Opinion: Putin’s crying game

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So we hear that those were tears of joy from Vladimir Putin as he claimed victory in Russia’s presidential election.

They couldn’t have been tears of surprise. The results had supposedly been in the bag for weeks, and a third term, on top of his years as prime minister, means Putin could wind up being Russia’s top canine for more than 15 years -- more a reign than an administration. ‘Moscow does not believe in tears’ read one protest sign in Moscow, alluding to an Oscar-winning Soviet movie of that title.

Tears from Pootie-Poot? (That’s the nickname President George W. Bush gave to the usually stony-faced KGB alum.)

The lachrymose moment outside the Kremlin after this week’s vote, crocodile-style or not, makes one more stern-faced pol whose tears now tear down the modern horror of sobbing statesmen.


Abraham Lincoln cried. Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee cried. But in our recent times, until not very long ago, men’s tears were deplored. Weeping, after all, was a symbol of weakness; women did it, right? Politician’s wives and daughters, when their man lost, did, but not the man himself.

Look at poor Ed Muskie, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination in the 1972 race. Not only did a New Hampshire newspaper print a phony letter, planted by a Nixon campaign dirty trickster, accusing Muskie of having laughed at a slur -- ‘Canuck’ -- on French Canadian Americans, but the paper accused Muskie’s wife of drinking and telling dirty jokes.

When Muskie’s forces rallied in front of the newspaper a few days before the primary, in a lashing snowstorm, an unusually impassioned Muskie defended his wife with obvious emotion. Some reporters said those were tears on Muskie’s face; the candidate himself said it was anger, not weeping, in his broken voice and snow, not tears, on his face.

And that was the end of Muskie’s candidacy.

One or two manly tears have crept down men’s faces and into the acceptable arena. Remember
the public service announcement with actor ‘Iron Eyes Cody’ and the single tear rolling down his cheek at the despoiling of the American landscape?

Decades later, President Clinton selectively and effectively bit his trembling lower lip and got teary-eyed -- and got elected. Politics’ current most famous weeper, House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), practically cries at the drop of a concurrent resolution -- certainly, as the New York Times pointed out, at golf tournaments and children saying the Pledge of Allegiance.

Britain’s shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, has confessed to being moved to tears by ‘The Antiques Roadshow.’ Former President George H.W. Bush broke down delivering a speech and was comforted by his son Jeb. Republicans wept all over Capitol Hill in 1998 when their new speaker, Bob Livingston, resigned in the middle of the Clinton impeachment crisis when it turned out that Livingston had had his own extramarital peccadilloes.

San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders cried at a news conference announcing that he had changed his mind about same-sex marriage after he learned that his daughter was gay and in a committed relationship.

Even today, Mitt Romney can talk about the moment in 1978 when he heard -- apparently on his car radio -- that blacks were being admitted to the Mormon Church’s priesthood, and ‘I pulled over and, and literally wept.’

But there’s still a double standard for female candidates. Democratic congresswoman Patricia Schroeder abandoned her exploratory campaign for president in 1987 with a speech that ended in tears -- but the criticism of her did not end.

Hillary Rodham Clinton kept her composure even when her husband did not, but the pundits speculated that it was one choked-up moment, after losing to Barack Obama in the 2008 Iowa caucus, that helped to propel her to a win in the New Hampshire primary -- maybe because voters had never seen her cry, through all the years of political strife and personal stress.

The perception is that crying is women’s default response, so they get no credit -- in fact, they get scorn -- when they give in to it. Men, on the other hand, are supposed to keep back the tears, so when they do give in to weeping, it must be because of some overwhelmingly potent emotion.

But as far as Putin goes, the thought that a former KGB guy could be so moved as to cave in to tears -- well, what that moment made me think of was Jon Lovitz as the ‘Master Thespian’ character on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ who grandly proclaimed his emotive tricks to be ‘Acting!’


Putin’s Pyrrhic victory

Vladimir Putin -- teary-eyed [Video]

Counting down the hours to Super Tuesday results

--Patt Morrison

Photos, from top: Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who claimed victory in Russia’s presidential election, is seen tearing up as he reacts at a rally of his supporters on March 4. Credit: Ivan Sekretarev / Associated Press. Sen. Edmund Muskie denounces Manchester Union Leader Publisher William Loeb in front of the newspaper’s building on Feb. 26, 1972. Credit: New York Times / Associated Press. Iron Eyes Cody. Credit: Keep America Beautiful Inc. House Speaker John A. Boehner wipes away tears as he waits to receive the gavel from outgoing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi during the first session of the 112th Congress on Jan. 5, 2011. Credit: Charles Dharapak / Associated Press