Speaker-elect, John Boehner (R-Ohio), who is set to take office as the House Majority Leader in January, was profiled tonight on 60 Minutes and continued his curious tendency to break down and cry.
On election night, Boehner cried when he addressed his supporters after the Republican victory, which gave the party control of Congress. During his speech, he cried repeatedly while saying, “I have spent my whole life, chasing the American dream. I put myself through school working every rotten job there was…I poured my heart and soul into running a small business.”
Tonight, 60 Minutes showed footage of Boehner crying on the floor of Congress when he discussed a bill which he believed would benefit American children. He also cried repeatedly during the interview with Lesley Stahl, who seemed a bit confused, and maybe even a bit incredulous, by Boehner’s continued and seemingly uncontrollable crying.
Times certainly have changed in America and in American politics; crying is no longer looked at automatically as a sign of weakness or liability. Things were different in 1972, when Edmund Muskie lost his presidential bid, many believe, because he cried over a published article critical of his wife. Muskie blamed it on a melted snowflake in his eye, but the voters and media seemed to feel differently.
After the 9/11 attacks, President George Bush choked up in a press conference. It was not a full blown cry, though it was an unmistakable sign of emotion. In no way did it detract from Bush’s performance in those early days as he seemed to cry along with the rest of the nation while trying to forge ahead.
Similarly, while talking about his upbringing, now Vice President Joe Biden choked up during a debate with Sarah Palin during the 2008 presidential race. Biden was not criticized for it, and, in fact, most agreed that it signaled sincerity and passion.
While Boehner has probably benefitted from his crying at times, at what point does his habitual sobbing become a liability? While people tend to empathize with public figures in a moment of sincere weakness, at some point Boehner’s seemingly constant crying fits might seem either strange or calculated, or perhaps both. While people appreciate those in touch with their emotions, and those who are not afraid to show them from time to time, somewhere along the line, people want their leaders to be strong and in control.
Boehner is about to be in the spotlight a lot more as he steps into the role of Speaker of the House. It will be interesting to see whether he fixes his water works by then, or if the increased pressure and visibility of his new role will lead to even more crying fits and tears.