September 9, 2007
Leadership through tears?By Doug Powers
In Robert Draper's new book, Dead Certain: The Presidency of George W. Bush, the president admits to crying quite a bit -- mostly in private -- ever aware that the troops, not to mention the enemies of America, are watching him.
In the past I heard people, from those on television to some friends, express their disappointment that President Bush doesn't publicly cry, or show grave emotion, when talking about even the saddest of situations. I never believed that to be the case, but let's consider the accusation nonetheless.
Bush, like many of us, doesn't wear his emotions on his sleeve, and I think that should be a requirement for a job such as the presidency.
Lack of outward emotion is often mistaken as heartlessness or a lack of caring by people who TiVo Oprah daily and think that the problem hasn't been invented that can't be solved by a 'jammy party, group hug and weepy confession.
Whenever I hear that Bush isn't outwardly "consumed by grief and sorrow" in awful situations, a question comes to mind: Is a consistent public display of raw emotion something we really want in our leaders?
Imagine you're on a commercial airline, and every time your flight hits severe turbulence your pilot gets on the intercom and screams like a woman who just saw a mouse in the kitchen. Would it ease your nerves to know that the pilot is "just like us" because he's sharing our emotions?
Some view a crying leader as a weak one, and some view a leader who never cries in public as a cold one. I tend to view a weepy politician much like the female orgasm-it's an emotional human reaction that can also, by the right practitioners, be convincingly faked.
I don't know about you, but I don't want a leader who cries at the drop of a hat. Take some of the greats as examples. What if General Patton had altered one of his famous quotes to satisfy those demanding tears from their leaders? "An army is a team. It eats, sleeps, fights and cries as a team."
How about Sir Winston Churchill? He's remembered as one of the world's great leaders, and he wasn't known to bawl in public, nor chastised for failing to do so, for that matter. And it would have been easier for ol' Winston, since bawling comes naturally when you're jacked on Johnnie Walker Black Label while V1s explode nearby.
What if Churchill would have said, "We shall not fail or falter. We shall not weaken or tire," then choked up and concluded with a weepy, "Clemmie, hand me a Kleenex"?
What if President Truman's nickname was "Give 'em sobbing, Harry"?
What if Martin Luther King Jr. had said, "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by how much they cry in public"?
What would have happened if Douglas MacArthur said "I shall return, after a good bewailing"? A bunch of Filipinos would have been suddenly a little more insecure, that's what.
What if Reagan had said, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this emotional wall between us"?
There have been leaders who cried, and with mixed results. Who? Well, Bill Clinton got misty a lot and was still politically successful. A TV camera does to Bill Clinton what chopping onions does to the rest of us. Clinton can turn on an emotional dime, vacillating between tears and laughter with such ease that he must have trained himself to do so by simultaneously yanking out nose hairs while watching Three Stooges movies.
Not all politicians, however, can pull off tears and survive.
Back in 1972, it was alleged that Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie wept on the steps of the Union Leader newspaper in Manchester, N.H., while defending his wife, whom that paper editorialized as "emotionally unstable." Word of Muskie's cry ruined his presidential hopes, and, in many cases, put a quick end to the practice of a politician defending his wife.
Crying is a natural and healthy human emotion, but a leader's success shouldn't be judged by how much waterworks they produce in public. Laughter through tears can be a good feeling, but leadership through tears is darn near impossible.
Doug Powers is a columnist and author from Michigan. He can be reached via his blog at DougPowers.com