Thursday, November 11, 2010

Crocodile Tears in the House of Representatives: Or, There's No Crying in Politics

So John Boehner has a soft heart…

The “Weeper of the House,” it turns out, is known for being “touched by a moment, a speech, or a comment, whether it’s from a constituent or a fellow member of Congress.”

And there’s sure plenty for him to cry about these days what with the Tea Party splitting the Republican vote in a couple of key races, and the Senate still in the hands of the Democrats.

I saw Boehner struggling to contain his emotions when he took the podium election night after he learned he would be the new Speaker of the House of Representatives. His memories of his personal history overwhelmed him in the moment of stepping from humble beginnings into such a high-profile and powerful position. So he cried.

Thank God. I’m not the only one who cries all the time. I can definitely share a moment with our new Speaker. I’ve been choking up over everything from the commonplace to the obscure for decades. It’s not the most desirable public image, but if like Mr. Boehner and me, you’ve got the Curse of the Cry, there’s not much to do about it.

Wait. I saw some advice on the Today Show recently giving a new strategy to help a person avoid crying when s/he doesn’t want to. It was in a segment including how to relieve the hiccups, to put it into perspective.

Anyway the new strategy is, when you think you might break down into tears and you don’t want to, since you’re at the podium in a televised national news conference, you should clear your throat and then swallow.

The thinking is that this gives your muscles and reflexes a chance to reset. And it gives you and Moses something besides “Oh no! Here comes the flood!” to think about.

I tried it the other day while watching the first episode of National Geographic’s “Great Migrations.” There are some heart-wrenching scenes in that spectacular footage. The one that got me was when the wildebeests crossed that same darn river at the same darn place where they cross every year. Why do they keep going back there? The crocodiles go there every year too. Duh! You’d think the gnus would at least go upstream a ways, ‘cause those crocs are ENORMOUS. They can practically swallow a little gnu in one nightmarish gulp.

That’s exactly what was happening, actually. This horrifically huge crocodile caught a young wildebeest by the lower half. The baby called out to its mother watching helplessly onshore, and I started to…but wait, let me just clear my throat. Ahem. And now I’ll swallow. Very gentile, I found. And…It worked! I was momentarily removed from the emotion. It is a video, after all.

But since I sat safe at home in my recliner, next to my husband who I must note was not unmoved by the drama, rather than in the glare of a Washington press conference, I still let a tear fall for that animal and its mother. They are so stupid it’s infuriating. And – you’ve heard it before – for some of us, when we’re mad, we cry. Infuriating in itself.

And what’s so bad about crying anyway? So what if we show that we’re touched, or moved, or saddened? Those of us with the Crying Curse are certainly free of ulcers. The rest of you strong hold-it-in types think you’re so smart. What? There’s no crying in politics?

In the coming months John Boehner will likely find himself in multiple situations where he’ll want to cry, particularly if he pursues the same “Party of No” strategy the Republicans have taken up since 2008. That pesky Democratically-controlled Senate will no doubt frustrate him. The President’s veto pen may have him reliving his childhood struggles once more. That’s when the tears are likely to flow.

So it’s important to note, Mr. Boehner, that crying will not prove an effective strategy for getting Senators to change their votes. Nor will pouting or shouting. My advice? A respectful approach coupled with good faith negotiation can be disarming even among the most ravenous crocodiles with whom you’re swimming.

Set name calling and tattling aside. Bring straight talk and genuine collaboration to the forefront. There’s your formula for a tear-free two years.

Then of course, you get the group hug.