President Obama cried in public on Tuesday.
Two thirds of the way through a speech outlining a series of executive orders his administration would take to reduce gun violence, he mentioned the murders of 20 first graders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in 2012. He paused, then wiped a tear from his eye. The remnant was visible on his cheek for the next minute or so.
The Internet went, well, insane. Opinion split into two camps (what a surprise!). On one side were Democrats and gun control supporters who saw Obama's emotion as evidence of just how personally he is invested in the cause. Obama detractors -- and those less inclined to back gun control measures -- viewed the tears as either ginned up for the moment by a world-class political actor or as evidence of Obama's softness.
I don't have any sort of personal position on Obama or his gun control executive orders. But, I do have a strongly held belief in favor of men -- including male politicians -- crying in public if necessary.
I say this as, yes, a male who occasionally cries in public. (Don't act surprised.) When my son sang in his Christmas carols assembly at school last month, I teared up. When my younger son looks up from his crib and said "You the best, Dad" (in his defense, he doesn't know all that many dads), I cried. I cried at the end of "Spotlight." I choked up when I was speaking at a goodbye gathering for a colleague. (He wasn't dying or anything; he was going to the New York Times.) Hell, I cry when commercials about parents watching their kids grow up fast come on TV.
I am a crier. I don't bawl in public a lot but I probably tear up -- much like President Obama did on Tuesday -- once a week. At least. And, I wear it as a badge of honor. I am, as my wife likes to tell me, in touch with my emotions. I feel things -- sometimes deeply. Put more simply: I am a bit of a sap.
Now, by this point, some of you have undoubtedly condemned my pro-male crying views as nothing more than a thinly-veiled defense of my secret hero Barack Obama. Nope! I am an on-the-record defender of John Boehner's crying too. Boehner, the former speaker of the House, brought male crying into the national spotlight, after all. He cried when Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress last year. He cried in 2011 when he became speaker. He cried in front of Arnold Palmer. This is a man who knows crying. (And, yes, Politico has a photo gallery entitled "15 Times John Boehner Cried."
On a slightly more serious note, only the most cynical among us can truly believe that Obama or Boehner -- or other lachrymose male pols (or people) -- are crying on demand. And, the idea that crying makes you "wimpy" or "soft" feels like a belief from a bygone era. I want politicians who care enough about issues and people to be brought to tears every once in a while. Speaking to a room of people who have lost loved ones to gun violence is an emotional moment -- no matter how you feel about the broader issue of guns. Ditto bringing the head of your faith to Congress, the fulfillment of a lifetime goal.
Being moved to tears is a good thing -- for people and for politicians, who, it's important to remember, are people too, at least most of the time. We could use a little more emotion and feeling in politics after all.