Hot on HuffPost:

See More Stories

John Boehner's Crying: Is He Drinking Too Much?

3 years ago
  0 Comments Say Something  »
Text Size
Incoming House Speaker John Boehner's recent interview on "60 Minutes" with Lesley Stahl, where he once again cried publicly, has created a minor controversy among pundits, with observers trying to figure out the cause of his unusual behavior.

Is it depression? Or is Boehner simply in touch with his emotions? Does he wear his heart on his sleeve, or does he cry on a dime because he has a tender spot for all things American?
While it's impossible to know, some are beginning to speculate that Boehner's penchant for turning on the waterworks might have some connection to his consumption of wine. Liberal MSNBC host Ed Shultz, half-jokingly, called Boehner a "cheap drunk" the other day, Capitol Hill aides of both parties are wondering, and there's even a web page devoted to it.
So is drinking the issue -- and why might a person struggling with drinking be more prone to weeping in public?
Speaking generally, Dr. Robert DuPont, who served as the second White House drug czar and was the first director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, tells me that "alcohol reduces inhibitions. Whatever emotion you have, you're more likely to express it [when drinking]." DuPont added that alcohol reduces the functioning of the frontal lobes, and "the frontal lobes have to do with judgment, which is why [intoxicated] people do impulsive behavior."
Alcohol also "brings out underlying emotions," explains Dr. Michael Fingerhood, an associate professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins University. "It generally is unmasking what is inside them."
As is to be expected, Republican aides and lobbyists are not anxious to publicly discuss whether the incoming House speaker might have a drinking problem. And Boehner's staff declined to discuss the crying question at all. For his part, though, Boehner -- who was described in one profile as "a heavy-smoking, hard-drinking former linebacker" -- has made no secret of his affection for merlot, and those familiar with Capitol Hill know he frequents The Capitol Hill Club, as well as a favorite Italian restaurant on Capitol Hill, where he is frequently spotted sipping vino.
When President Obama mentioned that he ran into Rep. Boehner at a holiday party last year drinking eggnog, Boehner responded, "I was drinking wine." And when recently asked about attending a "Slurpee summit with the president," Boehner quipped, "How about a glass of merlot?"
For years, political professionals have quietly discussed Boehner's drinking. Some have told me off the record that his mannerisms remind them of that of an alcoholic. So far, most of the public speculation having to do with the connection between drinking and Boehner's crying has come from the left. In addition to Ed Shultz, liberal talk show host Randi Rhodes recently implied Boehner's crying was due to his drinking.
But the speculation is becoming more widespread. Earlier this year, Joe Scarborough noted of Boehner that "by 5 or 6 o'clock at night, you can see him at bars." And as Politico reported, "One of [Boehner's] GOP colleagues noted that Boehner cries more often later in the day."
Sometimes when he's tearing up, he also appears to be slurring words, as was the case during a 2007 floor speech. But even here it's impossible to diagnose (if the Terry Schiavo case taught us anything, it's not to diagnose something via video). Boehner's slurred words might simply be a result of his trying to speak loudly while not trying to cry. On the other hand, it should be noted that "occupational functioning" is frequently mentioned when defining "alcoholism."
So do physicians who work in this field believe it is fair to conclude that Boehner's crying or slurring of words means he is speaking while intoxicated? Not necessarily. According to Sally Satel, a psychiatrist and lecturer at the Yale University School of Medicine, "Out of context, [Boehner's] simply tearing up would not be a red flag for me."
Michael Fingerhood echoed that notion, telling me that if he observed a friend crying on the job, "I would be concerned, but I would not assume anything."
If Boehner were choking up over random things, his critics might have a better case to make, but his defenders note that his tears coincide with his talking about something serious or sentimental to him -- whether it's his family or the men and women serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this, he is not alone. Both George W. Bush and his father, while president, would often become emotional when speaking in public -- especially while discussing U.S. military men and women who'd fallen in service to their country.
Sobriety certainly wasn't the issue with them. Bush 41 was known to drink only occasionally, always in moderation, and by the time Bush 43 became president he was a teetotaler. Their penchant for waterworks was so well known to them that father and son avoided eye contact at the younger Bush's inauguration. "We Bushes cry when we're happy, and when we're sad," the senior Bush said. Younger son Jeb Bush copped to being a crier, too, and seemed to blame it on the old man. "Bush men always cry," Jeb Bush said in 2002. "It's a little genetic problem I got from my dad."
This emotive behavior also came in the context of a changing cultural milieu. In 1972, a tear that formed in Democratic presidential candidate Edmund Muskie's eye hurt his chances-- even though he was defending his wife against malicious allegations by a Republican newspaper. By 2004, however, when Democratic nominee John Kerry welled up, it helped counteract an image of diffidence. So John Boehner's tears are, by themselves, hardly the liability they once would have been.

"There are just a couple things that John feels very strongly about that target his emotions," explains Kevin Madden, a former Boehner staffer. "Family -- he cares very strongly about public service -- and he feels very deeply about providing children with an advantage so they can pursue the American dream."
Regarding Boehner's election night tears, Madden says: "Everything he aspires to be as a public servant had been realized that night, and that was something that hit him. And he wears his heart on his sleeve."
And yet Boehner's public crying, as evidenced by the amount of coverage, is abnormal in our society. According to one psychology textbook, "adults are not supposed to demonstrate signs of emotional distress in social, performance, or work settings."
There are others reasons that could explain public crying, including depression (a common symptom is crying "for no reason"). Barbara Walters recently argued Boehner might have "an emotional problem." These are not necessarily mutually exclusive: As Dr. DuPont told me, serious drinking problems are associated with depression. (Other sedatives besides alcohol could also produce a similar response).
Most experts I talked to said that if a person exhibits strong emotional behavior over the span of a lifetime, there is little to be worried about. What is more concerning, however, is an abrupt change in how a person demonstrates emotion. Tumors, for example, have been known to cause drastic emotional changes in patients.
One might also argue that public crying could also be seen as positive sign that a man is in touch with his emotions and not afraid to show them. As Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf once said, "I don't trust a man who doesn't cry."

Our New Approach to Comments

In an effort to encourage the same level of civil dialogue among Politics Daily’s readers that we expect of our writers – a “civilogue,” to use the term coined by PD’s Jeffrey Weiss – we are requiring commenters to use their AOL or AIM screen names to submit a comment, and we are reading all comments before publishing them. Personal attacks (on writers, other readers, Nancy Pelosi, George W. Bush, or anyone at all) and comments that are not productive additions to the conversation will not be published, period, to make room for a discussion among those with ideas to kick around. Please read our Help and Feedback section for more info.

Add a Comment

*0 / 3000 Character Maximum Comment Moderation Enabled. Your comment will appear after it is cleared by an editor.

251 Comments

Filter by:
bag00g

Yes. Mr. Boehner does drink TOO MUCH! It's quite evident when you: look at his face...slurring of words at times...and constant crying.These are signs of an alcoholic.
His concern should be attempting to try and avoid cirrhosis of the liver. Our concern as Americans should be, his being in a positions to make decisions which will affect all of us. Now that's a scary thing,if he continues to hit the bottle on a very regular basis. It's very germane that someone address this, before something drastic occurs.

January 30 2011 at 4:41 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
brianjconway

The left is riddled with degenerates of every stripe, and, it seems, most wear it proudly. Odd, that when, a liberal/left pundit attacks or slanders a figure on the right, it is sold as truth. However, when disproven or discredited, the liberals retreat to this "it was only a joke" or "relax, it's only entertainment"
That trick is getting pretty transparent.

BrianConway__NY

January 12 2011 at 6:36 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
odonnell476

Don't Drink and legislate!!!

January 07 2011 at 6:41 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
Phyllis

In regards to the current state of affairs in this country, I ask myself why we all aren't crying? In my opinion if you truly love your country and day after day you hear and view what is going on it's going to make you want to cry. I've done more crying over America in the last several years than ever before in my life. It's hard for me to look at an American flag or hear the Star Spangled Banner without crying. When I watch a parade and see all the American Flags and veterans I cry. Why do I cry? I love this country and I am so afraid for all of us, our children, and our grandchildren. I am so afraid that American will not awaken from this deep sleep...God please bless us all!

December 23 2010 at 7:08 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply
Wanda Snyder

I've honestly heard him slurring his speech numerous times on the House floor, IMO, he's a so-called high functioning practicing alcoholic; &every time I see him I'm aware of it. I'm a retired healthcare professional too & I often worked in -house rehab centers;I did nearly all my continuing education on alcoholism & unfortunately had close family who were/are alcoholics-quite the education;it's like street smarts-you 'know' the territory when you see it.Heaven forbid anything happen to President/Vice-pres & he's in charge.I'm not saying this in a hostile,hateful way-it is somewhat reassuring that the man actually has emotions,however,I believe he needs rehab.He doesn't have to lose his job to get help, he'd be a much improved all over human -being.Actually perfect timing for that!

December 23 2010 at 1:33 AM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
Danny

What's really interesting is he seems to shed most of his tears for those he brings the most pain to. He can't visit schools because he's so worried about the kids, but he doesn't worry when he's cutting funding for education, head start, health insurance, or when he's carrying water for Big Tobacco. He crys when he talks about soldiers, but he didn't have any problem backing Bush on his manufactured Iraq war. He has no problem sending hundreds of millions of dollars out of the country to Iraq, but doesn't want money circulating in our economy by supporting economic stumulus for Americans. He's willing to hold the middle class and 9/11 first responders hostage in order to get taxcuts for the wealthiest Americans.

Maybe he's crying because he realizes just what kind of man he's become that he has sold his soul to get where he's at.

December 22 2010 at 9:48 PM Report abuse +4 rate up rate down Reply
Marjory

My Husband cried at our wedding and at the births of our children...he cried at the death of his parents and friends..he retired after 26 years in the Marine Corps...are you telling me he isn't a man???

December 22 2010 at 6:23 PM Report abuse -2 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Marjory's comment
mattdenero

That's totally different! Any normal man would cry over those events. Boehner cries over his own "story", which I find disgraceful.

December 25 2010 at 2:43 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
pete and cherrie

If he is an alcoholic then he needs help. This behavior display can be used as a "weapon" to get people either to be sympathetic or like now to question a mental status of a politician. Either way there are concerns. I have never seen a poltician cry and carry on like this. Something is wrong in this guys head and he needs help.

December 22 2010 at 4:14 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
zeebart

I think that John Boehner and what he represents is a menace to this country. However, this article which strings together the most wispy of facts and seeks to weave them into an article of substance is foolish beyond belief. The only thing missing was an attempt to tie his strange orange color to overconsumption of Harvey Wallbangers. Come to think of it, perhaps the fact the color has diminished greatly in the last few months is strong evidence that he is in treatment and on the road to recovery.

The oft-repeated lie may become the truth in people's minds but I thought that was best left to FOX News.

December 22 2010 at 5:58 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
trac1960

The rigors of the campaign and politics has run John down like it would any of us........get some rest John.........

December 21 2010 at 6:12 AM Report abuse -4 rate up rate down Reply

Follow Politics Daily

  • Comics
robert-and-donna-trussell
CHAOS THEORY
Featuring political comics by Robert and Donna TrussellMore>>
  • Woman UP Video
politics daily videos
Weekly Videos
Woman Up, Politics Daily's Online Sunday ShowMore»
politics daily videos
TV Appearances
Showcasing appearances by Politics Daily staff and contributors.More>>