John Boehner Cries. Again. A Lot.

Are Women and Democrats Held to a Different Standard?

December 13, 2010, 12:13 PM

Dec. 13, 2010— -- John Boehner, the incoming Speaker of the House, the most powerful Republican in Washington, and a man who in a matter of days will be second in line for the presidency, has twice had an opportunity to introduce himself to the American people.

And on both occasions, he cried – a lot.

There is a tradition of politicians crying in America and it often ends with getting beat at the polls. Already some of the incoming speaker's supporters are getting worried that the Ohio Republican's penchant for showing his emotions makes him look weak.

Others, however, have championed Boehner for his willingness to be real.

"This is not exactly the first impression you want to make to the American people," said Republican strategist Ed Rollins. "We've seen his sensitive side enough already. But a sensitive side isn't what the country wants to see in a strong leader. He's got to show strength and leadership and a willingness to stand up to the president. You never saw Pelosi crying"

On Sunday night in a lengthy "60 Minutes" interview, the Speaker-designate broke down twice, talking about his rise from humble beginnings as a janitor and again in talking about his hope for children.

"Family – kids -- I can't go to a school anymore. I used to go to a lot of schools. And you see all these little kids running around. Can't talk about it," he stammered.

Last month, on election night as returns came in and it was clear Republicans had won the House and Boehner would be speaker, he also cried.

"It's full-bore crying," said interviewer Leslie Stahl. "It's not just little tears and he does it a lot."

Some Democrats and women have suggested there is a double standard. When Republicans cry, they are "compassionate conservatives" but crying women and Democrats furthers the stereotype that they're weak.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic woman who Boehner will replace, has never cried in public.

"You know what? He is known to cry. He cries sometimes when we're having a debate on bills," Pelosi told the New York Times in November. "If I cry, it's about the personal loss of a friend or something like that. But when it comes to politics -- no, I don't cry. I would never think of crying about any loss of an office, because that's always a possibility, and if you're professional, then you deal with it professionally."

"For men, it is a sign of compassion. For women, it's a sign of weakness. It's the double standard that worries me," said Democratic strategist and ABC News consultant Donna Brazile.

Hillary Clinton cried briefly at a campaign stop in New Hampshire in 2008. She was criticized, by some, for manufacturing the tears as a way to appeal to women voters.

"Democrats always get a lot more criticism for crying," said Larry Sabato Jr., director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Democrats have an image of weakness among some – though I don't agree with that characterization. If Obama or Pelosi blubbered in public they would be made fun of constantly. But maybe Boehner will be made fun of."

"There's a point," Sabato said, "where it just starts to look weird."

George W. Bush teared slightly soon after 9/11, but never took any flack for it.

Perhaps the most famous politician to cry may not actually have cried at all. Ed Muskie, who ran for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, is widely considered to have lost all momentum, and his campaign collapsed, when he broke down in front of reporters while defending attacks made on his wife. Muskie claims that he never cried, but that snow had melted on his face.