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.
The famously self-contained President Obama cried on the eve of his election in 2008 when talking about his grandmother, who had passed on that day. He also was caught on video tearing up while thanking campaign workers after the 2012 election.
More recently, Mr. Obama appeared to cry while delivering a statement about the Newtown shootings – pausing for several seconds, as if trying to compose himself, and wiping his eyes. That moment, more than anything else, has given weight to the argument that Obama's push for gun-control legislation is heartfelt, something that he feels personally compelled to do, regardless of the politics.