DOASKDOTELL BOOK REVIEW of James McGreevey The Confession; Dina Matos McGreevey: Silent Partner


Author (or Editor):  James E. McGreevey

Title:  The Confession

Fiction? No (autobiography)

Publisher:  Regan (Harper Collins)

Date:  2006

ISBN:  0-06-089862-3

Series Name:

Physical description: hardbound, 369 pgs, indexed, in six parts

Relevance to doaskdotell: gays in public office


This autobiography of the ex-governor of New Jersey (2002-2004) is sweeping an covers a lot of territory. By now, most of us know the story of his appointment of Golan Cipel, and then of his reversal of the appointment, of Mr. Cipel’s actions, and of McGreevey’s public resignation and “humiliation.” The book starts when he takes a phone call from Mr. Cipel and his second wife asks if he is gay.

Early in the book, he discusses the three parts of shame (like the three parts of a magic trick). The closet, of course, is the source of lying and shame, to make other people comfortable. And the debate never gets far enough. McGreevey married twice, and discusses with some candor his encounter with the process server that ended the first marriage. He was at times bisexual and interested in women, but not the way he felt about men.

Here we can moralize (in Catholic fashion, since the governor has an Irish Catholic background) about staying with one partner for the sake of the children (he had a daughter). But we can take it further. Why did he feel pressured to form a family in the first place. That gets into the functional decomposition of shame, but the real problem encompasses more. This all has to do with the social pressure of not just “family values” but family responsibility. Your family made you what you are, and you owe it some biological loyalty, even continuing the lineage. You owe it the emotional connectivity that it gave you, as a way of paying back a personal emotional debt, to make other people safer. The buck starts with society but it stops with you. That is the moral argument, devoice of religion.

Of course, the argument has an underbelly. The collectivist component of family values invites corruption, and McGreevey’s book documents well how it infects politics at many levels. The obligatory family emotions invite the kinds of blackmails that we see in soap operas like Days of our Lives before the shame of homosexuality ever reaches the table.

He mentions that a libertarian showed up at one of his debates, and that is a hint. Libertarianism would insist on a lot more personal responsibility, rather than using emotional blackmail to cover it up.

McGreevey’s tale spans the territory of all the issues, though. Cipel had been in the Israeli army for five years, despite his sexual orientation, without any incident at all. He had a lot of background in dealing with terrorism, and McGreevey’s narrative covers a lot of New Jersey’s response to 9/11 since it is near the attacks. McGreevey was also active in toughening teacher standards in the state. And he was quite concerned with New Jersey’s tax structure. When I lived there (1970, then again 1973) it had no state income tax, but one of the highest property tax rates in the country, because of local control. New Jersey townships sometimes have very restrictive zoning laws, which I didn’t see him address.

He does mention his ambivalent stance on gay marriage, a hot topic in New Jersey given the state supreme court ruling in Oct. 2006 (after the publication of the book). But this raises the iceberg problem. Many people who grew up in McGreevey’s background believe that adult children owe their parents absolute filial loyalty, and that they only achieve legitimate freedom and independence when they form (heterosexual) families of their own, to pay their parents back. One could say that family responsibility, and the purported obligation of a man to “protect” his family, goes between generations in both directions. It also reflects on the issue of biology and choice; McGreevey believes that sexual orientation is biologically hardwired, and it can be, and yet one can still be held accountable for whether one's life choices respect accountability to others for what was previously done, even in being raised. That could have a lot to do with what he calls the three shames. But then, there is always soap opera.

This book would make a good film.  

More on blogger here. (Jan. 30)

McGreevey, Dina Matos. Silent Partner: A Memoir of My Marriage. Hyperion, 2007. ISBN 1-4013-0364-1, hardbound, 290 pages, indexed. 

The governor's ex-wife wrote this counter-memoir, published in April 2007. Actually, during their separation, Mr. McCreevey had wanted them to do a book and maybe movie together, to make enough money to cover their enormous losses.

Mrs. McGreevey writes that she was naive all along. Her epiphany came quickly over about three days in August 2004. Like the wife in the movie "Making Love" she resents the psychological deception.  The most important point, which she makes at least twice, is that he never really told her that he really loved her; she even finds a comment that the marriage fulfilled political necessity and prerequisite. (It's complicated by the fact that this was Jim's second heterosexual marriage.) The book is quite vivid as to the journey of her life, starting in her native Portugal (which I actually visited myself in April 2001), where her brother had a leg tumor resulting in fractures and amputation, but not before the leg looked like that of an old man (a curious description early on). Later, there would be vivid moments, as her marriage to James on the anniversary of the Fatima miracle (I visited Fatima in 2001, seeing the shrine and pilgrims with melted candles), their meeting with the Pope, her delayed learning of the events of 9/11, and the difficult birth of her daughter by James.   

A birds-eye perspective on blogger is here.

Here is a blogger entry on McGreevey's op-ed "A Prayer for Larry Craig" in The Washington Post, Sept. 3, 2007, p A15, about the "bathroom bust" and resignation of conservative Idaho Senator Larry Craig.



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