Suzanne Fields

George W. Bush, stopping in Iraq's Anbar province en route to Australia, vowed that any decision to bring American troops home from Iraq must be made from "strength and success, not fear and failure," but a new book describes the president as a "big crier," in private, not in public. Is this crying from strength?

"I fully understand that the enemy watches me, the Iraqis are watching me, the troops watch me, and the people watch," he told Robert Draper in an interview for the reporter's book "Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush." The president was not ashamed to say, "I do tears."

This reflects a considerable change in the cultural perception of male tears. Not so long ago most men could count on one hand the number of times they had shed a tear or two, usually on the death of a parent, and then only when nobody was likely to see. Only 35 years ago a tough-minded Edmund Muskie was the favorite moving steadily toward the Democratic presidential nomination when he was photographed weeping on a snowy day in New Hampshire over a slur against his wife. He claimed a snowflake hit his cheek, but his manly image was compromised. His campaign promptly collapsed. Longfellow might have consoled him with the observation that "Into each life some snow must fall."

So what's different about men today? The public is accustomed to watching both male and female weepers on the television screen that it interprets tears to fit the perceptions already held. Many Americans say they dislike the way George W. talks about his religious faith, but few doubt his sincerity. "I've got God's shoulder to cry on," he recently said, and he sounded both authentic and moving. Nor did it hurt him when a tear ran down his cheek at a Medal of Honor ceremony for a fallen Marine. He's not a man to manipulate emotions in an exercise of hypocritical sentimentality.

Bill Clinton could cry on cue, and often did. When he was caught off guard laughing spontaneously leaving a memorial service for Ron Brown, his secretary of commerce, he spied a camera and quickly turned to face it with tears visible in his eyes. His critics loved it, and his fans, who could appreciate a great performance, dismissed the incident as "Bill being Bill."

But no matter how much sensitivity we now accept in male politicians, women still must tread lightly and gingerly. Hillary knows she can't give in to emotion in public if she expects to be the first female commander in chief. It's tough, because she naturally appears cold and scripted. Her staff pushes her to show the spontaneous warmth they say they see in private. (Isn't that just like a woman?) Women inevitably shine in smaller, more intimate groups; men show off best in large and impersonal groups.


Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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