, by the way, the first election I was eligible to vote in). I'd always been a Democrat. But McGreevey was the head of one of the most corrupt political machines in New Jersey (those familiar with my dear state know just how much this is saying), and seemed like an at best moderately competent sleazeball. I struggled with my conscience. I wound up voting Socialist.
McGreevey eventually became governor, after Christie Whitman left the state (with major foul-ups of the road system and a pillaged state pension fund in her wake) for the greener pastures of George W Bush's EPA, where, as we know, she was a shining success. New Jersey went on to enjoy a golden age of sage, statesmanlike governance ... Wait, no. Sorry; that's not at all true. From what I could see, based on my parents' enraged reports on McGreevey's handling of the state's primary and secondary education systems (I was living much of the time out of the state by then), McGreevey lived up to my expectations: he was by turns craven and domineering, manipulative and ineffectual.
So, when I heard that McGreevey had announced his homosexuality and resignation, I was not perturbed. I wasn't particularly surprised. I -- apparently unlike most of those in Trenton -- hadn't known about McGreevey's sexuality. But that he should hide his true nature in order to get ahead in the world of politics, that he should not scruple to deceive the public, exploit his wife and the rest of his family, and carry on a secret life, using all the power and influence at his disposal to shield himself and gratify his wants, didn't strike me as one bit out of character.
I can understand why McGreevey felt he needed to hide his sexuality during his rise from a humble background to the pinnacle of state political power. I think that its a shame, and I feel very sorry for him. It was clear from the beginning that he was driven, from an early age, by immense ambition, and it is not surprising that he chose to lead a life of deception in order to satisfy that ambition.That he should be forced to do so is unjust; and the thought of his inner division -- the conflict between his desires as an ambitious politican craving office and as a gay man craving love -- could have been truly agonising. Some have suggested that McGreevey shouldn't be pitied because he was having it both ways, getting his cake and eating it too, by virtue of deceiving those who voted for him. Perhaps. Perhaps he carried on his double life complacently; perhaps he even relished it. Or perhaps, as he claims, it was a painful personal journey. We don't, at this point, know.
What we do know is that he deceived those who voted for him; and this was wrong. It can be replied that his sexual conduct had no bearing on how well (or ill) he governed; and that the deception was necessitated by the ugly reality of widespread prejudice against homosexuals. Both points are true. The fact remains that McGreevey lied, and that McGreevey denied his own sexual nature. To me this does seem like an insult both to the people of New Jersey, who McGreevey seems to have assumed would not have voted for him if they knew of his passions, and to other gay and lesbians. McGreevey could have devoted himself, openly, to fighting for more just treatment and greater respect for homosexual Americans; instead, he hid the fact that he was one of their number.
But I'm prejudiced against McGreevey. And I can understand why he acted as he did, can sympathise with how he may have felt and thought, can see that the demands I'm suggesting are incredibly high -- and are ones which I am fortunate in never having to struggle to meet. Let us therefore leave these points aside for a moment, without quite forgetting them.
The fact does remain that McGreevey put a lover on the state payroll. This is in itself wrong, and offends me as a voter and taxpayer. It is also indicative of McGreevey's way of doing things, the system of patronage and fixing within which he thrived as mayor and governor. All of which is enough to prevent me from feeling sorry for McGreevey, and feel that resigning is the least he could do, and that the end of his political career, as I hope this is, is a good thing.
Were it not for that, the fact that he was a crummy governor from first to last is enough to prevent me from mourning his departure from the governor's mansion. New Jersey isn't losing anything when it loses Jim McGreevey as its executive and servant. McGreevey's story is sad. But probably the saddest thing isn't McGreevey's resignation or the reasons for it. The truly sad thing is how little good he's done for his state. The true scandal here isn't McGreevey's extramarital adventures, or his furtive life, but the corruption that permeates New Jersey politics, in the midst of which and through which he has made his career.
UPDATE: According to the (print edition) Boston Globe, McGreevey appointed Cipel, his lover, as his 'homeland security' aide. Great. Good to know that the McGreevey administration has been taking New Jersey's security seriously.

MORGENBESSER UPDATE: The tribute Sidney Morgenbesser so richly deserved has finally arrived in the form of Leon Wieseltier's beautiful, graceful, and moving tribute to his 'hero of reason', happily available in its entirety at TNR online. Read it, if you read nothing else on Morgenbesser, or indeed on anything else.
(Norm Geras has a compendum of Morgenbesser-related links here)

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?