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Hillary Clinton's tearful moment on Benghazi: Will it help or hurt?

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

(Read caption) Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton testifies Wednesday before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the September attack on the US diplomatic mission in Benghazi, Libya, that killed Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

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There were a number of tense, even fiery moments in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on what went wrong in Benghazi. But like many, we were struck in particular by a different display of emotion: In her opening remarks, Secretary Clinton notably teared up while discussing the murders of Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans.

"For me, this is not just a matter of policy," she said. "It’s personal. I stood next to President Obama as the Marines carried those flag-draped caskets off the plane at Andrews. I put my arms around the mothers and fathers, the sisters and brothers, the sons and daughters, and the wives left alone to raise their children."

Her voice cracked with emotion. For a brief moment it seemed she might actually break down, though she pulled it together and continued on.

As Sen. Barbara Boxer (D) of California later put it: "You were heartbroken by those losses in Benghazi. We saw it in your face many times – today as well. You were heartbroken, personally and professionally."

We aren't questioning the authenticity of Clinton's display (though we're sure some more cynical observers may do so). But when a public figure is on the hot seat for a massive – and in this case tragic – failure, a brief show of emotion can go a long way toward defusing attacks and generating some sympathy.     

Indeed, while tears were once seen as political suicide – famously dooming Democrat Ed Muskie's presidential campaign back in 1972 – for public figures these days, crying has become the ultimate way to demonstrate genuineness. It's a visible and powerful reminder that they are human beings, too, a way to connect with a public that often tends to see politicians as a lower life form. 

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