12/19/2010 01:33 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Significance of John Boehner's Tears

Over the past week, people have been debating John Boehner's emotions, not his motions. The expected next Speaker of the House has become known for his crying that some say represent his intense passion and others believe shows a sign of weakness. Sarah Palin argues that a double-standard is at play; the Washington Post ombudsman wonders whether it's even a fair discussion to have; and others have investigated what it is that brings humans to tears in the first place. He's not the first politician to show a softer side. So what do Boehner's tears say about him?

Boehner can't help it: "It's likely an involuntary reaction to emotion. There may be some politicians who can muster tears as a prop... but the speaker-elect appears to have the uncontrollable variety, says Peter Jensen in the Baltimore Sun. "What can we construe from tears? Absolutely nothing."

He genuinely cares: "I've got a soft spot for weepers," says The Washington Post's Ruth Marcus. "These days, male politicians enjoy the freedom to weep - a bit, anyway." It's a welcomed change. "Tears are humanizing. I defy you to watch Boehner struggling to hold in his sobs and not like him better for it. If anything, Barack Obama could benefit from a bit more crying."

Boehner feels guilty: "He's an emotional waterworks, he says, for anything that reminds him of the American Dream and how far he has come since his small-town childhood," says Clarence Page in the Chicago Tribune. It's not as if he's known as a "crusader for the poor and downtrodden" - he's more a "friend of businesses, big and small, and their lobbyists." His voting record, particularly his recent opposition to the DREAM Act, shows he doesn't care about the little guy. "Maybe that's what Boehner's crying about. Maybe his conscience is bothering him."

It's not that simple: It's a "myth" that crying is a "sign of true, pure emotion. All the research suggests something else entirely," says Tom Lutz in the Los Angeles Times. "Boehner's tears aren't hard to read." People are "complicated" - "many of us weep because we are overwhelmed by contradictions." It represents "real honesty [that] is coupled with bad faith."