Buzzing around the internet at the moment is a rumor that at the town hall debate tonight, Mitt Romney will tell President Obama “to man up and accept his responsibility” for the attacks in Bengazi.
Linguist Ben Zimmer explains that man up covers a range of connotations, from “Don’t be a sissy” to “Do the responsible thing.” (I will reserve comment about the general attribution of responsible action to men for another post.)
Man up appeared to gain meme status in 2010 when Republican Senatorial candidate Sharron Angle used it against Harry Reid, followed by Sarah Palin using it against Republican leaders she deemed insufficiently supportive.
There is a bit of a jolt when man up is used by a woman challenging men, suggesting the woman is on power turf traditionally reserved for men. As has been observed, one never hears a man use the term “woman up” for reasons that should be obvious.
So the possibility of Romney using this meme tonight would serve to follow on his previous attempts to be “top dog” by questioning the President’s “manhood,” and implying that he doesn’t mean what he says (that he’s lying), or he doesn’t take responsible action, or he isn’t “strong” like a “man.” One might remember at the first debate, Romney suggested the president of the United States reminded him of his “boys” when they didn’t tell the truth. Later, one of Romney’s “boys” recalled his father learned how to debate “an obstinate child.”
Further, for a white man to tell a black man to man up has white supremacist connotations I am sorry to say I am quite sure Romney consciously intends to employ. (Did everyone hear the dog whistle?)
The man up meme is pejorative. A man who can “up” is good. A man who cannot “up” is not good.
Well, that in itself is probably debatable, but I’ll move on lest I fall prey to phallic drift.
I’m tempted to claim that an understanding of complexity, nuance, diversity, subtlety, and diplomacy is characteristically female, but that would clearly be absurd. Barack Obama and many other mature, intelligent men demonstrate this is a quality human males can develop.
My point in this pre-debate missive is to remind you that the Romney campaign’s Bengazi obsession is not driven by a concern for national security, but a convenient vehicle to deliver juvenile insults intended to distract us from Romney’s many displays of ignorance on issues of foreign affairs—in this case, his continuing insistence on using the murder of a US diplomat for political gain.
Stay classy, Mitt. Whatever it takes to close the deal, right?