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 denies accusations that he plied Cipel with Jagermeister shots and sexually 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 anymore. 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 problems."
Translation: "I feel so guilty about my corruption I can't remember it. But hey, would you like to hear about my gay trysts at truck stops? I remember those perfectly."
"I'd taken a million ethical shortcuts to climb the ladder," McGreevey 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 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 percent 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 way station 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.