In Defense Of Men Crying: An Ode To John Boehner

Photo: Rex/REX USA.
John Boehner has spent 25 years in Congress — and nearly five as speaker of the House, the legislature's highest-ranking job. Today, he's being remembered as "a great leader," "really bad at his job," and lots in between. But every tribute has mentioned one thing: his weeping.

John Boehner, speaker of the House and representative from Ohio's 8th District, was a prodigious and unabashed crier.

“My first job as speaker is to protect the institution,” he explained during a news conference at the Capitol this morning. “It had become clear to me that this prolonged leadership turmoil would do irreparable harm to the institution.” During his remarks, Boehner didn't cry, although he did appear emotional when he referred back to yesterday, when he stood behind Pope Francis during the pontiff's address to Congress…and wept.

Boehner's outward display of emotion has long made him the butt of jokes. Jon Stewart once called him "the world's saddest tangerine," and comedian Bill Maher quipped that the speaker was a walking advertisement for Paxil, the depression medication. The Huffington Post has so many posts tagged "John Boehner crying" that it's got a page collecting them.

It's true that Boehner wasn't able to accomplish the Sisyphean task of gathering policymakers on common ground, and that he presided over the least-productive Congress of all time and then the second-least-productive one of all time. And yet, at least in some small way, we're going to miss the man that George W. Bush once called "Boner" (his name is pronounced "bay-ner").

Why? His unique ability to publicly feel his feelings.

Although it's true that sometimes the speaker wept at weird moments (for example, while giving Neil Armstrong the Congressional Gold Medal), a lot of the time he's cried when crying was an appropriate human response to something troubling or emotionally stirring.

He cried listening to a former Vietnam veteran talk about his experience as a prisoner of war, and when President Obama spoke during the unveiling of a statue that honored Rosa Parks. He cried while listening to the pope, his spiritual leader as a Catholic, give a historic and moving speech in front of our full Congress.

Those are totally appropriate moments to be teary-eyed. Frankly, it's the people who didn't bust out the handkerchief whom America should be raising an eyebrow at.

One of the reasons that people feel near-record levels of dissatisfaction with government these days is that it feels inauthentic. No one is saying what they mean, everything is a partisan attack, outrage is calculated, and offense is taken just to hammer home a political point. When Hillary Clinton wanted to boost her approval polls earlier this summer, she announced a plan to be more authentic…which, of course, was criticized as an inauthentic thing to do.

So, as we bid goodbye to the speaker in the coming weeks, remember that it's not actually normal to keep up a smiling or stoic veneer when you're confronted with something that makes you feel great joy or sadness. Though there are lots of things we won't miss about John Boehner as a politician and leader — his unabashed weeping isn't one of them.


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