Crying has come a long way in politics. In 1972, Ed Muskie wept outside the offices of New Hampshire’s Union Leader, and it was, at the time, a political disaster. Americans were apparently uncomfortable with adults in leadership positions emoting like this in public.

Attitudes have clearly changed. John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) frequent crying didn’t stop him from becoming Speaker of the House, and Hillary Clinton thrived in the New Hampshire primary four years ago after getting choked up. And yesterday, disgraced former House Speaker Newt Gingrich showed far more emotion than we’re generally accustomed to seeing from him.

Newt Gingrich openly cried on Friday morning during an event with a group of mothers in an Iowa coffee shop as he described his own mother’s illness.

The Republican pollster Frank Luntz had asked Mr. Gingrich to recall a moment with his mother that changed his life. Mr. Gingrich started to describe the illness at the end of her life, when she struggled with depression and bipolar disease…. The tears immediately started flowing.

The episode was a break in character for Mr. Gingrich, who usually projects a nothing-bothers-me attitude…. Mr. Gingrich wiped tears from his eyes for several minutes as he described the lessons he learned from his mother and what he would say to her if she were in Iowa.

If you haven’t already seen it, here’s a clip, by way of TPM.

YouTube video

I’m generally surprised this doesn’t happen more often. These candidates are enduring a grueling process with very little sleep, poor nutrition, and intense, constant pressure. They are understandably exhausted, and it stands to reason that presidential hopefuls, especially when talking about personal and family matters, will occasionally be less then composed.

What seems noteworthy about Gingrich’s display yesterday isn’t the candidate’s emotions, but rather, the media’s reactions to them. Or more to the point, how different the reactions have been to Hillary Clinton getting choked up in early 2008. You’ll recall that the coverage was generally quite negative — ABC News ran a report, for example, asking, “Can Clinton’s Emotions Get the Best of Her?” John Edwards, a Clinton rival at the time, took a cheap shot, telling reporters, “I think what we need in a commander in chief is strength and resolve, and presidential campaigns are a tough business, but being president of the United States is also a very tough business,” with the implication that Clinton’s tears proved she wasn’t up for the job.

Notice the extent to which Gingrich isn’t facing similar pushback.

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Follow Steve on Twitter @stevebenen. Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.