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Monday, March 25, 2013
Jim McGreevey's Real Victims
The public fall and long road to "redemption" of former New Jersey Governor James McGreevey is chronicled in an upcoming HBO documentary airing this week.
McGreevey's story, of a straight family man and politician who "comes out" and reveals himself to the press as a "gay American," may make for compelling watching for those who need affirmation of their world view -- to which the concept of gay equality (whatever that truly means) may be central.
When McGreevey made his sexual orientation public, it was at an August 2004 televised press conference, hastily arranged as McGreevey and his advisers sought to beat an inquiring press -- or possibly even the United States Attorney's Office -- to news of McGreevey's relationship with a young man named Golan Cipel whom McGreevey had inexplicably named the state's homeland security director. (The transcript of the press conference is here.) That news began to surface not long after the real damaging revelation, that of McGreevey's role as "State Official No. 1," an unnamed player who uttered the infamous code word "Machiavelli" on tape in secret law enforcement recordings, had been made earlier that summer. (McGreevey was being taped by a New Jersey mulch farmer (whom I speculated was really a professional informant; I mean, since when is scrap wood growings a cash crop? Even in New Jersey?)
I view the documentary as McGreevey's latest and lame attempt to gain sympathy and public acclaim, for what was essentially gutless and truly narcissistic behavior. His sexual preference, claimed or otherwise, is irrelevant here. It is a smokescreen -- a reputational beard, if you will -- designed in 2004 and still used today to gain immunity from public outrage and shaming for what he did to his true victims. In fact, it may have been an attempt to make him such a politically correct figure as to make any criminal investigation or prosecution of him (see above) extremely politically toxic. But enough about Jim McGreevey, the man who deserves no sympathy, no respect, for publicly humiliating his wife and basically abandoning their daughter.
Left unsaid by virtually all commentators is that McGreevey defrauded his wife, Dina Matos McGreevey. (I'll leave the speculation about her possibly knowing about his sexual orientation to the conspiracy theorists.) The relationship was based on a sham, a fraud. His fraud. A colossal deception of her.
Dina Matos doesn't get those years back. Their daughter will forever be linked to an absolute cad of a man.
Almost as equally despicable is the glossing over of Dina's pain, their daughter's pain, the absence of the father whom her mother thought she had married. It is as if Dina Matos was, and still is and will continue to suffer, for the unintentional sins of being pretty, thin, a professional woman.
In short, being punished for being many things which many other women -- straight or gay -- cannot be.
It makes you wonder whether the sanctification of Jim McGreevey is just as much about envious women's schaenfraude as it is about his own attempt at pretend contrition, at the avoidance of responsibility.
This is a man whose harm to Dina Matos and their daughter is incalculable, lasting, permanent and barely something one can "move on" from.
For Dina Matos, there is no status quo ante. No undoing the damage. No restoring the reputation. While she may be much better equipped to "move on," does that assessment make her less sympathetic? Does it make Jim McGreevey less of a cad? Does it lessen the evil, the absolutely toxic narcissism with which he lived his life through 2004 and most assuredly continues to live today, albeit carefully concealed in a new cloak of deception, one also of his own making?
Our society too often celebrates the bad, the evil, the fallen among us, as if to convey the message that the road to success, to fame, is to intentionally screw up and hurt people around you so that you can then rise from the ashes of your own piggishness. But we should never forget that every day Jim McGreevey chose to continue his deception, he chose to hurt his wife and daughter. If he is truly contrite, he will speak of nothing but making amends for that tremendous harm.
Such contrition, if genuine, will be done far from the cameras, far from any public accolades and with full respect for any privacy wants or needs that Jim McGreevey's real victims deserve.