Sometimes it takes a woman to say, “Be a man.”
On October 14, in the only debate in the Nevada Senate race between Senate majority leader Harry Reid and his Republican challenger, Sharron Angle, Reid was attacking his opponent for supporting private retirement accounts alongside Social Security. An exasperated Angle responded: “Man up, Harry Reid. You need to understand that we have a problem with Social Security.”
The comment wasn’t about Harry Reid’s manliness. It wasn’t really about Harry Reid personally—though it did have a certain piquancy, addressed as it was to the person who, fecklessly and irresponsibly embracing defeatism in a war our men were fighting, asserted in April 2007 that the surge in Iraq was “not accomplishing anything” and that “this war is lost.”
Angle’s comment, rather, was addressed to Reid as Senate Democratic leader and majority leader. As a leader of his party, and the leader of the Senate, Reid has come to embody a proclivity among our elected officials to flee from confronting, in a grown-up manner—if one can put it that way—the real problems and challenges the nation faces.
Republicans haven’t been immune to this proclivity either, as the Tea Party-backed GOP candidate Angle would be one of the first to acknowledge. And Angle would surely say that one consequence of the coming election should be not just to oust a lot of Democrats who richly deserve to be ousted, but to encourage, to induce, to insist that the elected officials who replace them “man up.”
What prompted Angle to this exhortation? Maybe she’s a fan of Ben Zimmer’s “On Language” column in the New York Times magazine, and remembered that, a few weeks ago, Zimmer considered the meaning of “man up.” He pointed out that “the exhortation is taking on many guises in American popular culture right now. . . . Its spectrum of meanings runs from ‘Don’t be a sissy; toughen up’ all the way to ‘Do the right thing; be a mensch,’ to use the Yiddishism for an honorable or upright person.”
Both meanings—toughen up; do the right thing—are presumably what Angle wanted to convey in the debate. And they are the instructions that the American people want to convey to their elected officials this November. Harry Reid, who’s likely to lose his seat, probably won’t have the opportunity to act in accordance with his opponent’s injunction. But the GOP will have the chance, and the responsibility, to man up. And luckily, there will be a lot of conservative women around to make sure Republicans act like real men.