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Hypocrisy in mocking Boehner's tears

By Ruben Navarrette Jr., CNN Contributor
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Ruben Navarrette Jr: Liberal media commentators ridicule John Boehner for crying in public
  • But those who might make fun of Boehner accept Bill Clinton's tears, he writes
  • Boehner's reason for tears was his life story, he writes, working his way up in the world
  • Navarrette: Democrats champion story of American Dream, and it's one deserving of emotion

Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a nationally syndicated columnist, an NPR commentator and a regular contributor to CNN.com.

San Diego (CNN) -- In a cute movie called "Bedazzled," Brendan Fraser plays a heartsick young man trying to woo the girl of his dreams, and Elizabeth Hurley plays a fetching variation of Satan who offers to help him for the usual going rate of one soul.

The gag is that every time Fraser thinks he has figured out what the girl wants, it turns out she wants something else. He tries to be strong only to find she wants someone sensitive. He tries being sensitive, and she wants a brute.

I've been thinking about that movie since a band of usually emotional liberals started razzing a conservative for being emotional. I realize that consistency is in short supply in American politics; some people don't think twice before changing what they say they believe.

Still, I wasn't expecting to see some of those on the left, who usually say how great it is that some men can display their sensitive side and show their emotions (see: Phil Donahue), ridicule House Speaker-elect John Boehner for doing that very thing.

If I didn't know better, I might think it had a tad to do with the fact that Boehner is a Republican. But that would mean that liberals maintain two codes of behavior -- one for those on the left, and one for those on the right.

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Liberal media commentators -- most notably, some of the women on ABC's "The View" -- have attacked and ridiculed Boehner for repeatedly crying in public, whether on the floor of Congress or during media interviews such as the one Boehner recently did with Lesley Stahl on CBS' "60 Minutes."

"View" co-host Joy Behar childishly dubbed Boehner the "Weeper of the House." The show's matriarch, Barbara Walters, played therapist and diagnosed Boehner as being afflicted with "an emotional problem."

No, Barbara. Here's the problem: Most Americans have good memories, and so they'll recall when liberals used to insist that a politician showing emotion was a mighty good thing. Let's return to 1992, when Bill Clinton burst onto the national stage, bit his lip and started blubbering up a storm. Those on the left thought this sort of thing was grand, and they compared it favorably with the man whom Clinton defeated: George H.W. Bush, who was much more stoic and often said that he was raised not to show his emotions in public.

Apparently, Clinton was raised differently. In fact, both in office and since leaving office, Clinton has done so much crying in public that it's part of his persona. Clinton cried at the church service after the Oklahoma City bombing. He cried at the funeral for Commerce Secretary Ron Brown. He cried in appearances after the Monica Lewinsky affair came to light. As a former president, he cried when his wife, Hillary, spoke at the 2008 Democratic National Convention after she had lost the party's nomination to Barack Obama.

The question isn't whether Bill Clinton can turn on the waterworks but whether he can turn them off. Just a few months ago, there were stories about Clinton vowing not to cry when he walked daughter Chelsea down the aisle at her wedding. And, when that day came, did Clinton let the tears flow? Of course, he did.

That sort of thing is celebrated when coming from a Democrat named Clinton, but mocked when it comes from a Republican named Boehner.

But the hypocrisy isn't even the worst part. What should really concern Democrats is the back story to Boehner's bawling. Look again at the "60 Minutes" interview. At what point did Boehner cry? It was when he talked about how far he'd come in life, and how his improbable journey wouldn't have been possible in any other country on Earth.

Here is someone who started working, washing windows and cleaning up his father's bar, before he even became a teenager and who later worked every odd job imaginable -- from waiter to janitor -- to pay for college. And now, Boehner is about to become speaker of the House.

It's a great and heartwarming story. It's hardly the stereotype of the right-wing politician who -- as the old saying goes -- was born on third base but acts like he hit a triple.

And it's precisely the kind of story to which Democrats used to lay claim throughout the 20th century. It was Harry Truman, a Democrat, who used to say that if you wanted to live like a Republican, you had better vote Democrat. The Democrats were the party of the working class, where anyone could lay claim to the American Dream if they worked hard and sacrificed.

In fact, Boehner comes from a family of Ohio Democrats, and he only became a Republican later in life. You could easily argue that, even though Boehner is about to become the most powerful Republican official in the country, the values that helped shape him early in life were Democratic values. But some Democrats aren't interested in taking credit for Boehner's story. They're too busy making fun of the guy. Is this how far the modern Democratic Party has strayed from its grandest traditions -- that it doesn't even recognize what it used to be?

We've seen this skit before. Liberals make fun of Sarah Palin because, despite their declared affection for average Americans, they can't stand the sight of one. And now some of them are making fun of Boehner because, despite their historical role as the party whose policies preserved the American Dream, they consider the fact that someone would get emotional over that storyline to be comedic material.

It's so sad. It makes you want to cry.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Ruben Navarrette Jr.