Under heavy scrutiny, John Boehner assumed his new position as the Speaker of the House this month, wrestling away the gavel that most assumed Nancy Pelosi would clutch in her cold, dead hands. However, most of the analysis wasn’t over Boehner’s ardent stance on President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Nor was it over Boehner’s proposed idea of a spending freeze in America. Rather, his plentiful tears that seem to come on cue were the topic of discussion.
The discussion seems to sum up to one undisputed fact: John Boehner cries. He cries a lot. He tears up when he takes his position as Speaker of the House. He bawls during “60 Minutes.” He cries making a BLT club. Watching a John Boehner speech is like watching a good Leonardo DiCaprio movie; it will usually take a lot longer than it should, and you know he’s going to cry at some point. Boehner is that character in “Mean Girls” who just has a lot of feelings and doesn’t even go there.
Boehner and, to a lesser extent, Nancy Pelosi unfortunately suffer from the same patriarchal society which breeds a misogynist view on politics.
Even today, our political ideal is a stoic leader, preferably male, who in times of crisis spares the nation from tears and emotion. We’ve become indoctrinated with plentiful, over-the-top tales of Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, and the like. A political leader is to have all the emotionality of a wet sock, and the failure to provide just that leads us to question him or her. Must I even point to Howard Dean’s infamous speech in 2004, which has seen been named the “Dean Scream gaffe?” Everyone seemed to forget that Dean was battling the flu and that he was trying to speak over a rather loud crowd. The only thing everyone remembers is that Dean flushed his political hopes down the toilet with a cracked “Yeah!” Or at least I assumed it was a “yeah;” it sounded more like a chipmunk possessed Dean’s body for a split second.
It would appear the U.S. has fallen to the stereotype that stoicism makes a good politician. Americans are notorious for often eschewing the facts in favor of a personality or an ideal. We long for that mythical “it” factor, though we rarely have any tangible traits to qualify what “it” is. Perhaps the best example of such a case is the election of Ulysses S. Grant as Commander in Chief in 1869. What he lacked in experience, he made up for in corruption and ineptitude. The U.S. fell in love with his personality and stoicism, but he would turn out to be, in my opinion, one of the worst presidents in history in spite of his efforts in civil rights. Meanwhile, Lincoln, a president infamous for nervous breakdowns, is looked upon as one of our greatest.
Mind you, there are times when our blind search for that “it” factor yields good results. Kennedy’s debonair attitude charmed Americans, and that worked out pretty well. Clinton was charming, perhaps too charming for his own good, and the U.S. was enamored. Still, for every Kennedy there is a Warren G. Harding: someone chosen for his “make no enemies” campaign but later marked by an abysmal term as president.
Sadly, the outgoing Speaker of the House’s legacy will be tarnished by this misogynist view of politics. After all, Pelosi’s lasting legacy will likely be that she was brash and refused to compromise her ideals. Those from the right were quick to call Pelosi radical, which frankly makes about as much sense as referring to John McCain as independent. This was a woman who, under terms with George Bush, ultimately voted for an unequivocal support of the invasion of Iraq. At Bush’s State of the Union Address in 2005, Pelosi could often be seen clapping like a trained seal each of the approximately 35 times the word “Iraq” was mentioned. Does this sound like a “radical” woman to you? Perhaps she was brash, but not exactly radical.
John Boehner should be judged for his policies rather than his tear ducts. If he makes a good Speaker of the House, and likely presidential candidate, it will be his actions in Congress that define his reputation. Ironically, that will show more stoicism than anything else he can do.