It’s Only False Emotion

by John Derbyshire

Is this time of year now established as Blubbing Speaker Season? Newt Gingrich turned on the waterworks Friday:

But I identify my mother with being happy, loving life, having a sense of joy in her friends, but … late in her life she ended up in a long-term-care facility … Alzheimer’s, which I did with Bob Kerrey for three more years, and my whole emphasis on brain science comes indirectly from dealing with the real problems of real people in my family,” the former House Speaker continued, at moments stopping to cry …

If I were to disgrace myself in public with such a maudlin display of bogus emotion, my own sainted mother would return from the Afterlife wielding her big old cast-iron frying-pan and whack me upside the head with it.

We’ve been here before, though: just precisely a year ago, in fact — hence my opening question. From the January 7, 2011 broadcast of Radio Derb:

[New House Speaker John] Boehner’s repeated displays of public blubbing are unsightly, undignified, and unmanly. What on earth must the world think, seeing a grown man sniveling and dabbing his eyes on becoming Speaker — third in the chain of command under the President and Vice-President? For crying out loud, Mr. Speaker — no, as you were: for goodness’ sake, Mr. Speaker, this is the Congress of the United States of America, not a twelve-step program for compulsive tanners. Show a little Republican gravitas, dammit.

The sheer embarrassing unsightliness of the thing aside, all this weeping betrays a poorly developed sense of proportion. If you burst into tears when Nancy Pelosi hands you the Speaker’s gavel, what do you have left when our enemies nuke Indianapolis, or the dollar is trading at par with the Laotian kip, or your wife leaves you, or the doctor tells you you have terminal cancer?

That is the essence of sentimentality — lavishing more emotion on a thing than it deserves; and sentimentality has been acknowledged by all serious thinkers to be a species of folly. Dostoyevsky went further,identifying sentimentality with wickedness.

Folly will do for now, though. Watching John Boehner working his hanky, I found it hard to avoid the thought that we have a fool for House Speaker. Well, it wouldn’t be the first time. By any means.

I closed that RD broadcast with this classic pop song from the just-pre-rock’n'roll era — one of the great mid-20th-century voices, now alas forgotten. I particularly refer the Speaker and ex-Speaker to the second verse:

When waking from a bad dream
Don’t you sometimes think it’s real?
But it’s only false emotions
That you feel …

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