As you’ll remember, ‘man up’ or ‘put on your man-pants’ were a key theme of the 2010 race, mainly from female candidates endorsed and driven by Sarah Palin. Interestingly, both lost. But let’s recognize the purpose of this speech by Mitch McConnell. It has a utility for McConnell himself and one for the Republicans generally. It has nothing to do with policy or strategy or really anything best expressed in words or text. It’s about defining the result of the 2010 midterm and seeking to make him seem weak and helpless, pity and scorn. This is the Mitch McConnell version of ‘Man Up!’ And remember, McConnell has a lot to prove himself. His own handpicked protege, Trey Grayson, got roughed up and knocked off by Rand Paul. And unlike John Boehner, whose team is coming into the majority, McConnell’s team actually underperformed in the Senate. In fact, the Dems came really close to holding on to 55 seats in the Senate, which would have been a huge humiliation for McConnell.But there’s another part of the equation: President Obama does have to man up. I don’t mean he’s not. And I’m not under the illusion that he needs me to tell him. But I do think it’s an important context to understand the fullness of the situation. He does. And frankly his supporters do too. President Obama does have a re-calibration he needs to do with a big cross section fo the electorate. Reality matters for policy; but perceptions matter for elections. They’re what elections are all about. A lot of voters voted against President Obama and the Democrats who they’ll need to vote for them in 2012. Similarly, there were a lot of so-called ‘irregular’ voters who voted for them in 2008 and just couldn’t be bothered to show up this year. But that has nothing to do with the contretemps with Boehner and McConnell. It probably makes no sense for the president to get in their face at first. Not at first. But he needs to recognize and act on the basis of every statement the GOP leaders make is calculated to diminish, denigrate and — let’s not be squeamish about it — unman him. That’s the point. It’s classic bitch-slap politics.
To resort to the cliches of the day, President Obama does have to have a conversation with a significant slice of the American people. But that has nothing to do and actually has to remain quite distinct from his dealings with McConnell and Boehner. And his ability to hold or rather relish in holding his own in the face of their trash talk will have a big role in the success or failure of getting back in tune with that floating portion of the electorate.