Thursday, January 10, 2008
That Tears It
One of the more ridiculous little memes of this election is the one about Hillary Clinton's tears. You know the story. During a campaign stop at a coffee shop in Portsmouth, N.H., she got a little emotional after being asked why she was running and how she stood the pressure. She got a catch in her voice as she told how very personal it was to her, how strongly she felt about moving the nation forward.
The reactions were predictable. In Maureen Dowd's widely criticized op-ed she quoted her male colleagues saying snarky things like, "Is this how she’ll talk to Kim Jong-il?” or "That crying really seemed genuine. I’ll bet she spent hours thinking about it beforehand."
Back and forth it went. “If she is breaking down now, before winning her party’s nomination, then how would she act under pressure as president?” “[This is] the oldest, dumbest canard about women: they’re too emotional to hold power.”
Isn't a huge point being missed here? Just look at that photo, for one thing. She was in a coffee shop, surrounded by women who were either committed supporters or sympathetic. It was "safe" emotionally, as much as any public appearance could be. I think something inside her knew that, and knew that if there was ever going to be a time and place to let a little out, this was it.
Note that I am not saying that this was all planned and calculated. How could it be? She didn't know she would be asked that question. What I'm saying is that emotions have multiple components, including what we feel inside and how much of it we let show openly. Every person with a normal emotional intelligence knows how to regulate the second part, knows from the moment and the context, from where you are and who you're talking to, how much of your feelings you can let show. It's not something you calculate, you know it instinctively.
We can never know how many times Hillary has felt strong emotions during this campaign and kept them in check. I doubt that anyone knows, not even Bill. But in this place, at a relatively low pressure event surrounded by sympathetic women, she could let a little show. She knew it instinctively. It wouldn't surprise me if she needed to let a little steam off -- I would, in her position -- but she didn't do it until she was in a place safe to do so. I think we can take it for granted that if she HAD been facing down Kim Jong-Il she would have been quite a bit different, pure Ice Queen, as she should be.
What this event says to me is not that she has no control over her emotions, but that she does. Perfectly.