The new Speaker of the House has an image problem. After weeping in an election night victory speech and again in a 60 Minutes interview, John Boehner again shed tears when taking the gavel from Nancy Pelosi. Now an established pattern, Boehner’s tears have David Letterman wondering if he’s on drugs. Others simply wonder if this is the new status quo of American politics. Either way, being “the guy who cries a lot” is a pretty open invitation to the brand of ridicule that would diminish a message.
Boehner might find some inspiration from a fellow Ohioan, the late George Steinbrenner.
In 1990, Steinbrenner appeared on Saturday Night Live during his commissioner-ordered sabbatical from baseball. In one memorable sketch, The Boss played a convenience store owner who refused to fire employees, no matter how much they underperformed:
Where is it written if you don’t get results right away, you fire people?… How would you like it everytime something went wrong, I just blamed you, the supervisor, huh? Let’s just fire the supervisor! Then I’ll hire some other guy, and something would go wrong and I’d fire him, and I’d probably rehire you!Then fire you again, bring in someone else, then fire him and rehire you again! Then fire and hire, back and forth until the whole thing’s just a big joke! Is that the kind of owner you want? Some yammering nincompoop in a fancy suit? No way you take that road, ’cause before you know it, you’ll probably be banned from running the entire company!
Three years later, Steinbrenner was back in baseball, but his self-deprecating sense of humor remained sharp. He played himself in the 1994 movie The Scout, and filmed an unaired cameo for Seinfeld. His public criticism of Billy Martin and Derek Jeter both became tongue-in-cheek commercials, nearly three decades apart. The results of this were last year’s kind eulogies, which forgave many of his faults.
So what does that mean for the Weeper of the House? Boehner would be wise to aggressively embrace self-deprecating right away – diminishing both his tendency to cry and his critics’ tendency to make a big deal of it.