A New Side of Barack Obama

Forty years ago, the campaign of Senator Ed Muskie, until then the presumed nominee of the Democratic party, effectively ended on a snowy day in Manchester, New Hampshire. Angered by the attacks on him and his wife by the conservative Manchester Union-Leader, Muskie held a press conference outside the paper's offices to denounce them. Reporters at the scene thought that Muskie was crying, though he later said the wetness on his face was only melting snow. But David Broder's story in the Washington Post about the press conference began, "With tears streaming down his face and his voice choked with emotion ... " He was obviously not presidential material.

Eight years later, a different kind of president was elected, one who understood intimately how to convey emotions through television. Ronald Reagan wasn't afraid to get choked up at appropriate moments—when lauding the heroism of an ordinary person called to do something extraordinary, or just when speaking about how great America is. Reagan made it possible, even uncontroversial, for a male politician to cry (though it's still extremely dangerous for a female politician to cry, lest she reveal herself as unstable and weak).

Which brings us to this remarkable video of Barack Obama thanking his campaign staff for all their hard work. Obama is famously unemotional, remaining steady when those around him are panicking, never too hot, never too cold, always in tight control. Yet here, he doesn't just get a catch in his voice, there are actually tears rolling down his cheeks. I'm pretty sure this is the first time we have ever seen Obama cry. Take a look; it's around the 3:20 mark that he gets really emotional:

We've been watching Obama for eight years, and this is the first time in a long time we've seen a new side of him as a person. I suppose none of us can really appreciate the way things look and feel from the Oval Office, but it seems to me that he is overwhelmed by all the work those people put in for him. It's something that politicians at all levels don't express enough gratitude for, the fact that all these people basically give up their lives and devote extraordinary time, effort, and commitment (usually for low pay) to the cause of getting you a job. Obama has a healthy ego, but he seems genuinely humbled by their work and devotion to him. And I don't mean "humbled" the way politicians usually use the word, to mean its exact opposite ("I'm humbled by this cheering crowd demanding I run for president"), but actually humbled.

Eons ago, I worked for a congressional candidate who lost in the primary. He was a county official, a guy who had run a few successful campaigns and seemed destined for higher office. But he lost this race, and it ended up being his last. The morning after the election, I got to the campaign office early to find it empty except for one person: the candidate, who was sweeping the floor. Now that's humble. Barack Obama isn't going to be sweeping the floors, but it's nice to see that, from what we can tell at least, he appreciates what the people who worked for him in this campaign did.

Comments

I'm always a bit perplexed when people say that this is the first time President Obama has ever displayed any type of emotion publicly.

It was just 4 days ago at his last campaign rally in Iowa that his eyes welled up with tears as he told his Iowa supporters how much it meant to him that they took a chance on him in the previous election. He was feeling nostalgic, and admitted such, throughout much of that rally.

There was also the famous rally speech in NC in '08 where he spoke of the passing of his dear grandmother right before the election where he announced it and paid tribute to her as tears and rain soaked his face.

He seemed particularly and appropriately overcome with emotion during the funeral services of Dr. Dorothy Height. There may also be other instances that I have missed. While it is true that it is not his tendency to let the outside world in on his emotions, it seems ridiculous for people to act surprised that he has them.

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