The resignation of New Jersey Governor James McGreevey yesterday (effective on November 15, to avoid a special election) may well go down in history -- but for what reason? In his speech (text here, video here), he cited as his reason for stepping down "the circumstances surrounding the affair and its likely impact upon [his] family and [his] ability to govern."
Taken on its own, it's hard to see what about the affair itself spurred McGreevey to resign. True, he was being sued for sexual harassment, but according to well-placed sources quoted in this article, that suit was (or more importantly, could easily be spun as) nothing more than a cheap attempt at extortion by a greedy ex-lover. True, that ex-lover had occupied a well-paid job in the governor's administration, but it's not clear that the man was hired because of his relationship with McGreevey, and anyway he left the job pretty quickly. Plus, lest we forget, we're talking about New Jersey here, where political corruption has a long and storied tradition.
I'm not saying that this scandal wouldn't be damaging to McGreevey, had he stuck it out. It probably would have hurt him pretty badly. But when you look at what appear to be the facts, the only thing that McGreevey seems to have done wrong is have an extramarital affair. And if politicians regularly resigned because of those, well…this country would be run by eunuchs.
It's also interesting to read the media's reactions to this story. Just as when Jack Ryan's divorce record became public during his race against Barack Obama, what people claim to be shocked by isn't his sexual history ("We couldn't care less who he had sex with, when, where and how"), but some flimsy excuse to keep talking about his sexual history ("He lied, dammit, and that's just wrong.") Apparently, the media suggests, an openly gay man could run for governor of a major state tomorrow, and they wouldn't say a word about it. That this is clearly not true is beside the point. At least we've gotten to the point where we all acknowledge that there are some things we should not hold against people, sexuality being one of them, even as we continue to do so. It's like calling ourselves alcoholics while we're on our third scotch of the afternoon: the first step is admitting we have a problem…
This being New Jersey, however, there's more to the story. In this case, while McGreevey's cited reasons for leaving office may not be enough to justify his retirement, the reasons he left unsaid certainly were. If half the allegations against current and former members of his inner circle are true, he surrounded himself with some pretty despicable people. Like his biggest campaign contributer, Charles Kushner, who, according to the Chicago Tribune story above, "has been charged with trying to thwart a federal campaign-finance investigation by luring a grand jury witness--his brother-in-law--into a compromising situation with a prostitute and sending video and photos to the man's wife." Nice.
So this is a pretty mixed bag, as Wonkette sums up nicely. On the one hand, you have a politician doing a pretty courageous thing, in a really classy manner. On the other hand, he appears to be, or at least to surround himself with, a pretty low class of person. Maybe it's better he's gone. But he sure went well.