Watching Charlie Baker dissolve in tears in Tuesday night’s debate — a moment that defied Democrats ’ attempts to cast him as a heartless technocrat — I couldn’t help wondering: What if he were treated the way women candidates so often are? What would it be like if we focused on his fragility under pressure, his manner, his appearance, as we do on theirs? What if we pinned the same labels on him as we do on them?
The reaction to that debate might look like this:
Do we really want a weepy governor?
Republican Charlie Baker was going along nicely in Tuesday night’s debate, exuding competence, speaking with authority about taxes and paid sick leave.
Then the gubernatorial hopeful came apart, telling of meeting a fisherman ruined by federal catch rules. “I may not make it through this story,” he began, promptly succumbing to tears.
This is why it can be so hard to imagine men as leaders. You never know when they are going to crumble. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker John Boehner, former governor and presidential candidate Mitt Romney, Governor Deval Patrick — they’ve all let their feelings get the better of them, losing composure in public. Can we really trust such folk to run our state?
It’s a dangerous world. When the red phone rings at 3 a.m., do we really want a fragile soul like Baker answering it?
And, while we’re at it, could we talk about the way Baker looks? This husband of a former advertising executive and father of three got a haircut before his final debate with Democrat Martha Coakley. People don’t just get haircuts for no reason. What message was this transformation sending? To my eye, the style — shorter, but not too short — was a clear attempt to project a new, even more moderate Baker. And that white shirt and baby-blue tie combo was no accident. Formal yet friendly, they looked manly, but not off-puttingly so.
But back to Baker’s emotional instability. Tuesday night wasn’t the only time his feelings have gotten the better of him. During Monday night’s debate, he was angry, even shrill, when questioned about pay-to-play allegations involving a donation he made, citing a report by an attorney he’d hired clearing him of wrongdoing. “I wish people would just read the report!” he scolded. He lectured Coakley like an overbearing father-in-law about the difference between the Health Connector and the Health Policy Commission. “She didn’t answer my question,” he whined to the moderator, in another moment of frustration.
Talk about pushy!
At other times, Baker was perky, even feisty, getting in some banter and landing a few good zingers. But too often he came off as bossy. It was decidedly unbecoming.
Even if voters decide they can listen to his nagging voice for four years, there’s another troubling thing about Baker. He’s a devoted father (even though he admits, with a distressing lack of shame, that he is incapable of cooking for his family). So how could he possibly be an effective governor with three kids to tend to? Won’t they be a distraction? Won’t he be stealing away at critical moments?
Balancing work and family is sure to be stressful, and stress makes some people . . . cry.
As we head to the polls on Tuesday, we should consider this carefully: Is Charlie Baker too emotional to govern?
Ridiculous, right? It always is. Even when the tears, the hair, the moods in question belong to a woman.
Yvonne Abraham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @GlobeAbraham.