Monday, October 02, 2006

Quote of the day: We look back at Jon Stewart's interview with Jim McGreevey, and begin to consider its relevance to the Mark Foley mess


"One of the corner cancers, if you will, of our entire system is the spin, is the lie, is the lack of transparency. I lied about who and what I was, motivated out of fear, but that's throughout the entirety of the political process."
--former New Jersey Gov. James E. McGreevey, on last Thursday's Daily Show

I was already pondering the former governor's Daily Show interview, which seemed to me to touch on some incredibly important issues, before it took on notably wider resonance in the wake of now-former Florida Rep. Mark Foley's not-quite-coming-out. Let's come back to that, and just go through the interview (which can be viewed on the Comedy Central website and on lots of other sites):

JON STEWART: My guest tonight: a former governor of New Jersey who resigned in 2004--I don't remember the circumstances. His new memoir is called The Confession. Please welcome to the program Jim McGreevey.

[McGreevey enters. Pleasantries, sort-of jokes, etc.]

JS: Here's what I take from the book. It's an incredibly personal story of one man coming to terms with his true self, and what I get from the book is, Wow, New Jersey politics are scummy! [Audience titters.]

JIM McGREEVEY [nodding, but not in total agreement]: Tough, tough.

JS: Scummy.

JM: The purpose of the book is to talk about--in being motivated by fear, being afraid to come out, the message that I took in as a young person, and how that message kept me from being who and what I was. There are many closets. You saw in the Virginia Senate race, people are closeted about their history, their heritage, their faith, whatever, and so it's sort of the old Alcoholics Anonymous expression "You're only as sick as your secrets."

I didn't have the guts to own my secrets. I didn't have the guts to say that I am am gay, and this is who and what I was. I made a lot of bad decisions. And, ironically, the lessons that I learned in the closet--my inability to be honest and open with who and what I was, trying to maintain the perception [makes macho-type gestures] of being straight--ultimately that provided a skill set that actually helped in politics, because so much of politics is perception.

JS: That was my point, that you said so much more eloquently than I did. I said it in a dumb way, but that's exactly it. The duplicity that you were living turned out to be your greatest asset. What it does in some respects is, by painting the atmosphere in which you were living your life, give us a real picture into the duplicity that is politics.

I'll give you an example. There's a section in the book where it's come out that this fellow Golan is going to try and extort you, or whatever the circumstances are. Your handlers have all come together, and there's this sort of three-day, four-day panic session . . .

JM [nodding]: Yep.

JS: Where you're all strategizing. "We should go after Mr. . . ." "You know what, I'll call a guy . . ." You're calling a guy in Cape May. "We're gonna drive down." You've got a fixer. "We're going to bring a fixer . . ."

JM [nodding]: Exactly.

JS: We're gonna sit in a diner . . .

JM: We're gonna manage the situation.

JS: You end up telling the truth about who you are to one of the fixers.

JM: Yep.

JS: And his response is: "That's perfect! That'll really sell!" [Audience laughs.] And I thought, "Holy [bleep]!"

JM [overlapping]: "You're gay!"

JS: He looked at it as a strategy, and I thought, "Wow! Truth . . ."

JM: Some of the fixers did. The problem is . . . on the top of the segment you talked about seeing the president, and Iraq, and 9/11. One of the corner cancers, if you will, of our entire system is the spin, is the lie, is the lack of transparency. I lied about who and what I was, motivated out of fear, but that's throughout the entirety of the political process.

JS: Right. But those people aren't nonpoliticians dying to get out and be who they really are.

JM: No.

JS: You know what I mean?

JM: Yeah, I wouldn't have had the courage to do it but for the extortion lawsuit. I would have been in the closet. I would have never owned my truth, and I would have continued on that path. You're 100 percent right.

JS: Do the people you run with in those circles ever own the political truth? Because your story is universal in the sense of coming to terms with sexuality, but it's really universal, I think, in coming to terms with what politics is. . .

JM: You're right, but there's not an inclination to own that truth, because you're in this system and politicians are attempting to put up images that they believe, by virtue of polling or by virtue of perception, that the public wants. So, if you will, there's an agreement on both sides.

JS: Do you feel that people are born that way? Coming out with trying to do things by polls? [Audience gradually "gets it" and laughs.]

JM [laughing, then striking a meditative pose, hand to chin]: I never wanted to admit this before, Jon. My first poll--when I was about 14 . . . [Audience bursts into laughter and applause.]

[JS gestures and grunts to prevent JM from telling any more of this sordid story.]

JS: One other quick thing, the interesting thing to me is, when people come out about their sexuality at your age--I had a friend of mine who did that--talking to them about dating is like talking to a 16-year-old.

JM: Yeah.

JS: Because they're, literally, [talking like a scatter-brained teenager] "I saw this guy, and he was . . ." And you're just, like, "Dude, you're 40!"

JM: I know, I know, exactly. When I went out with my partner, the third date, it was like [extends his hand to shake hands] "Hi." He was, like, "No, that's not how you do it!" It's, like, you've got to relearn it all.

JS: Here's my idea: Everybody that comes out, each year, they should hold a prom, like a U.S.A. Prom, and get it out of your system, because everybody deserves a prom, no matter what age they are. For everybody that came out that year, big prom!

JM: A national prom.

JS: A national prom, and the theme, of course, "Time in a Bottle"--or whatever you want, tonight's the night. But that's my idea.

I hate to do this to you, because you've been through such turmoil over these last couple of years, but I gotta put you on the Daily Show Seat of Heat. [reading the question] "It's 2008, the presidential election is heating up. Hillary Clinton or Condi Rice . . . who will come out of the closet first?" [Audience explodes.]

JM [laughing]: Oh, it's tough.

JS: That's a tough one. All right, if you had to: Ginger or Maryann? Do you have anything on that?

JM: I think they were confused.

JS [laughing]: Thank you so much for coming on the program.

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

It's possible, I suppose, that in a year or two Mark Foley will surprise us with a useful book detailing his secrets. I doubt it, but if he does, he may provide us with some insight into one of the most fascinating political phenomena of our times: closeted, loudly homophobic gay right-wing Republicans.

It's one of the more chilling as well as comical plot lines of David Brock's Blinded by the Right, his invaluable memoir of his emergence as a star ultra-right-wing fake-journalistic hit man and his subsequent coming out. If Jim McGreevey found it necessary to build himself a sturdy closet out of fear of the political consequences of being open about his homosexuality, imagine what it would have been like for poor David Brock, a gay man living in a world that seems almost fueled by psychotic loathing of homosexuality and homosexuals. He was certain that, if those people in his world, the world of ultra-right-wing media, learned his secret, he would be promptly ostracized.

As Brock came to question more and more seriously the work he was doing, he found himself sitting on too many secrets. When he could no longer hold onto the one about his sexuality, instead of being ostracized, he found himself being hit on by a staggering number of those "right"-thinking, frothingly homophobic right-wingers. Well, say what you will about those guys, and the psychopathology and sociopathology of their political views and the blinding hypocrisy of their sexual views: They know a really hot guy when they see one!

Long-time DWT readers have had frequent exposure to this phenomenon of virulently homophobic extreme-right-wing closet cases, because Howie has written about it a lot. The phenomenon appears to be so widespread as to make a person wonder: Are there any straight men among the far-right loonies?

What I think isn't appreciated nearly enough in the case of all these people who subscribe to a philosophy that considers them perverted beasts who should be shunned by all decent people, and maybe even killed, is that there is nothing at all coincidental about their being (a) closeted, and often deeply closeted (it's an important distinction--we'll come back to it) and (b) rabidly homophobic. Probably we should add (c) riddled with hatred.

It's all a package.

And what amazingly few people outside government understand is how many gay politicians are "openly" rather than "deeply" closeted. The proverbial "everyone" (meaning everyone within the hermetic world of political life) knows about their sexuality, and they may even frequent certain gay bars and enjoy bounteous male "companionship," on the simple condition that they never flaunt their identity and never challenge the homophobic orthodoxies of their world.

The House GOP leadership may be falling all over itself trying to prove that nobody had proof of Mark Foley's penchant for trying to "bag" House pages. Alas for them, with every hour that passes their claims become more suspect. It already seems clear that alarms have been sounded for years. And what's surely true is that House Republican leaders have known Foley's more basic secret, that he's gay, since . . . well, since always.

I don't see how you can talk about this whole subject of closeted gays in government without reference to Michelangelo Signorile's eye-opening book Queer in America (1993; an updated thrid edition appeared in 2003). Signorile took extended looks at three of our most important opinion- and policy-molding subcultures: the world of government, centered in Washington, D.C.; the world of media, centered in New York City; and the world of entertainment, centered in Los Angeles. And he found that all three worlds were heavily populated with gay people, many of them in positions of considerable influence, even power. ("Closets of power," he called them.) And in general "everyone knows" about them; they are the good closeted gays who know their place, and accept the standard bargain with the devil expected of "their kind."

What Signorile also points out is that almost by definition these are also people who are riddled with self-loathing. Unlike those of us who insist that being gay is a perfectly normal, healthy human condition, these closet cases--and, Signorile would say, closet cases generally--are people who accept the bigoted ravings of the far right, and especially the loony Christian right, on the subject of homosexuality. Closeted gays, Signorile argues persuasively, have internalized society's free-floating loathing into "internalized homophobia."

I suppose the patron saint of extreme-right-wing closet cases is Roy Cohn, though J. Edgar Hoover is bound to get his share of votes. (And while most of us in mainstream America were shocked, yes shocked, when they were finally "outed" publicly, both seem to have been--in their own worlds--of the "everyone knows" variety.) As they both illustrate, it usually isn't necessary for these people to manufacture a hatred of homosexuals. Teir loathing seems to have bubbled over.

At best, a closeted gay person is one who is likely to have internalized society's compulsive homophobia. At worst, we're dealing with a personality in which internalized homophobia is only one of many disorders, and possibly the least ugly. When you consider the personality type that's drawn to far-right causes to begin with, and also has a yen for political power, and add to that an effervescence of general hatred and particular self-loathing, well, you're talking about a real sweetheart. In other words, just the sort of fellow you're apt to read about in DWT as yet another of the raging closeted homophobes is called to our attention.

They really do seem to be all around us.


At 7:14 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. What a fabulous thorough and thought-provoking piece. Thank you very much. I just discovered this blog (via a link) during the Foley matter, but with pieces like this, I hope to be a long-term fan. Thanks.


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