The Waterworks

John Boehner


When did Republican politics get so soggy?

Speaking to ABC’s Diane Sawyer the other day, the five Romney boys revealed that one of their father’s favorite songs is an anthem of lachrymose overkill: “Crying,” by Roy Orbison. He belts it.

Ann Romney does it. Crying, I mean. As I noted in today’s column, she told Parade magazine that the tithing she and Mitt do to the Mormon Church moves her to tears.

“When Mitt and I give that check, I actually cry,” she said.

Then there’s John Boehner. Remember that teary jag of his about two years ago, as Republicans took control of the House and he rose to the position of Speaker? I worried about dehydration. I thought about sending him a case of Gatorade.

As my colleague Jennifer Steinhauer memorably wrote at the time:

A presumptive new speaker of the House; so much to consider. Where will John Boehner stand on energy policy? Will he be able to manage Michele Bachmann. And how often will he weep?

Much hay has been made over Mr. Boehner, the Republican from Ohio, and his macho persona — those Camel cigarettes, baritone voice and scrappy upbringing that included running cases of beer in his father’s bar. But Mr. Boehner has another side, in the form of quivering lip and wet lashes, one that that comes out at times of heightened public emotions.

There was the sob heard around the world on election night, as Mr. Boehner addressed supporters once it was clear that Republicans would take back the House. “I’ve spent my whole life chasing the American dream,” he said, beginning to cry . . . .

He cries at his annual golf tournament, talking about the good old days with his buddies. He weeps when he watches a child give the Pledge of Allegiance at the annual dinner benefiting Catholic schools in his district. “He gets pretty choked up these days,” said a childhood friend, Jerry Vanden Eynden, though it was not a hallmark of his childhood.

My colleague Gail Collins followed this up with a smart column, “The Crying Game,” about double standards and the different reactions when male authority figures cry (how sensitive!) and when female authority figures cry (too sensitive!). She spoke with the journalist Rebecca Traister, whose book “Big Girls Don’t Cry” examined the battle between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2008. As Gail wrote:

One of the best-remembered moments in that campaign — Hillary Clinton cries in New Hampshire — is an excellent example of the difference between what men and women can get away with, tear-wise.

“Hillary didn’t cry,” Traister pointed out. “Not a drop of liquid fell below her lower lash.” With her back to the wall and the presidency on the line, Clinton approached the edge of a sniffle and we are still talking about it. Boehner is driven to great, noisy sobs when he contemplates the fact that as a youth, he mopped the floor at his father’s tavern.

Besides the crying gap between men and women, there’s also one between Republicans and Democrats. On the one hand, you have the folks who can’t afford tears because it makes them look weak, and on the other, the people who are presumed to be tough and hard-nosed, for whom crying is an attractive sign of complexity.

Right now Romney sorely needs complexity. Complexity would do him a world of good. If there were a dealership for complexity, he or his speechwriters would be over there, getting one complexity in red and another in blue and one with a convertible top and another with a hatchback.

And so we’re hearing, from his intimates, about this tender, sensitive side. For example, we’ll hear about that tonight on the convention stage from Ann Romney, and I’m wondering if the Mitt she’ll draw a portrait of is a weeping willow. (Whatever the case, he’s surely a tree of “the right height.”) I’m wondering if she’ll tear up and if other speakers will and if there’s a drinking game or such pegged to the mention or shedding of tears.

As for Mitt himself, a little welling or a bit of misting might be a fine idea, but he hasn’t yet gotten the hang of the crying game, as his comment during that Parade interview demonstrated.

After Ann said she cried when the check was being written, Mitt said, “I do too, but for a different reason.” He was joking that it hurts to part with the money.

That’s not the message he wants out there. Or the sobbing that’ll get him where he wants to go.

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