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Jewish World Review August 17, 2004 / 30 Menachem-Av, 5764

Debra J. Saunders

Debra J. Saunders
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The governor's wife

http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Now that America has experienced a new first of a married governor outing himself as a "gay American," what about striking another blow for progress — not having the wife appear at the straying politician's side when he makes his bombshell announcement?


Poor Dina Matos McGreevey. It would have been bad enough if her husband, New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, had announced that he had an affair with another woman. The TV audience still would be scratching its collective head wondering why the missus was standing by her man. But when the announcement is that he is "gay" — not even bisexual — and the wife finds herself outed as the wife on the outs, it becomes an even bigger mystery as to why she is dutifully standing by her spouse.


Did she know? Did she care? Is it any of our business?


Who knows? Who knows? And not really, even if the McGreeveys made it our business by parading an idyllic family before the voters.


It turns out that McGreevey's soulful confession omitted the true crux of the controversy: Golan Cipel, the object of his affection, had been on the state payroll as the governor's homeland security adviser, earning $110,000 in a job for which he was not qualified. Cipel also was ineligible for a security clearance because he was not a U.S. citizen. Facing exposure when Cipel threatened to sue McGreevey for sexual harassment, the Joisey pol hid behind his homosexuality in an attempt to divert attention from the patronage angle to this scandal.

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What happens next is a matter for New Jersey voters, whom McGreevey betrayed when he put New Jersey's security in unsteady hands.


As an outsider, I have a different issue. I want to see an end to the wronged political wife as prop. In the most anguishing of circumstances, you see her, chin held high, looking without fury at her cheating husband, telling America by her very presence that if she can forgive him, surely voters can forgive him.


It worked, after all, for the Clintons.


Both of them.


I figured that if anyone would have insight into the story, it would be Dennis Mangers, now president of the California Cable and Telecommunications Association, but in 1976 a newly elected state assemblyman and married father. When he arrived in Sacramento, Mangers explains, he realized he was gay. In 1980, after he lost re-election, he came out of the closet. He ["married" — quotes added by editor] his lover in San Francisco in February.


Why would McGreevey post his wife at the press conference? I asked. Mangers explained that many political wives "would want to be there in a stand-by-your-man kind of way. Others might be prevailed upon by the staff to put the best face on it." Mangers hopes that Mrs. M was there because she wanted to be there, not because she was pressured to be there.


Telling his wife must have been very hard for McGreevey, Mangers added. "The fact that he is gay doesn't mean that he's stopped loving his wife and his child'' or no longer wants to take care of them. The worst of it is, for some people, everything McGreevey ever did will be dissected under the lens of one word: gay.


While the experience was "devastating" for his wife, Mangers said, "My good wife, I believe, would have stood up with me" — had it been necessary.


Maybe Matos McGreevey did choose to be at her husband's side at the press conference. Maybe she figured it was better to get the ordeal over with. Besides, if she didn't make a show, the paparazzi would have stalked her.


But if it was her decision, why seem so docile and accepting? How refreshing it would have been to see the wronged wife snarl a little, show some spunk, show some teeth — even throw the bum out. Better yet, show up at the press conference with a barracuda of a divorce lawyer. So that when the pol says, as McGreevey said, that his extramarital affair was "inexcusable," it would be clear that it was "inexcusable."


In this case, it is hard to imagine the McGreeveys making it to their silver wedding anniversary.


Which makes Mrs. McGreevey's appearance at the press conference that much more painful to watch. It's a public beginning of a private ending. A wronged spouse deserves better.


Just as McGreevey was a trailblazer for being a gay straying governor, someday a female politician will be caught with, well, her pants down. I wonder how America will react to the cuckolded husband, gazing calmly at his cheating politician wife.


Maybe when a man is put through this humiliating ritual, the polls will show that America doesn't like seeing a wronged spouse biting his cheeks at a very public press conference. And when the polls show it doesn't work, I suspect it will end.

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© 2003, Creators Syndicate