House Speaker John Boehner insists his tears, like his tan, are genuine. Too bad. His election night sob story over his climb to success, followed by his 60 Minutes blubbering over schoolchildren, might be excusable if inspired by a Machiavellian streak. Alas, a lack of self-control, rather than an act to exert control over his audience, explains the teary-eyed outbursts.
Boehner's waterworks flow most frequently and famously. But his aren't the only tear ducts opening when the cameras are rolling. Senator Tom Coburn cried during his speech in favor Judge John Roberts's confirmation to the Supreme Court in 2005. Weepy behavior is bipartisan, as Senator Chuck Schumer whimpered during his introduction of Judge Sonia Sotomayor at her confirmation hearings last year. Mitt Romney choked up running for president when talking about his church admitting blacks, his father, and seeing a casket return from Iraq. America is in trouble when the behavior of its elected officials resembles that of the YouTube sensation who tearfully exhorted everyone to "Leave Britney alone! Please!"
One needn't be a stoic to find something unseemly in all this crying. Almost fifty years ago, Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons counseled big girls not to cry. Today, one can't suggest so much to grown men without appearing like a troglodyte. Wussy is the new manly.
Politics merely reflects the culture, which likes its men to be like its women. Sometime after the appearance of man purses but before the pandemic of male eyebrow waxing, the culture gave the green light for guys to wail and weep. "It's okay to cry," we were told. But male icons in sports, movies, and television told us that it's not just okay to cry. It's obligatory.span>
Michael Jordan cried after winning his first NBA title and Tim Tebow cried after losing the SEC championship game. Get some perspective. You play a children's game. There may be no crying in baseball. Basketball and football are another story.
Joe Friday and Harry Callahan would never make it in today's Hollywood. Jerry Maguire, whose welling eyes impressed rather than repulsed the girl, seems a more iconic representation of modern manliness. He had her at hello. He lost me at boo-hoo.
In 2009, ABC presented Jason Mesnick as a catch to female contestants on The Bachelor. The indecisive, gushing Mesnick presented himself as unable to control his emotions to ABC's viewers. The man that ABC believed that women wanted turned out to be a bachelor for a reason.
Glenn Beck may or may not be a crier in real life, but he plays one on TV. Beck's weepiness has become as much a part of his shtick as Bill O'Reilly's temper or Keith Olbermann's sanctimony. When Walter Cronkite's voice cracked as he reported President Kennedy's assassination, few faulted him for his momentary betrayal of the dispassionate ethic of the anchorman. But in the news-o-tainment era, tears=ratings. Cry yourself to the bank.
Pundits who obsess over the artificiality of the tear flood miss the point. The indifference of the sincerely moved to suppress the impulse toward public emoting, and the eagerness of the phonies to release the feigned emotions, both tacitly acknowledge the benefits of being a crybaby in our society.
Proponents of crying suggest there is something unhealthy in holding back the tears. Perhaps they are on to something. Men are from Mars, not from Vulcan, after all. But why must so many men lose it so publicly? It's undignified. It can be, à la children's crocodile tears, manipulative. In leaders, it does not inspire confidence. As one might say to a couple partaking in similarly annoying public displays of affection, "Get a room!" -- the bathroom, the bedroom, the basement, wherever. Just take your crying eyes away from our eyes.
Cannot the dry eyes and the wet eyes come to a compromise? The former faction will grant that it is okay to cry, provided that the latter faction does so behind closed doors. Deal?
Thirty-nine-years ago, Maine Senator Edmund Muskie stood outside of the Manchester Union Leader and denounced the newspaper for criticizing his wife. Amid the emotionally-charged speech, and winter's flurries, reporters glimpsed moisture trailing down the presidential frontrunner's cheek. Was it melting snowflakes or tears? It didn't matter. The mere suggestion that an aspirant to lead the free world broke down during a stressful situation was enough for some to dismiss his candidacy.
In less than four decades, America has morphed from a culture that cringes at grown men bawling to one that rewards it. That's almost worth crying over.
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