By Ray O’Hanlon
The word on Jim McGreevey has long been that the man is ambitious. Being mayor of Woodbridge, N.J., was fine for a while. Being governor of New Jersey is an undoubted triumph.
But what young politician with the right look and seemingly boundless energy would not tuck himself into bed at night dreaming about the Lincoln Bedroom and all the famed chambers of the White House?
For all its obvious charms, the New Jersey governor’s residence in Princeton, Drumthwacket, is merely the political gate lodge for McGreevey. At least that is what some observers believe.
So bet your bottom dollar that McGreevey counts Lincolnesque bedposts and white-painted columns, not leaping sheep, when he’s nodding off at the end of a another day’s governing.
McGreevey’s battle for the top job in the Garden State last year was ultimately well organized and well run. Aides complained that they could barely keep up with the candidate. In time, the new governor couldn’t keep up with himself. He fell while walking on the beach and broke his leg.
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His term so far has been characterized by a few popularity stumbles, though not necessarily failures. It depends on an individual’s political point of view.
The economy going where it is, McGreevey is having to take some tough positions. Not all of these decisions, especially those relating to taxation and spending, are necessarily popular.
McGreevey recently took himself on an economic trip to Ireland. He goes there a lot, as much as anything else to keep in touch with his Irish relatives in County Down.
The Irish visit had an economic edge to it too. McGreevey wants to increase the level of business and economic interchange between New Jersey and both the Republic of Ireland and the North.
This is all well and good. But it’s not going to make national headlines. It won’t get the man on the network news.
But the one-year anniversary of the Sept. 11 attack on America will. McGreevey will read excerpts from no less than the Declaration of Independence at the commemoration ceremonies at Ground Zero.
The Declaration is political gold dust and reading from it will likely be a standout moment in McGreevey’s political career, no matter what happens from here on in.
McGreevey will be joined by New York Gov. George Pataki, who will read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg will read FDR’s “Four Freedoms” speech later in the day. That speech was delivered by Roosevelt to the Congress on Jan. 6. 1941. It foreshadowed America’s entry into World War II.
Of the three great speeches, the Declaration is the only one that has to be edited for content.
This for the simple reason that a goodly portion of it was a blood-heating indictment of England’s crazy old King George. Such words will not suit the moment on the morning of the 11th, although they would not seem so out of place if the name of Osama Bin Laden was inserted for George Rex number three.
Either way, it’s entirely appropriate that the politician with the Irish name gets to read at least part of what was a proclamation to the 13 colonies that would be states in the summer of 1776.
The Declaration, as the history books tell us, was formally adopted by the Second Continental Congress on July 4 of that year. But few Americans of the day knew about it until the Pennsylvania Evening Post newspaper devoted all of page one and most of page two — the paper only had four pages — to the document a couple of days after its adoption. This was, and remains, one of the great newspaper scoops of all time.
McGreevey will get to read the parts about self-evident truths and governments deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
What McGreevey won’t read, are lines such as: “The History of the present King of Great-Britain is a history of repeated Injuries and Usurpations, all having in direct Object the Establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.”
Or this: “He is, at this Time, transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to complete the works of Death, Desolation and Tyranny already begun with circumstances of Cruelty and Perfidy, Scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages and totally unworthy of the Head of a civilized nation.”
McGreevey will doubtless be aware that of the 50-plus members of Congress who signed the Declaration, three had been born in Ireland. They were Matthew Thornton, James Smith and George Taylor.
All of the speeches to be read on Sept. 11, 2002 were crafted in time of war. It is difficult to ignore the sense that the upcoming commemoration is somehow a portent of another conflict to come.
The Declaration damned the British, the Four Freedoms speech praised them. Lincoln’s address was concerned with a purely domestic crisis. And on Sept. 11 it will, perhaps, seem the most appropriate text in a place that, like the Gettysburg battlefield, is now hallowed ground.
Reading the address will be as singular a moment for George Pataki as reading from the Declaration will be for McGreevey.
“From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
The New York Times sniffed recently when it suggested that the 9/11 commemoration was somehow a poor reflection on our time, given the fact that there will be a near absolute reliance on words uttered in the past.
This is a bit harsh. Many words have been spoken about 9/11 already and it’s rare enough these days that the entire nation gets a chance, or takes a chance, to listen to truly great historical words delivered against so serious a backdrop.
As such, the politicians of today will be judged more on delivery than their actual words.
McGreevey, if form holds, will seize his moment, and give it his best on what will be both a national and international stage.
Irish Americans everywhere will be watching and listening with close interest.