At 6 a.m. Tuesday, Fox News reported that it had already received over a thousand e-mails from viewers discussing Hillary Clinton tearing up the day before in New Hampshire — and over 40 percent didn't believe they were real tears.
"Some people think elections are a game, lots of who's up or who's down," Clinton had said, in a long, emotional response to a personal question from one woman. "It's about our country, it's about our kids' futures, and it's really about all of us together."
Within minutes of her answer, it was really about the tears.
Pat Schroeder has seen politicians cry before. "We had one, Ronald Reagan, who teared up at the sight of an American flag," remembers the twelve-term congresswoman from Colorado.
But no one ever questioned whether Reagan was too emotional to be president. They questioned plenty of other things about him — it was Schroeder who quipped that Reagan was made of Teflon, and coined the term "Teflon presidency" — but not that. And when Mitt Romney teared up on Meet the Press last month, it inspired discussions of how far men had come since the days when Edmund Muskie wept after a newspaper criticized his wife. No one suggested that Romney was faking.
For a women in politics, though, crying remains a crying shame.
Schroeder was reminded of that when the calls started coming in Monday, calls that were very different from the ones that came after Romney got weepy. Schroeder is an expert on effluence — both her own, and how the crying game is played in Washington. For years, she was Congress's Queen of Quips. And then, after she choked up while announcing that she would not run for president, she became the Queen of Tears. She made that announcement more than twenty years ago, in Civic Center Park, but the stories have yet to dry up. For a while, she kept a "crying file" on what happened when other public figures wept, but the file got so stuffed with stories, she threw it out.
And now here's another one.
Back in 1987, Schroeder had already been a congresswoman for fifteen years. She'd served while her kids were toddlers, watched them grow even as her influence in Congress grew. She was the first woman on the House Armed Services Committee; she chaired the Congressional Caucus on Women's Issues. And she was serving as the co-chair of fellow Coloradan Gary Hart's presidential campaign when a very different kind of women's issue came up. "I'd kind of cleared my calendar to do that," Schroeder says, "and we all know what happened then — Donna Rice, and Hart's out." She looked at who was left in — all white males — and started exploring a run herself that May. "They called us Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," she remembers.
Through the summer, Schroeder talked to potential donors and considered the odds. "You have to have the money to compete," she says. "We tried hard and we did well, but we didn't get the money we needed to compete fully. You don't get a discount for starting late." And money wasn't the only hurdle. "It was also very clear that no woman was going to win," Schroeder continues. "There were parts of the country who'd never even elected a woman politician."
Then Time magazine released a poll on the potential presidential candidates. Although Schroeder polled highest for several desirable talents and traits — knowing the most about defense, being the most trustworthy — she only rated third as an overall candidate. "I just thought, there's a message here," she remembers. "The message was, we're not ready for a woman."
She got the message loud and clear. In September 1987, she announced that she would not run for president. And teared up as she made that announcement.
But Schroeder didn't dry up and blow away. She realized that she didn't have to run for president to make a statement. "I had a lot of statements I could still make in Congress," she says. And she did, guiding the Family and Medical Leave Act and continuing to represent Colorado's First Congressional District until January 1997, when Diana DeGette was sworn in. And then, after a short stint teaching at Prince-ton, Washington, D.C., lured her back. For the past ten years, Schroeder has been president and CEO of the Association of American Publishers. From that post, she's kept in fighting form, keeping an eye on the Patriot Act and other privacy and First Amendment issues. She even spent a week with the Georgia PTA, which was "trying to drive me out of my mind" over evolution, she recalls. "These people keep saying that little boys don't read because you don't find them things they like to read. Then you get Captain Underpants, Harry Potter — and they want to ban them."
Schroeder, a native of Oregon who moved to Colorado with her husband after graduating from Harvard Law School in 1964 (she was one of only fifteen women in a class of more than 500 men), has thought about returning here. "We would love to be back," she says. But while she's taught at Dartmouth and Princeton, been offered jobs in California — "in Colorado, nothing. Denver is the only place I can never find a job."
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Schroeder will be back in town next week, holding an event — but not the Kleenex — for Hillary Clinton, whom she's endorsed. But seeing the coverage that her candidate is getting lately, she wonders if the country is yet ready for a woman president. She points to Gloria Steinem's piece in the New York Times on Tuesday, which flipped the credentials of Barack Obama with those of his wife to show how "gender is probably the most restricting force in American life," because "sexism is still confused with nature as racism once was."
Schroeder is not confused about Clinton's tears. "I think she choked up," she says. "I think that just showed the humanness of her. Guys do it all the time."
Read it and weep.