Shed a tear

Katrina Onstad considers the politics of emoting.

Crying men have a little more leeway. Bill Clinton knew how to work his tear ducts – or at least a quivering lip – to his advantage. Republican House Speaker John Boehner is a prodigious weeper. Perhaps because it’s still rare, a man displaying emotion can deepen his public image, gesturing toward reservoirs of feeling. But for Bill’s wife, one teary appearance in 2008 revealed a mass of confusing attitudes around women crying. While some female voters responded to a humanized Hillary Clinton, TV pundits jeered at the bawling chick who couldn’t take it in the big leagues. Her crying didn’t expand the public’s impression of her; it reduced it. In other words: “What is she – on her period?”

Michaelle Jean’s tearful statement after the earthquake Haiti was one of the defining moments of her term as Governor General and the residential schools apology in the House was an altogether emotional day—consider, for instance, Jack Layton’s speech—but otherwise there aren’t many (any?) recent displays of emotion in the Canadian context that come to mind.

During the 2008 campaign, the Prime Minister was accused of lacking empathy at the outset of that year’s financial crisis. In an interview at the time, he soundly dismissed the criticism.

In an exclusive interview with Canwest News Service, Mr. Harper talked about his efforts to show a softer side of his personality throughout the campaign. Despite party ads casting him as a regular guy and family man, the prime minister has faced criticism for not showing enough empathy for Canadians as the U.S. financial crisis has thrown global stock markets into a frenzy.

Mr. Harper has recently tried to strike a more personal note, citing his mother’s losses in the stock market to show he understands the fears of Canadians. But with only four days to go before election day, and polls showing his party’s lead evaporating, Mr. Harper emphasized the traits that many political observers see as his strengths: his decisiveness, competence and resolve.

“Look, what I’m selling to Canadians is that when bad news hits, it’s not that I’m unconcerned. I’m obviously concerned. Our family and friends have the same worries as everybody else. My own job is on the line,” Mr. Harper said at the back of his campaign bus as he prepared to hit another stop on a tour of Southern Ontario.

“But what Canadians want, I think, is when there are difficult things (that happen), they don’t want a prime minister to simply start emoting, or simply start telling everybody how he feels, and (talking about) the personal crisis or anxiety he’s going through.”