Jewish World Review August 17, 2004/ 30 Menachem-Av, 5764

Wesley Pruden

Wes Pruden
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Seeking a martyr in a squalid place | Pity Barney Frank. He's about to be replaced as the poster boy of the lavender lobby by a has-been from New Jersey.

The unadulterated ignominy of it all.

The gays deserve better, and the fact that they're trying to cast Jim McGreevey as a martyr for our times demonstrates how easy they are to please (or how difficult the search is for a genuine martyr in modern America). It's not easy to disgrace New Jersey, where mafia landfills and the criminal trials of public officials are the No. 1 tourist distinctions, just ahead of the Atlantic City casinos and bathing beauties.

The suspicion grows that buggery has nothing to do with why the governor is trying to get out of Dodge — or in this case, Trenton — before the posse gallops up behind the sheriff. Who would have thought that a guilty governor could hide from the law behind a cloak of public homosexuality? "Homophobia" cannot be blamed for public disgust. "McGreevey's personal drama," writes Errol Louis, a columnist for the New York Daily News, "is likely to serve as a smoke screen for what may well be the true motive for his resignation: The fact that a tidal wave of political sleaze swirling around the Garden State was about to swamp the governor's leaky, rickety boat."

Already in this new millennium, federal prosecutors have pursued 55 major political-corruption indictments in New Jersey, sending mayors, county executives, aides and other hangers-on to trial or prison for stealing from the public till, taking bribes or extorting payoffs from contractors, mobsters and assorted grifters, grafters and con men. (And everyone thought Arkansas had given public service a bad name.)

The catalog of the troubles that the governor and his administration have with the criminal code is a daunting one, and Mr. McGreevey himself reeks of more than a little of the odor of fear of the prison cell. His name was sprinkled throughout a 47-page indictment of one his pals who is accused of extorting $40,000 from a dairy farmer in the governor's home county, and conspiracy and obstruction of justice charges have been lodged against his chief fund-raiser. His commerce secretary resigned after he was discovered diverting state funds into a company of which he is part owner. Two aides left town last year under cover of a cloud of scandal and suspicion. It's not at all clear how furtive love among the whispering peers, which is after all not necessarily against the law, could make things worse, particularly since Mrs. McGreevey appears not to mind.

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The governor, in the great tradition of guilty politicians straight, narrow and otherwise, put the obliging missus on display for public humiliation at his press conference, together with his parents, in a show of grim familial solidarity. We can be grateful he resisted the temptation to display his small children. In an earlier time and place, politicians similarly run to ground had more shame than to hide from the hangman in the shadows of the aggrieved wife, helpless children, a broken-hearted mother and a father humbled by a son's shame. Many earlier pols would have fled across the Hudson to seek out a tall building. Mrs. McGreevey, though smiling bravely, was perhaps consoled by the anticipation of expressing her feelings with something bigger than a lamp or similar heavy object with sharp edges when the family got back to the governor's mansion.

Jim McGreevey is a clever politician who may still have a future in New Jersey if the festive media celebration of gay abandon continues. A poll taken over the weekend for the Newark Star-Ledger showed the governor's popularity up 2 points, and the indulgence of bad taste in politicians no doubt extends beyond the Jersey shore. The New York Times published several sympathetic accounts of how the governor "struggles" with his "tortured identity," and the interlocutors and end men of the weekend's television shove-and-shout shows fell all over themselves to get on the side of the fashionable devils Mr. McGreevey says have taunted him from childhood all through his marriages to unsuspecting women.

The man the governor describes as the object of the love that dared not speak its name until he spoke up for it says Mr. McGreevey is a gay deceiver in more ways than one. He was not a love object, the man says, but a straight arrow put upon by a boss in heat. So the real story may not be gay at all, or even cheerful. The real story may yet be told to a jury that will be less intimidated by cries of "homophobia" than by the consequences of allowing guilty politicians to go unpunished.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Washington Times. Comment by clicking here.

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