Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Our schizophrenic reaction to tears

Speaker elect John Boehner cried once again in last Sunday's 60 Minutes interview, and is once again being ridiculed for it- the women of The View being particularly nasty about it, worse even than outgoing Speaker Pelosi was previously. I find the different reactions to tears by public figures, especially politicians, puzzling.

Pat Schroeder was roundly criticized for a few seconds of tears during her announcement that she would not be a candidate for President. At the time, many said that the criticism was a double standard- that men like Ronald Reagan were allowed to tear up, but women weren't. But try telling that to Ed Muskie, whose career was destroyed by "melting snowflakes". It has been suggested that the difference is that a Reagan or a McCain has enough macho bona fides that it wasn't a sign of weakness, but I've noticed that even those who ridiculed G. W. Bush's military career didn't make fun of him tearing up at a number of emotional events.

I'm also confused by the fact that women are so much nastier about it than men are. From Muskie to Boehner, you have to do a lot of Googling to find any man as nasty about public tears as the many very public comments from women. Ask Pat Schroder: "She's still catching flak about it today, mostly from women. "Oh, my gosh, I got a devastating e-mail about it from a woman writer just a couple of days ago," Schroeder said in an interview. "I want to say, 'Wait a minute, we are talking 20 years ago.' It's like I ruined their lives, 20 years ago, with three seconds of catching my breath." To paraphrase Scrooge, there is nothing on which women are so hard as coldness; and there is nothing they condemn with such severity as the expression of emotion.

I guess I'd be in trouble if I ever became famous. I've cried during discussions, I've cried at movies, plays- hell, I've even cried at a Star Trek episode. Good thing for me I don't give a good Goddamn what the women of The View think.


Chalicechick said...

What got me was when Hillary Clinton sounded like she might cry and maybe got misty eyed without actually crying and John Edwards still jumped all over her for it.

Pat Schroeder herself famously responded to Edwards by saying "When people say they don't want anyone's finger on the button who cries, I say I don't want anyone's finger there who doesn't cry."

The Obama Campaign initially had no comment, then after the media kept on him about it Obama said essentially "hey, campaigns are tough on everybody," which is what Elizabeth Edwards had said all along and what John Edwards started to say on the subject when he realized that America really didn't want to elect a complete asshole.

Anyway, as long as you're not Hillary Clinton, my impression is that it is mostly OK to cry once in awhile.

That said, Boehner was notorious for crying every time he talked about his own humble beginnings long before the 60 Minutes interview where he cried twice about that subject. (Note how his election night crying was also about how hard he'd worked to achieve the American Dream.)

This is not a case of Hillary Clinton being asked by a compassionate supporter about the strain of the nasty campaign Hillary was right in the middle of and losing it just a little bit once.

This is a man who seemingly cannot bring up the fact that he used to be poor* without the waterworks flowing. To me, his crying in the context in which he cries comes of as:

"I'm do damn *sniff* awesome, for I have *gasp* overcome so very much."

And in a man who ever since he overcame his humble beginnings has been doing stuff like whoring himself out to the financial industry and sponsoring legislation to make student loans harder to refinance, presumably uninterested in the effects of his legislation on the next generation of poor kids**, that's highly unattractive.


*No, really, the second time he cried on 60 minutes, he was crying over how poor he used to be and how much he'd overcome.

**The first time he cried on 60 minutes, he was crying about how kids today don't have the chance to achieve the American dream that he did. In case you missed it, John Boehner achieved the American dream.

Joel Monka said...

John Boehner isn't anyone I'd vote for; I was just taken by the reactions to his crying. Does being a serial weeper rather than an ad hoc sniffler really make a difference? Caesar Agustus was a notorious crier, and he conquered the known world.

If someone could show that the tears were fake, a campaign gimmick, I'd be disgusted and denounce him. But the comments of Speaker Pelosi seem to indicate that he's simply free with his emotions

Chalicechick said...

If he were repeatedly publicly crying over a variety of things or, as Clinton and Schoeder did, crying over a stressful situation he was currently enduring, that would be weird but not necessarily problematic. I mean, I had a friend who cried at "Drop Dead Fred." Some people cry a lot over a variety of subjects.

John Edwards, that hypocrite, was known for shedding a few tears over his dead child in his early campaigns. Nobody really cared, though when he tried it on the national stage, Ann Coulter mocked him about it and he stopped bringing it up.

Getting back to Boehner, the fact that the specific subject that chokes him up every single time is his own backstory does make it seem like either he's faking it in hopes of making everyone else emotional over the miracle that is John Boehner too, or that he needs a therapist, not a high pressure office with lots of responsibility.

You know about the some of the shit I went through as a kid and can probably imagine the rest. Now I'm six months from graduation at one of the best law schools in the country and happily married to a well-employed man and we throw big parties and go to plays and play cards every Sunday night with our smartypants friends.

That's about as close to the American Dream as most people can expect to get and while I've dealt with some of the nastier aspects of my past better than others, I can relate it totally dry-eyed. Bill Clinton, Dennis Kucinich, Mike Huckabee, Rudy Giuliani and even Joe Biden* dealt with being really poor as kids and overcoming various other obstacles, such as Giuliani's dad being in prison and Clinton's dad being dead. All of them talk about their humble upbringings, as political figures will, but only Boehner cries every single time the subject of his own past comes up.

One wonders if, say, Clarence Thomas, who overcame even more that Boehner, were making a speech and Boehner were introducing him whether Boehner would find anything to cry about in someone else's tale of the American Dream. My guess is no, Boehner's tears seem only for the wonder that is himself.


*Joe Biden's dad was long term unemployed for most of Joe's childhood but eventually found a job and they were middle class by the time Biden was in high school, so he's a marginal case.

Joel Monka said...

When Pelosi said, "You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we’re having a debate on bills.", I got the impression that he cries over a number of things. But yeah, no question, he's pretty self absorbed; as you say, a lot of us have emotional back-stories, and we don't lead with it on every interview, every speech, or cry every time we do.