MCGREEVEY’S THERAPEUTIC AUTOBIOGRAPHY

by David P. Rebovich Forty minutes into last Tuesday’s OPRAH show, a polite but decidedly skeptical Ms. Winfrey asked former governor and current best-selling author, Jim McGreevey, why he wrote his book, THE CONFESSION (New York: Regan Books 2006). McGreevey, looking slim but fit and more handsome than I remember him, calmly explained that he sought forgiveness from the loved ones he hurt, wanted to perform an act of contrition, and hoped he could provided understanding of, and strength for, other gay people who had gone through tough times. Having completed 174 of the 353 pages of what was proving to be a tedious read, I blurted to my television set, “What about the people of New Jersey who you screwed, and the Democrats who invested so much in you? Don’t you have anything to say to them?” Oprah didn’t ask McGreevey if and how his supposedly secret homosexual life affected his ability to climb up the political ladder and or any decisions he made as governor. Half-way through THE CONFESSION, I realized that the new author would probably not address these issues there either. Like New Jersey’s press corps, political insiders, pundits, party operatives, political activists, political scientists, and politically engaged citizens, I had hoped that McGreevey’s book would set the record straight, fill in some blanks, and provide some special insight into his career and brief tenure as governor. It doesn’t do any of this. Like everyone else who covered New Jersey politics or worked in or around the State House, I long ago heard that McGreevey was gay. He notes that Christie Whitman knew when he challenged her in the 1997 gubernatorial race. Surely there were some fascinating back stories about how he convinced political leaders that he could conceal his private life and whether anyone besides Golan Cipel had threatened him with exposure to try to get special treatment. As New Jersey’s own Jon Stewart of THE DAILY SHOW said right after McGreevey announced his resignation, imagine what he must be hiding if his best option was to admit to his wife and parents that he is gay, repeat that admission on national television, and give up one of the most powerful governorships in the nation. Well, if you decide to read McGreevey’s book, you will learn that according to the former governor, the only thing he was hiding was a dissembled, inauthentic, and non-integrated personality. Oh, and a slew of gay sexual encounters, as well as some heterosexual ones, since age 14, including a relationship with Cipel that the former special counselor on anti-terrorism and homeland security still denies occurred. According to McGreevey, his biggest political mistake was creating that position for Cipel. One suspects that most New Jerseyans would add to that colossal error some other big ones, including more ill-advised patronage appointments, hikes in taxes, irresponsible borrowing schemes, fast-track development legislation, and raising expectations about changing the way Trenton does business and then elevating pay-to-play to an art form until he was almost out of office. Except for some prophetic discussion of John Lynch’s obsession with power and McGreevey’s own willing surrender to the boss and pay-to-play systems, THE CONFESSION does not contain much about politics besides some predictable banter. McGreevey does claim that he wanted to accomplish big things in certain policy areas, like the environment, open space and education, and briefly discusses this near the end of the book. But he concedes that he did not accomplish much in office. After watching the interview on OPRAH and plowing through the rest of book, it finally occurred to me that McGreevey did not write this volume for New Jersey citizens, fellow Democrats, politicians, or reporters, much less someone like me. Nor did he seem to write it to apologize to loved ones, despite his claim. While readers will be warmed by his high praise for his wonderful parents, his deep affection for his first wife, and his love for his two daughters, his relatives have to be embarrassed by the tales of his life-long promiscuity. Jim may have been closeted and lonely, but he certainly wasn’t repressed! As an act of contrition, the book also fails because, alas, the former governor neglects to offer a complete confession as he was taught by the good Catholic Sisters and Fathers who educated and helped mold him. On the next to the last page of the book, he admits, “I’ve still got to compile a list of those who I have harmed and make amends to them directly.” Twenty pages earlier he offers a few sentences that shows awareness of the consequences of his actions on the broad public. He writes, “Besides the harm my dishonesty had done to me personally, I’d brought shame to my family and heartaches to my supporters throughout the state. I’d cast the government and my party into bedlam.” Now that would have been a good way for a discredited ex-governor to begin his book. Despite this admission, McGreevey can’t quite let go of political competitiveness. He does a number on highly respected and feared U.S. Attorney for New Jersey, Christopher Christie, who he accuses of trying to nail him in the highly publicized D’Amiano affair. McGreevey characterizes Christie as a politically motivated Bush appointee. Call me crazy but going after corrupt, and potentially corrupt, politicians would seem to be a good and popular goal for a U.S. Attorney these days, regardless of whom appointed him. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine people like McGreevey’s own smart, principled parents, voting for Christie if he runs for state-wide office. But neither settling political scores nor writing a complete, accurate history of his political career, are the major purpose of THE CONFESSION. McGreevey wrote this book for himself and to himself. Yes, he needs money for child support, alimony, and, one hopes, to help pay the mortgage on that big mansion in Plainfield that he shares with his wealthy life-partner. Surely the newly liberated McGreevey refuses to be bought and beholden anymore. But more than for money, the former governor wrote this book as a form of therapy, more specifically, as part of a therapeutic process in which he is slowly trying to piece his life together to find authenticity, integrity and happiness being the “gay American” he calls himself. McGreevey tells readers that after leaving office he was close to having a breakdown and spent a month in a clinic. That stay was necessary and beneficial. But the former governor also notes in a few places in THE CONFESSION, including in his discussion of his stay at the clinic, that he has memory problems. He has trouble remembering certain actions and events, apparently because he has long been in the habit of repressing painful, embarrassing memories. His lengthy therapy seems to entail keeping some of those memories at bay while he works to piece himself back to a point where he can handle, emotionally and intellectually, his own past. This is by no means an unusual therapeutic technique. However, while it may do McGreevey good, it does leave unfulfilled New Jerseyans who seek the truth about their former governor’s political career, his administration, and how politics works in their state. As such, people who are inclined to buy this book may want to wait for its sequel, when a hopefully healthier McGreevey can write a complete confession that contributes to improving politics in the state in a way that the former governor never did when he was in office. David P. Rebovich, Ph.D., is Managing Director of the Rider University Institute for New Jersey Politics (www.rider.edu/institute). He writes a regular column, “On Politics,” for NEW JERSEY and monthly reports on New Jersey for CAMPAIGNS AND ELECTIONS Magazine. He also is a member of CQPolitics.com’s Board of Advisors that provides commentary on national political developments.

MCGREEVEY’S THERAPEUTIC AUTOBIOGRAPHY