Hillary Clinton has to studiously avoid being seen as weak, lest she fall prey to a gender-based double standard, thereby quickly losing her shot at the White House.
Yet George H.W. Bush, the president’s father, openly sobbed during a Florida farewell to another son, Jeb Bush, who is leaving the governor’s post, thanks to term limits, after two stints in the Sunshine State.
Hinting at dirty politics, Bush the Elder wept about Jeb’s 1994 gubernatorial loss to Democrat Lawton Chiles (Jeb’s camp had accused Chiles’s supporters of making thousands of phone calls to elderly voters, saying that Bush wanted to cut Social Security and Medicare). Jeb ran again, in 1998, and he won the first of his two terms.
In defending his son’s handling of the 1994 defeat, Bush choked up, and then actually sobbed, putting his face into a handkerchief to weep. The irony is considerable, given the dirty tactics used by George W. Bush’s minions against John McCain in the South Carolina primary in 2000, and against John F. Kerry in the 2004 presidential race. Yet 41’s floodgates also exceeded Republican parameters for presidential crying, established when Ronald Reagan would mist up during renditions of “America the Beautiful.”
Bush’s lachrymose display certainly went beyond the catch in the throat suffered in 1974 by Ed Muskie, when the Democrat cried while defending his wife from editorial attacks in New Hampshire’s Union Leader. That show of emotion probably cost Muskie the presidency.
Little wonder, then, that right-wing radio personality Michael Savage quickly panned Bush the Elder’s sob-fest as symptomatic of that popular talk-radio trope — the Feminization of the American Male.
Jeb Bush went on to win in Florida — twice — helping to deliver the presidency to George W. in the famous “hanging chad” election of 2000. W was given Florida, if only by a hair, and the US Supreme Court put its dubious imprimatur on that murky outcome.
Bush the Elder, remembered in part for being utterly unfamiliar with the supermarket scanner concept, and for throwing up on a Japanese prime minister during a state dinner, may have an unremarkable place in history (although he looks pretty good compared with Dubya).
Still, George H.W. Bush — although certainly not a feminist — has liberated women. Never again should we have to apologize for public emotion.
So sleep tight, Hillary (not that anyone who knows the former first lady thinks she will ever get teary in public).