Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Tracking the tears

Did she or didn’t she? Was she or wasn’t she?
Really crying that is.
That’s the question being debated on cable news shows and across American breakfast tables this morning: was Hillary Clinton really so overcome at a New Hampshire meet and greet that she lost her well-known iron-clad control and let a few tears well up as she shakily answered a reporter’s seemingly inoffensive, non-emotional question (about she got up in the morning and faced another day on the campaign trail – appropriate answer: “fresh fruit and a protein shake!”) or was she just faking crocodile tears designed to soften an image that has hardened and cracked like cooling lava and cost her campaign so much in the polls of late.
Hard to say.
Personally, I’m never completely in charge of my tear ducts – injured or emotionally moved to a certain point they will simply open up and have at it and I am virtually incapable of clamping down on the incipient boo hoo.
I was in the Bahamas last week having the time of my life and cried fully three times.
Once when I banged my head getting into a cab (the sound alone was nauseating, the pain was unbelievable and I actually saw stars if not tweeting birds…) and the agony was so acute the tears just popped out. The second time was in reaction to a bizarre episode involving a fellow hotel guest who had fallen down and was frothing at the mouth in reaction to a CENTIPEDE BITE (!!!!) he had received a week before and which was now slowly poisoning him… almost to death in front of our eyes. (Creepy eh? It should be noted that he was bitten not in Nassau but in his apartment in New York City, that he had been given medication to counter the centipede poison, but he had subsequently drunk so much holiday liquor that the medication was all but useless, however, through the quick work of hotel staff and emergency personnel he was brought back to consciousness and would – we were assured – be fine.) I was stricken with the thought of a person going happily about their Bahamian holiday and then suddenly finding themselves facing a horrible painful death on a sunny morning in front of various and sundry colourfully-dressed strangers. It seemed both surreal and tragic, and I leaked a little at the thought.
The third time is a bit embarrassing to mention as it was on the plane ride home when the change in pressure went up against a recently acquired cold and stuck flaming knives into my eardrums that didn’t let up for nearly half an hour as we circled the runway. It was really horrid pain and, well, after about 20 minutes I was also feeling pretty sorry for myself, so once again, a few tears escaped my weakened ducts. (And btw, there were also a few babies shrieking in agony, so I wasn’t exactly the only one crying you understand.)
I can also be moved to tears by seeing other people cry (the same way you can catch the giggles or the yawns) by watching the Save the Children commercials, and those harrowing SPCA spots with the soulful German Shepherd staring hopelessly up from inside a dirty cage. Gets me every time.
So maybe there’s a little cheap sentimentality, a little self-pity, a little drama and a little over-weaning empathising going on here, but so what? Is it so inappropriate to cry from real pain? From connecting with another person’s fear and suffering? From the notion of children and animals cruelly treated?
Who, I would like to know, is so easily dry-eyed around similar scenes? And when did it become such a sign of weakness to feel something?
The tears issue, which has felled politicians in the past, seems somewhat akin to the flip-flopping issue; voters it appears, are disgusted by either a show of genuine emotion (as compared to that ersatz hand-on-heart, flag-waving crap) or the intellectual process of changing one’s mind following the attainment of new knowledge, preferring the dry-eyed and the single-minded to the raw and the real.
You can speak with passion, commit to laying down your own life in service to others, and discuss the prayers you share, bleeding heart to bleeding heart, so long as you refrain from shedding an actual shameful tear.
The fact that the President hasn’t once wept over the lives he is personally responsible for sacrificing in an illegitimate war over the past six years strikes me as more the mien of a sociopath than a resolute leader. There’s the “encouraging the enemy” argument that goes along with the “never show weakness” stipulation that the President and his nearest and dearest fall back on when asked how they sleep at night (and by the way, how do they?) but genuine – even controlled – emotion of the tearful variety is never seen, never discussed, never admitted to.
Hillary didn’t even really cry as far as I can tell; she just welled up and her voice cracked. So on technical points, it seems she has avoided the career-killing sob. The question now is whether the welling points to a fatal weakness yet to reveal itself, or whether the slight moistening may actually act as a character softener and place her back in contention against her charismatic opponent, whose obvious passion (the only emotion besides anger and contempt permitted on the stump) isn’t fighting the same popularity and personality problems.
I’ll tell you what I think. I think she did the math. I think she looked at a complicated equation involving the square root of her image, multiplied by the number of times she voted with the Republicans (also shaky, self-serving arithmetic as far as I can tell) and divided it by the number of voters she needs to close the gap with Barak Obama, and came up with precisely the performance she turned in at Portsmouth New Hampshire’s Café Espresso.
I’ll tell you something else. It makes me sick to be criticizing the woman who was until recently the most viable female candidate for President since Geraldine Ferraro; I absolutely hate it that through her actions and just plain old gut instinct, I find her about as appealing (and as female) as Margaret Thatcher… I feel disgusted and a little frightened that her character and candidacy may be a significant contributor to the loss of the White House to the Republicans. Again.
It makes me want to cry.

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