The Crying Game: when politicians shed tears
By Evan Lips | January 6, 2016, 20:27 EDT
“Strong men also cry….strong men, also, cry.” – The Big Lebowski
BOSTON – Weepy politicians aren’t all that unusual, yet President Barack Obama’s tears on Tuesday as he announced executive orders to tighten gun controls put social media on hyperdrive while images of the tracks of his tears drove nightly newscasts.
The reactions to his performance were predictable. Critics of Obama’s policies claimed the commander-in-chief ginned up a Hollywood-worthy show of emotion to demonstrate how much he cares about preventing gun violence. Fox News’s Andrea Tantaros questioned whether the tears were genuine, adding: “I would check that podium for a raw onion.”
Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump took the president’s emotional display at face-value, judging his tears to be sincere in a CNN appearance.
Tearful presidents over the last 30-odd years have been associated with a variety of topics:
George W. Bush’s eyes welled up on April 8, 2008, as he presented a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor to the mother and father of Petty Officer 2nd Class Michael Monsoor, a Navy SEAL from California who saved the lives of six soldiers by shielding them from an exploding grenade with his own body in Iraq in 2006.
“This nation will always honor the sacrifice he made, may God comfort you,” Bush told Monsoor’s parents, his voice briefly cracking.
Bush also shed tears during the Jan. 11, 2007, Medal of Honor ceremony for Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham. Dunham, like Monsoor, jumped on a grenade in Iraq to save his comrades, and died from his injuries eight days later.
Bill Clinton, whose “I feel your pain” comment to an AIDS activist while on the 1992 campaign trail has reached legendary status, teared-up during an August 1994 event to promote a doomed universal health-care bill. His wife, Hillary, now the leading contender for the Democratic presidential nomination, was a driving force behind the overhaul measure.
Clinton’s brief burst of tears occurred while he listened to a speech from John Cox, a former newspaper editor who was out of work and his family uninsured when his wife was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer.
There is another instance of Clinton shedding tears that has been the subject of intense scrutiny. When video surfaced of Clinton’s tears at the April 1996 funeral of U.S. Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown, conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh accused the president of conjuring up fake tears after realizing he was being recorded on video.
“He’s laughing, telling the big jokes, see’s the camera — oh no, let’s cry,” Limbaugh said, while rolling a clip of the video showing Clinton laughing, spotting the camera, bowing his head and wiping away what appear to be tears. “The other guy is still laughing, he doesn’t even know what’s going on,” Limbaugh said.
George H.W. Bush, whom Newsweek magazine declared had to battle a “wimp factor” during the 1988 presidential election campaign, is more known for instances of tearing up after leaving office in 1993.
There is footage of a weeping Bush recalling the failed 1994 Florida gubernatorial campaign of his son, Jeb, in 2006.
“The true measure of a man is how you handle victory and also handle defeat,” Bush said, his voice quivering.
Jeb Bush eventually won election to governor of Florida in 1998.
In February 2011, the elder Bush also teared up during an appearance on NBC’s “Today Show,” when he and Barbara, his wife of nearly 50 years, re-read old love letters. In the interview, conducted by his great-granddaughter Jenna Bush Hager, Barbara cracked a joke about her emotional spouse.
“You know what, you could be Speaker of the House,” Barbara Bush joked, in a reference to the often-weepy U.S. Rep. John Boehner, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives.
Ronald Reagan may have shed tears in private, but an exhaustive Internet search didn’t turn up any images or reports of the Gipper getting dewy eyed in public.
One tearful photo of Reagan was actually an illustration. Time magazine’s March 15, 2007, cover shows an inserted tear trailing down Reagan’s cheek, with a headline reading: “How the Right Went Wrong.” The photo credits included one for the photographer, David Hume Kennerly, and another reading “tear by Tim O’Brien.”
Illustrator Tim O’Brien said in a later interview with Photoshop expert Debbie Grossman that it wasn’t the first time he was called on to add a tear to a president’s face. O’Brien recalled that he once doctored a portrait of George Washington for a 1989 Time cover. But that was in the days before Photoshop and he used paint to do the job.
Former U.S. Sen. Ed Muskie deserves an honorable mention, even though he was merely a presidential contender at the time. On Feb. 26, 1972, the Maine Democrat stood outside the Manchester Union Leader newspaper’s offices barely a week before the Granite State’s first-in-the nation primary election to decry Publisher William Loeb for what Muskie said was an unwarranted assault on him and his wife.
“By attacking my wife, he has proved himself to be a gutless coward,” Muskie railed about Loeb, who was an ardent conservative.
Yet the most significant reports on Muskie’s appearance focused attention on the candidate’s emotional state at the time, as David S. Broder, the Washington Post reporter, described it. Broder recounted that Muskie had “tears streaming down his face,” a claim the candidate’s campaign disputed.
Muskie aides said the droplets appearing at the senator’s eyes came from lightly falling snow, not his tear ducts, and Broder and other reporters on the scene later conceded what they saw could have been melting snow. But by then, Muskie’s campaign was fading after a surprisingly poor showing in the New Hampshire vote; he won, but not by as much as pundits had expected.