There's lots of talk today about Alito's wife's succumbing to tears yesterday. It's interesting that she lost control when Senator Lindsey Graham was being supportive and sympathetic, chewing out the nasty Democrats who smeared her husband. But it isn't surprising. It's natural to maintain your steely surface during an attack, and then to collapse into the arms of the person who stretches out his arms to you with compassion. But the outstretched arms were only metaphorical. Senator Graham did not come down from behind his fortress of a table to comfort her, and her own husband could not turn around to soothe her. She was left exposed, on camera, and all she could do was run away.
The hearings do need to be tough. They don't need to be as obnoxious as they've been, but they should be vigorous and searching. The odd thing is that we expect a wife to sit behind her husband, unable to participate, just a backdrop of support. It's strange the way wives are used in politics to create an image for the man. In the business world, a man bringing his wife along to sit with him for a job interview would be out of his mind.
Of course, husbands sit with female nominees too. But we have yet to see a nasty hearing for a female Supreme Court nominee. Imagine if the Senators were saying awful things about a woman while her husband sat behind her. Would he glower just enough that the Senators wouldn't dare go too far? Would there come a point when this man would lose emotional control? Would he cry and run off? Would he step forward and say How dare you talk to my wife that way? That would be some new political theater.
ADDED COMMENTARY: Alito's wife's crying works to his advantage:
1. It lends credibility to the Republican's spin on the hearings that the Democrats went way out of line with their questions.
2. It gives the impression that the Democrats lack compassion and concern for women, which is exactly the opposite of what they've been trying to express through attacking Alito.
3. It humanizes Alito, as a man with a sensitive wife.
4. It made the best news story of the day, overshadowing whatever message the Democrats might have hoped would capture the public's attention, like Senator Kennedy bulging with concern about the Concerned Alumni for Princeton.