BY MICHAEL S. JOHNSON
Hanging in a hallway where I see it every day is a frame containing a picture of my eldest daughter and me on her wedding day. Below it in the frame is a handkerchief with an inscription:
“For your tears on the day you give me away
October 28, 2007
With Love, Jessie.”
Jessie knew I would cry at her wedding and I did. I teared up a half a dozen times before and during the wedding, and unleashed a gusher when I tried to offer the invocation at dinner. I couldn’t finish it.
I cry easily. I couldn’t speak at the internment of my father. My brother spoke for me because I knew I couldn’t get through it. It’s not just highly personal and solemn occasions. I tear up over news of tragedies and heartwarming stories, especially those affecting children. Children open up the ducts and the river just flows.
I’ve tried to control the tears. I grew up in an age when real men didn’t cry. There are secrets you pick up along the way—tightening your face muscles, thinking about something else, holding your breath—to avoid making others uncomfortable with the exposure of your touchy emotions. I even tried toughening up, manning up, as Sarah Palin would admonish me, but what the hell, John Boehner had it right: You are who you are. People who know me, know I have an emotional trigger. It used to have some angry outbursts, but not so much anymore. Now, it’s just tears.
That’s why I have been fascinated and frustrated by all of the attention paid to Speaker-elect Boehner choking up in public. and what seems to be a contest to see who can make John Boehner cry on camera. Those of us who are veteran members of weepers world empathize with the leader. We cringe when he gets caught, because we know how the dry-eyed demagogues are going to make it look. There by the grace of our anonymity go we. Boehner, of course, has taught us over the past couple of years he is a weeper with a wallop. The tears don’t mask the toughness.
Those who turn up their nose at men who cry, are the same kind of Neanderthals who thought Julius Caesar was possessed because of his epilepsy, or looked down on George VI, Thomas Becket or George Washington for stuttering, or thought John Stuart Mills odd because of the extreme simplicity of his life.
The queen of those Neanderthals is Barbara Walters who declared on her show The View, that “this guy (Boehner) has an emotional problem.” Who made her Sigmund Freud? It’s hard to give her the benefit of the doubt for her sanctimonious and slanderous observation, because (a) she has never corrected it, and (b) Ms Walters has always come across to me as someone who considers herself of such intellectual capacity and media nobility that she can speak to such subjects without portfolio, or responsibility or even common decency.
To bring it to her level, Barbara Walters is a bitch. That violates the code of political civility in which I believe. It’s an awful thing to say, especially at Christmas time when tolerance, understanding, benefit of the doubt and then forgiveness should be the human behavior of choice. But, the English language doesn’t provide a stronger yet more politically correct noun or adjective. Her behavior conforms well within the Classical American Heritage Dictionary definition: “a woman considered to be spiteful or overbearing.”
In a way, you have to feel sorry for her. She, like Helen Thomas, has had a great career in journalism, basking in the adoration, enjoying the fame and fortune, being able to hide behind the media façade in a persona that’s unreal or certainly exaggerated, only to become in later years, as Mike Huckabee suggested, a meany. She, like Thomas and so many other celebrity journalists, just doesn’t know the boundaries of her intellect, her knowledge or her obvious political prejudices. Nor does she seem to know how to balance and manage the great power, money and prestige she has accumulated. She has journeyed into the far reaches of a long career where celebrities tend to lose their equilibrium.
And, too, she is a media mogul caught in an age in which profits can be had most easily at the expense of others, particularly politicians. It is a media era of outrageous infotainers engaging in outrageous behavior, employing subdued slander, salaciousness, rumors, innuendo and again in Huckabee’s words, “downright meanness,” to keep their audiences clapping. It is dehumanizing and a sad commentary on journalism and American society as a whole.
Frankly, in my old age, I’d rather be a weeper, and I am grateful that my children. understand. I am also grateful for a national leader who has a hard time going into a school because the sight of young children makes him weep. He’s a Republican, so the media must have thought he only gets emotional over a cut in welfare benefits or a tax break for big business. No such luck. His heart is in the right place, unfortunately it’s just too close to the surface. I am confident that someone will offer him suggestions and therapies for tearing up less and if so, I hope he passes them along.
I will not make a New Year’s resolution not to cry. My resolution is to encourage others to let loose every now and then.
Editor’s Note: Mike Johnson is a former journalist who worked on the White House Staff of President Gerald Ford before becoming press secretary and later chief of staff to House Republican Leader Bob Michel of Illinois. He is currently a lobbyist and media consultant with the OB-C Group.