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.

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