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Ozymandias — Reflections on Jim Keady

Like Ozymandias, Jim Keady is now a colossal wreck laid bare. Unlike the statue, there is hope for Jim.

By Tom Yaccarino in thoughts · Jan 22
Photo via Unsplash user DDP

I first heard Jim Keady speak in the summer of 2017. I was taken with his compassion and commitment to issues that were near and dear to me. He had that it factor that Bobby Kennedy had – the ability to connect with issues and people that didn’t come so much from his upbringing but rather from a series of life decisions to do right by people, to create a better society, and to fight for a better world. It had been only months since the country I love — through a combination of sloth, indifference, and a byzantine electoral system — had put a con man into the most powerful position in the world. It was compelling to hear Jim’s voice in that space.

Over the following few weeks, I took a great interest in finding out who this guy was. If he was the real deal, I was prepared to get to work to help him become our next congressperson. I asked around political circles, did some background and everything came up positive. It was soon after that that I met Jim for lunch. He was earnest, attentive and obviously anxious to get into the fight for the soul of the country by running for Congress in the 4th District of New Jersey. We talked about our shared passion for New Deal Democratic policies, putting people and planet ahead of profits and partisanship, and we discussed how our Catholic upbringings helped shape those ideas

We both had good and bad experiences in the Catholic Church growing up and attending the same Catholic high school (Christian Brothers Academy) although in different decades. Even though we shared some horrific experiences, we had both come through our Catholicism with some common heroes in both Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero. I do not know of any statistics on how rare it is to find Catholic school kids in this era who are inspired by the 20th century saints of the poor in the Catholic church, but, in my experience, it is rare. I thought I found one of those few compatriots who could articulate the good news that Jesus preached to the poor, the immigrant, and the neglected of society into policy that helped those same people. I was all in.

I am not naïve. I grew up in a home where I was privileged to meet a lot of politicians, had spent a good portion of my adult life in and around politics; and, of all the politicians I have met, only Jimmy Carter stuck out as a humble person. Politicians have outsized egos. The higher the office, the larger the ego. Some are huge. I mean hard-to-believe-they-can-maintain-personal-relationships kind of egos. Jim is no exception. In the heartbreak of losing the 2018 nomination to an inferior candidate (at least in our minds), we all took it hard. The existing undemocratic structure in the Democratic Party had made it more difficult than it should have been. And had it been fair we would have done better, and I still believe that Jim would have won the nomination.

Jim, as expected, took it very hard. Six months later he was still obviously bitter. I had expected with heroes like Dorothy Day and Oscar Romero he would eventually get past it, embrace his adversaries and concentrate on the thing that really mattered much more than his personal success – the work for the people we care about and the issues that affect them. As Dorothy would say “bear injustice and get on with the work.” He did not.

It was not the Jim Keady who had inspired me in 2018, that had run for Congress in 2020 but rather a far angrier version. We talked before he announced his candidacy this cycle and he seemed bent on a Quixotic run to prove some point I could not understand. Jim had always said that if a qualified woman were to run, he would not. From my perspective, there were two qualified women already in the race. I told him I would not be working for him this cycle. I suspected that he had lost perspective and was not moored to the principals that had inspired me in the summer of 2017. When his support this cycle was far smaller this time than last, he did not react well. There were rumors circulating about Jim. They were the same rumors that existed last cycle; but, instead of bearing injustice (real or perceived) as our shared heroes had inspired him to do in 2018, he reacted with anger.

It was this angry and bitter version of Jim that came out swinging a month ago. No longer content to reach for his better angels Jim wrote a vindictive, threatening and disgusting email to 4 women he saw as somehow undercutting him. He had dated a few of them and included salacious texts from one of them. There was nothing about the release of this email that was justified. It was revenge porn without pictures – but much worse since he included women who had nothing to do with the sexual texts he shared. He also inexplicably decided to send the text to a larger circle of “witnesses”. I suppose he thought these witnesses would support his incredibly bad choice. He was wrong.

The entire sad tale came to a head at a public debate where a couple of his victims and those who support them stood with their backs to Jim as he spoke. They then began calling him out. “Hypocrite!” “Fraud!” “Drop out!” They shouted, not in unison, but like popcorn kernels heating up and bursting out of their shells: one here, one there. Still unbowed by the passion of their cries, Jim responded by trying to first cast himself as victim and then calling on the names of his “witnesses.” Since he did not check before invoking their names, he did not realize how upsetting it was to have their names included in this discussion. As one woman has since said, “I do not want my name in his mouth!”

Unfortunately, Jim’s response to all of this was to give quotes and the full disgusting email to a right-wing site that has committed its very existence upon tearing down candidates that fight for the issues Jim cares about. Once again, he was victimizing the women in his email and the so called “witnesses” who now have their names in a lot of places they should never be. That Jim finally gave up and withdrew from the race is the first good political decision he has made in a long time. I mentioned earlier that Jim and I both attended Christian Brothers Academy at different times. It was there at CBA that I first came to appreciate the poetry of Shelley. This passage is from the first poem of his I read back then, “Ozymandias.”

“…And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”

Like Ozymandias, Jim Keady is now a colossal wreck laid bare. Unlike the statue, there is hope for Jim. Against this horrific backdrop I still believe in Jim Keady. Not as a politician. And not as a public figure. He has forfeited his public standing by betraying the basic decency required for those positions. I do however have hope for the man. I hope that he will get the help, love and support he needs to heal the wounds that could cause him to lash out with so much pain that he became blind to the pain he was causing others. Perhaps the best advice he could get is from his hero Dorothy Day:

“The older I get, the more I meet people, the more convinced I am that we must only work on ourselves, to grow in grace. The only thing we can do about people is to love them.”

All the Way to Heaven: The Selected Letters of Dorothy Day

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