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Why is this man crying?

History may well remember this political year for feminine jeers and manly tears.

We heard Sarah Palin tell the Republican Party regulars to "man up" and support tea party candidates. We heard Republican senatorial candidates Sharron Angle of Nevada and Christine O'Donnell in Delaware call on their opponents to, respectively, "man up" and "get your man pants on."

And we saw incoming Speaker John Boehner bring to the national spotlight his longtime penchant for public weeping.

He cries, his wife Debbie Boehner explained, as the Ohio Republican burst into tears three times during a recent CBS "60 Minutes" interview. He's been a chronic crier during poignant moments ever since they met, she said, which moved Boehner to weep again. No problem. Women and Democratic male candidates have long been warned against weeping, but Boehner cries with impunity. We've come a long way guys. Go ahead. Tear up. It's allowed.

I am less intrigued by Boehner's tears than by what he says brings them on. He's an emotional waterworks, he says, for anything that reminds him of the American Dream and how far he has come since his small-town childhood. He's the son of a tavern owner, one of 12 children who grew up in a small home with a single bathroom in southwestern Ohio. He can't even visit schools anymore, he said, without blubbering at the mere sight of little kids running around.

"Making sure that these kids have a shot at the American Dream, like I did," he said, once again choking back tears, "it's important."

Yes, it is. But for the man who is about to be two heartbeats away from the presidency, I wonder, how important is it? How big of a shot does he think kids deserve? What does he think the government can do to help or, at least, remove barriers from their paths?

During his two decades in Congress, it is fair to say that Boehner did not work his way up Republican ranks by positioning himself as a crusader for the poor and downtrodden. He's better known as a friend of businesses, big and small, and their lobbyists.

And as the nation questioned his latest televised tears, he led House Republicans in voting against the DREAM Act, a bill that exemplifies what happens when today's American Dream runs up against political realities.

The DREAM Act would give a break to immigrant high school graduates brought to this country illegally as children and still lacking documentation. It would offer a conditional six-year residency status to those who meet its conditions, including residency here for more than five years, no criminal record, and they must join the military or attend a four-year college for at least two years.

Sure, opponents call it a disguised amnesty bill, a reward for illegality, even though the illegality was committed by the parents, not the kids. The kids are only forced to live with its consequences.

Besides, even if this sounds like amnesty to you, it seems to me that there hardly could be a more worthwhile group to receive it. The military needs troops, our economy needs a well-educated work force and our national budget needs more taxpayers to help keep programs like Social Security solvent.

No, you don't have to be a nativist bigot to oppose the DREAM Act, but indifference to a legal Catch-22 that's blocking thousands of honest and ambitious but undocumented kids from college and the military shows more contempt for the American Dream than a belief in it.

Maybe that's what Boehner's crying about. Maybe his conscience is bothering him.

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