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From childhood, McGreevey lived a kind of idealized American life. The son of working-class Irish Catholic parents, named for an uncle who died at Iwo Jima, he strove to exceed expectations in everything he did, meeting each new challenge as though his "future rode on every move." As a young man he was tempted by the priesthood, yet it was another calling--politics--that he found irresistible. Plunging early into the dangerous waters of New Jersey politics, he won three elections by the age of thirty-six, and soon thereafter nearly toppled the state's popular governor, Christie Todd Whitman, in a photo-finish election. Four years later, he won the governorship by a landslide.
Throughout his adult life, however, Jim McGreevey had been forced to suppress a fundamental truth about himself: that he was gay. He knew at once that the only clear path to his dreams was to live a straight life, and so he split in two, accepting the traditional role of family man while denying his deepest emotions. And he discovered, to his surprise, that becoming a political player demanded ethical shortcuts that became as corrosive as living in the closet. In the cutthroat culture of political bosses, backroom deals, and the insidious practice known as "pay-to-play," he writes, "political compromises came easy to me because I'd learned how to keep a part of myself innocent of them." His policy triumphs as governor were tempered by scandal, as the transgressions of his staff came back to haunt him. Yet only when a former lover threatened to expose him did he finally confront his divided soul, and find the authentic self that had always eluded him.
More than a coming-out memoir, The Confession is the story of one man's quest to repair the rift between his public and private selves, at a time in our culture when the personal and political have become tangled like frayed electric cables. Teeming with larger-than-life characters, written with honesty, grace, and rare insight into what it means to negotiate the minefields of American public life, it may be among the most honest political memoirs ever written.
One late-summer Sunday night in 2002, well before my political career collapsed, I was helping my wife, Dina, tuck our daughter into bed. Well, not helping, exactly. Even as I stood in the bedroom doorway watching my family, my ear was glued to a cell phone. Through the phone came the voice of a former employee named Golan Cipel. In a spectacular lapse of judgment, I had put Golan on my payroll while at the same time initiating a secret sexual relationship with him.
A few weeks earlier, both arrangements had ended badly, after press questions about his qualifications reached critical mass. Golan still hadn't recovered, and he had taken to calling me day and night to ask for his job back. I listened to him tirelessly-in part because I wanted to help him if I could, but mostly because I still loved him. But there was no way I could do what he wanted.
I loved Golan Cipel, a handsome and bright man a few years my junior, and I wanted him to be happy. But I was a married man, a father, and the governor of New Jersey. There was no chance he could rejoin my administration.
I had no reason to believe that Dina suspected my affair with Golan, or even the fact that I was gay. She probably already knew I didn't love her anymore, not in the way a manloves his wife. It had been a long time since we'd last been intimate. Lately, what drove us forward had been little more than the momentum of a public life.
Maybe unconsciously I wanted to bring it all to a head that night. How else can I explain why I answered Golan's phone call in her presence? The longer I stood in that doorway watching my wife and daughter and listening to my former lover on the phone, the closer my world came to imploding. Nothing I told him mollified his pain, which I believe had more to do with his stalled career in government than with our failed affair. He missed me, I felt sure, mostly because he missed having access to power.
"My life is over," he was saying. The bad press, he claimed, had ruined his reputation. "Nobody is supporting me out here."
"We'll get through this, Golan," I assured him. "This is the big leagues. You're going to get knocks."
Dina had a rule about not interrupting our daughter's time with work calls, and as I struggled to get off the phone, I watched her growing increasingly angry. But then I saw a light bulb flick on in her eyes. She tucked Jacqueline into her covers and pushed past me in a rage, just as I was hanging up.
After we were safely out of Jacqueline's earshot, she turned and glared at me.
"This whole thing is ridiculous," she said.
I knew exactly what she meant. "What thing?" I asked anyway.
She walked back toward me, in the darkened hallway, until we were close enough for her to study my face. "Are you gay?"
All my life I had dreaded that question. Others had asked it, and I can't think of a time when I lied affirmatively about my sexuality, but I lied every day by omission and obfuscation. And I allowed others to lie for me. My marriage to Dina was a major part of that lie; that much I knew consciously. As our years together ticked by, I found it harder and harder to deny the truth. Being gay is a fundamental part of my being-the core of who I've always been, and the thing I had repressed and run from all my life.
For a brief moment I thought I could stop running that day. But I didn't have the nerve to tell my wife the truth. Instead I said nothing.
I've never been much for self-revelation. In two decades of public life, I have always approached the limelight with extreme caution. Not that I kept my personal life off-limits; rather, the personal life I put on display was a blend of fact and fiction. Dishonesty creates not only a lack of truth but a tangle of truths. I invented overlapping narratives about who I was, and contrived backstories that played better not just in the ballot box but in my own mind. And then, to the best of my ability, I tried to be the man in those stories.
In this way I'm not at all unique. Inauthenticity is endemic in American politics today. Those who would be leaders are all too often tempted to become what we think you want us to be-not leading at all, but following our best guess at public opinion. We tailor our public positions to reflect poll results and consultants' advice, then feed that data back to you in flattering ways. Everything from the clothing we wear to the places we vacation is selected data for political gain; even the food we eat is chosen with strategic calculation. The public square has never been so clamorous with deception.
This is, in fact, the defining characteristic of American political life today, and it is a dangerous slippery slope. For too many politicians winning has become the end goal of politics, trumping both ideology and ethics. An ambitious politician quickly learns, as I did, to countenance and even sponsor fundamentally corrupt behavior while insulating himself, for as long as he can, behind a buffer of deniability. I'm not talking about criminal misconduct-the kind of thing that leads to the occasional political corruption scandal. I'm talking about the hundreds of ways that politicians-or their representatives-can push the envelope on ethics, morals, and truth in our quest for power. In my experience, ethical compromises are not just a shortcut to office; for all but the wealthy, they are all but compulsory. The political backrooms where I spent much of my career were just as benighted ...
Excerpted from The Confession by James E. McGreevey Copyright © 2006 by James E. McGreevey . Excerpted by permission.
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Posted February 24, 2010
I can not believe how corrupt the state of NJ really is. Other than that political lesson, if McGreevey is honest and sincere I find it incredible sad for him to have lived most of his life feeling he had deny himself who he really is.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted April 30, 2007
When I was young, I envied gay married men that could keep their gay life separate from their straight life. It was as if they put their gay feelings on a shelf. I envied how they lived their straight lives fully functional with little or no struggle. I so much wanted to be like them. I stopped envying them a long time ago. Now I only feel sorry for them. But it wasn't until I read McGreevey's autobiography that I realized how great a price these men paid for compartmentalizing. Keep working at getting to know the real you, McGreevey, it's worth it.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 4, 2007
This is a political Brokeback Mountain played out against the buildings and politics of 9/11. McGreevy's story betrays gay Americans and himself. At times this book is pageturner. At other times this is near-sticky romance novel filled with oblated and failed heterosexual and homosexual relationships. Only a gay technocrat may write so completely, a non-fiction work so wonkishly completely. The typical service and sacrifice platitudes typical in most politicians' memoirs are written by McGreevy. McGreevy's novel fails to reveal the true self beyond the politically superficial. McGreevy needs to add U.S. gays to the list of people he makes amends to in his 12-step addiction meetings, as spoken of in the non-fiction work of fiction. McGreevy admits in the book that he used anti-gay rhetoric to sway New Jersey voters, while being a member of the brotherhood himself. McGreevy stood against gay marriage and only for a very limited form of civil unions (if you were over 65-years-old). McGreevy defended marriage so much, he had two failed heterosexual marriages. Read this book while holding your nose.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 22, 2006
As a New Jersey resident, I give the book two stars for Disappointing. While it's a page turner, I felt like I was only seeing one very spinned side of his story. The details of his political and personal dealings were sensational and salacious, yet he seems to give himself a pass for his actions. Insight is not often found on these pages. Personally, I don't care if he's gay or Republican, I found his behavior towards women - both those he married and used to fool others about his sexuality - bordering on sociopathic. It made me sad New Jersey had such a morally corrupt Govenor. The state deserved better. I bought this book because I had a great deal of sympathy for Jim since his August 2004 relevation, I completed this book feeling sick that this self-centered, self-absorped, person, could actually achieve the office of executive of our state. Careless, corrupt and incompetent for this leadership position, it's a relief he banished himself from Trenton. Like many other New Jerseyans, I wonder still what the real reason for this departure was, certainly, NJ would have embraced an openly gay governor. What does Jim still need to confess?Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 19, 2006
The reality is that a lot of men and women suffer the same dilema as Mcgreevy did, hiding and then coming out in the closet(others actually remain hiding). I know it is not easy for a lot of people to understand that and you don't expect it either. There are a few people like jim who has gone that far and has the courage to do so esp considering his complicated situation. If I were him, I would probably have no guts to write a book (guesting in oprah, etc)about these 'struggles' and I admire him for doing that, such a feat!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 3, 2006
James McGreevey gives a transparent and bold look into his life. The book is suspenseful but it appears to have an agenda. There is more justification than sorrow. The author carefully uses words to move the reader from the profound mistakes of the former governor to pity. It seems that society, religion and ethics were on trial, without having a chance to even take the stand.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 9, 2006
Poor little fella. Couldn't run the most corrupt state in the union. Got in too deep and rather than saying, 'I've done you folks in New Jersey a terrible wrong' he bails out and blames it on being a Gay American. The Gay community should be in an uproar and shun McGreevy and his book. Imagine blaming his failure on being gay.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted September 24, 2006
This is a deeply troubling, and also an altogether spell-binding book. Nevertheless, I think that had James McGreevey himself written ¿The Confession¿, using his own heart-felt words, instead of asking the ghost writer David France to write it, this book would have made a much stronger impact on the readers because, heart-felt words have enough intrinsic power to not only penetrate the reader¿s mind, but also to occupy it and stay there ingrained for a very long time. Ghost writing is akin to drawing a portrait using a pencil and then asking the ghost writer to fill-in the colors. I remember that day vividly- August 12, 2004, when James McGreevey, with his lovely wife Dina Matos and his parents by his side, and surrounded by a few friends and well-wishers also, in a strong and clear voice announced to the world: ¿At a point in every person's life one has to look deeply into the mirror of one's soul and decide one's unique truth in the world. Not as we may want to see it or hope to see it, but as it is. And so my truth is that I am a gay American ¿.¿ This book is not just a ¿coming out of the closet¿ kind of memoir. It has a great deal of information about the corruption rampant in our two-party system. And it has a lot to say about homophobia in general, and how our society treats homosexuals in particular and drives them into dark closets well hidden from sight. ¿I lived not in one closet but in many,¿ James McGreevey has written. This book is full of surprises. There are passages that state stark realities about our political parties: ¿You can¿t take large sums of money from people without making them specific and personal promises in return. People weren¿t shy about saying what they expected for their ¿investments¿ ¿ board appointments to the Sports Authority or the New Jersey Economic Development Authority, for example, which were coveted not just for their prestige but because they offered control over tremendously potent economic engines, with discretionary budgets in the tens of millions.¿ And there are passages that caused me a great deal of shock and also pain: ¿I visited bookstores in New York and New Jersey and had sex in the small booths there until I became too famous to risk discovery. I lurked around parkway rest stops, exchanging false names and intimacies with strangers. But there never was an emotional meaning to these trysts, even the few that were repeat engagements.¿ Many a times I also smiled at the purple prose: ¿Moonlight squinted through the stained-glass windows into our garden, catching an inviting eye or a face stretched in ecstasy.¿ There are passages that caused me horror and disbelief also, as there are lyrical passages that gave me a great deal of joy. And there are passages galore that jump at you from the pages like gazelles with the galloping force of stunning truth: ¿Every night, rain or shine, this hidden pocket of Washington filled with men just like me ¿ almost all of them wearing business suits and, on most of their left hands, proof that they¿d made the same compromises I had. We were the power brokers and backroom operatives and future leaders of America. We just happened to be gay.¿ In this book McGreevey has asked quite a few profound questions: ¿How do you live with such shame? How do you accommodate your own revulsion with whom you have become?¿ And he has answered them also: ¿You do it by splitting in two.¿ While reading the book I experienced the whole gamut of emotions: I was astonished, stunned and horrified, and I felt dejected and profoundly sad also. I admired his courage in coming out of his closet ¿ although I also thought at times that he was driven, quite literally, out of it by Golan Cipel, the man of his dreams, who threatened to file a law suit claiming sexual harassment. Also, several times I stopped to ponder : What would a boy aged sixteen, who goes to the local library (as James McGreevey did) to read about homosexuality, to try to understand his iWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted October 7, 2010
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