Boys Do Cry

Yesterday, President Obama spoke to his campaign staff in Chicago to tell them thank you and share some of thoughts about what it meant to him to see so many amazing, engaged, talented young people working for his reelection. It is a remarkable video, an intimate, candid moment with a president of a kind we rarely get to see.

[Full transcript at end of post.]

Last night, Iain and I saw this clip on The Ed Show. After it aired, I was wiping tears from my own cheeks, not only because it was a moving address, although it was, and not just because I cry at everything, although I do, but because I felt like it was really important that there is a video in the world of the male leader of the American Empire crying from profound emotions of gratitude and joy and pride and hopefulness.

We have seen our leaders, very occasionally, shed a tear over the returning bodies of dead soldiers or surveying wreckage of natural disasters; we have seen our leaders, rarely, cry in grief. Acceptable male tears.

But this is something different.

I asked Iain if that was an important image to him—to see his male president cry openly. He said that it was, that it was a totally different model than "the strong silent type, the taciturn leader" to which he'd been exhorted to conform, even though it denies to men access to the entire spectrum of human emotion.

A whole new model for men. A model in which strength is modeled by showing emotion, and by allowing your nation to see you show emotion. That seems like a pretty big deal.

And it feels to me that this moment speaks to another important demographic shift in the United States, that gets talked around but never about directly in assessments of which men vote for whom. It feels to me that maybe this President—a younger President, raised by a feminist mother—is attractive to men who want access to the fundamental parts of human expression that the Patriarchy says they cannot have.

If part of every affirmative vote for one candidate in a two-party system is also a disavowal of the other candidate, maybe some of the men who voted for President Barack Obama were in part repudiating the Romney model of manhood, rejecting a man who reminds them of fathers who told them that men don't cry and denied them their full humanity.

This, conservatives will sneer, is evidence of the feminization of America. They love to say that.

And it is evidence of feminism's reach—and the queer rights movement, and anti-racism, and all manner of social justice advocacy, which is at root the fight for acceptance of a full spectrum of humanity.

But this moment is not about the nation becoming more feminine. It is about the potential for all of us to become more fully human.

The humanization of the United States.

That is a powerful thing. There will be criticisms of the President that he was feminine, weak, unserious. There will be criticisms that he cried crocodile tears for the cameras. There will be many silly and cruel things said, because there always are when this President does anything that displays decency, and when any person transgresses hir imposed gender roles.

But this simple display of emotion was a gift. This was a gift to little girls, to assure them that crying isn't some stupid thing only girls do that makes them less than. This was a gift to little boys, to assure them that boys do cry—and so do men. It was the emotional equivalent of this:

iconic image of the President leaning over in the Oval Office so a little black boy can touch his hair

Me, too.

What a generous thing, to let us all see.

* * *
A white man stands at a microphone at the front of a room; he introduces the President: "Ladies and gentlemen, the reelected President of the United States, Barack Obama." There are overwhelming cheers and applause as the President takes the microphone.

Obama: guys. [laughter as he searches for words] You know, I try to picture myself, um, when I was your age—and I first moved to Chicago at the age of 25, and I had this big inkling about making a difference; I didn't really know how to do it. Uh, I didn't have a structure, uh, and there wasn't a, a presidential campaign at the time that I could attach myself to—Ronald Reagan had just been reelected [laughter] and was incredibly popular and, um...

I came to Chicago, uh, knowing that somehow I wanted to make sure that my life attached itself to helping kids get a great education, or helping people who were living in poverty to get decent jobs and be able to work and have dignity, um, to make sure that people didn't have to go to the emergency room to get healthcare. And I ended up being a community organizer on the South Side of Chicago—a group of churches were willing to hire me—and I didn't know at all what I was doing.

And, you know, the work that I did in those communities changed me much more than I changed the communities, because it taught me the hopes and aspirations and the grit and the resilience of ordinary people, uh, and it taught me the fact that, under the surface differences, we all have common hopes and we all have common dreams.

And it taught me something about how I handled disappointment, and what it meant to work hard on a common endeavor. And I grew up—I became a man during that process.

And so when I come here, and I look at all of you, uh, what comes to mind is—it's not that you guys actually remind me of myself; it's the fact that you are so much better than I was. [scattered laughter] Um, in so many ways: You're smarter, and you're better organized, and, um, you, uh—you're more effective.

And so I'm absolutely confident that all of you are going to do just amazing things in your lives. [he gets choked up] And, you know, the, uh—what Bobby Kennedy called the ripples of hope, that come out when you throw a stone in a lake, uh, that's gonna be you! [wipes tear from his eye] You know, I'm just looking around the room and I'm thinking wherever you guys end up, in whatever states, in whatever capacities, whether you're in the private sector, the not-for-profit, or if some of you decide to go into public service, you're just gonna do great things!

And that's why, even before last night's results, I felt that the work that I had done, um, [holding back tears] in running for office, had come full circle. Um, because what you guys have done [voice breaking] means that the work that I'm doing is important. [tears fall as he looks around the room] And I'm really proud of that. I'm really proud of all of you. And, um— [wipes tears from cheek; he can't even look at the crowd now, and they begin to cheer; he swallows back tears and wipes his face]

And what you guys—what you guys have accomplished will go on in the annals of history, and people will read about it, and they'll marvel about it, but the most important thing you need to know is that, uh, um, your journey's just beginning. You're just starting. And whatever good we do over the next four years will pale in comparison to what you guys end up accomplishing for years and years to come.

And, uh, that's been my source of hope. That's why, during the last four years when people asked me about, uh, you know, how do you put up with this or that and the frustrations of Washington, you know, I just think about you. I think about what you guys are gonna do. And that's the source of my hope. That's the source of my strength and my inspiration. And I know that, uh, I know that you guys won't disappoint me, because I've already seen who you guys are, and you all are just remarkable people. And you've lifted me up, each and every step of the way.

All right, thank you, guys. [waves and walks away to cheers and applause; as the camera follows him, he wipes tears off his face]

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